“Cold plunging? I would never do that—I hate being cold.” I hear this in my office on an almost daily basis from people who have never taken the plunge to try an ice bath or any form of cold exposure before. But here’s the irony of cold plunging—the point is that it sucks. Everyone hates being cold. It’s uncomfortable, and especially if you’re from the Midwest, you probably spend at least half the months of the year dreaming of living in a place where you don’t have to be subjected to the cold. But, counterintuitively, that resistance and discomfort is where the magic of cold plunging lies. Let’s dive into why this is one of the best wellness practices you should be adding to your routine.
1. Improved circulation:
One of the primary benefits of cold plunging is its ability to enhance blood circulation throughout the body. The exposure to cold water causes blood vessels to rapidly constrict and then dilate, a process known as vasoconstriction and vasodilation. This dynamic contraction and expansion exercise for the circulatory system can contribute to better blood flow, delivering oxygen and nutrients more efficiently to various tissues and organs. Think of it as basically a workout for your circulatory system.
2. Enhanced recovery after exercise:
Cold plunging has been recognized as an effective tool for accelerating the recovery process after intense physical activity. The cold water immersion is thought to reduce muscle damage and inflammation, allowing individuals to recover faster between workouts, reduce soreness, and potentially improve overall performance.
3. Boosted immune system & metabolism:
Regular cold plunging has been associated with improved immune system function. Exposure to cold water stimulates the production of white blood cells and increases the body’s metabolic rate. This, in turn, enhances the body’s ability to fight off infections and illnesses, keeping the immune system robust and resilient. It also activates the body’s brown fat stores, which is a type of adipose tissue in the body that helps keep you warm. This activation utilizes more energy and increases the body’s metabolic demands.
4. Increased energy and alertness:
The shock of cold water triggers the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline—hormones that can provide an instant energy boost and heightened alertness. Cold plunging, after the initial discomfort, can leave you feeling almost euphoric as well as more awake and focused, making it an excellent practice for those looking to kick start their mornings or overcome midday sluggishness.
5. Elevated mood and mental well-being:
Last but certainly not least, cold plunging has profound effects on mental health and wellbeing. Speaking from personal experience, the mental aspect has been the most significant benefit I have noticed from my own practice. The release of endorphins, often referred to as “feel-good” hormones, can induce a sense of euphoria and act as a natural mood enhancer. Additionally, the cold water immersion is believed to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, providing a sort of mental reset.
I heard Andrew Huberman on a podcast once refer to it as an “active practice of calming yourself down”. When you first get in the tub, it’s incredibly uncomfortable, and everything in your brain and body is telling you to get out. In fact, it’s common to start hyperventilating at first. But if you can focus solely on your breathing and calming down, you can experience an extreme sense of peace despite the uncomfortable circumstances. This practice carries into many aspects of life, especially for people who struggle with anxiety and feelings of overwhelm.
In conclusion, while the idea of voluntarily subjecting yourself to a giant tub of freezing cold water may seem daunting, the benefits of cold plunging are too compelling to ignore. From revitalizing the body’s circulation to promoting mental resilience, this ancient practice is one that deserves a moment in the spotlight. Consider adding it to your own wellness regimen and experience the benefits for yourself.