Cold Plunge: Recovery Miracle or Next Fitness Scam?
Every couple of months there seems to be a new fitness trend that promises to help you lose weight, recover from a tough workout, or all around make you a better person.
Lately, cold plunges have become all the craze, promising to make you mentally stronger, recover faster, burn calories, and even improve your mental health. You may have even seen them featured in places like Netflix’s Goop Lab, Self-help author Mel Robbin’s viral Tik Tok, Joe Rogan, and more.
So are they worth the hype? Or will they become obsolete in a couple of years like the Bowflex or Shake Weight?
Let’s dive into the pros and cons of cold plunges so you can decide if it’s worth investing in for yourself or your gym.
WHAT IS A COLD PLUNGE?
The practice of cold plunging involves a tub of cold or ice filled water at a temperature of 59 degrees fahrenheit or less. The aim is to stay submerged in the water up to the neck for about 3 minutes, and no more than 10 minutes.
It’s recommended that you start with 30 seconds and build up to staying in for longer periods of time. If you are a beginner at cold plunging you can also work up to it by taking cold showers in the days or weeks leading up to the cold plunge.
So what happens in your body when you enter a cold plunge? Well according to the American Heart Association, the cold water will trigger the blood to rush away from the limbs and to the core in order to protect the vital organs. During this process the person will feel a rapid increase in breathing, an increase in heart rate, and an increase in blood pressure.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A COLD PLUNGE?
It’s important to note that most benefits to cold plunging are hypotheses as there has not been a lot of research conducted on the topic.
#1 REDUCED MUSCLE SORENESS
The most well backed claim is that cold plunging relieves muscle soreness and speeds up muscle recovery. The cold water constricts the blood vessels in your extremities so there is less swelling, and inturn, less pain in sore muscles after cold plunging.
In order to get the most out of this benefit it is recommended that you cold plunge after a particularly strenuous bout of exercise.
#2 MAY BOOST YOUR MOOD
There has been some anecdotal evidence to suggest that cold plunging will provide a boost to your mood by releasing dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a large role in our mental wellbeing, sometimes referred to as the “feel good” hormone. There are some who claim regular cold plunging resulted in a decrease in anxiety and depression.
Because chronic inflammation can be tied to depression, cold plunging may help relieve this symptom in those that suffer from chronic depression.
While a cold plunge may temporarily boost your mood and increase your alertness it’s important to remember that it is not a replacement for mood disorder care.
#3 INCREASE RESILIENCE
Exposure therapy is a long accepted belief that placing yourself in stressful situations will build your mental strength over time. Hopping in a cold plunge releases hormones such as adrenaline, and cortisol which signal a stress response in your body.
When you feel the effect of these hormones during other situations in your life, you may be better equipped to overcome them because of the resilience you have built up while cold plunging.
#4 IMPROVED SLEEP QUALITY
There is some conflicting evidence out there on whether or not cold plunges are good for improving sleep quality, and if so, when the best time of day to take them is.
One theory suggests that a morning cold plunge is beneficial to help increase alertness, and energy throughout the day, so that your body will be ready for sleep by the time it is night.
Others suggest that a cold plunge at night can help relax the body and muscles and improve sleep before bedtime.
ARE THERE RISKS INVOLVED WITH COLD PLUNGES?
In short, yes. Cold plunging doesn’t come without risk.
In particular, people with a history of cardiac conditions should be wary of submerging in cold water. While cold plunging has gained popularity, there is still little research on the actual benefits of submerging in cold water.
Some possible risks associated with cold plunging according to experts at Cedars Sinai include: frostbite, hypothermia, heart arrhythmias, and heart attacks.
It is recommended that you begin to warm up immediately after by removing wet clothes, putting on dry clothes, and heating up somewhere warm.
BEFORE YOU GO…
If you choose to partake in cold plunges be aware of the risks and always consult your doctor before trying any new fitness or wellness trend. Overall there may be some valuable benefits to cold plunges that are worth the icy dip.
Would you put a cold plunge in your gym or health club?