The Benefits of Cold Water Hydrotherapy

Incorporate cold water immersion into your recovery routine to untap new health benefits.

Treatments with water, also known as hydrotherapy, have been used as therapeutic practice for centuries. The health benefits attributed to hot springs, steam rooms, and ice cold plunges include weight loss, warding off depression, and treating some aspects of Type 2 diabetes. Obviously, some of these claims have more scientific backing than others.

One of the most popular methods of hydrotherapy is cold-water immersion, which is trendy but nothing new. Thomas Jefferson wrote about his life-long habit of dipping his feet into a cold bath every morning to invigorate himself and strengthen his body. This practice fires nerves and muscle reflexes and is certain to boost your immediate blood flow and alertness.

The “Iceman” Wim Hof believes we have dulled our natural, physiological ability to adapt to a range of environmental changes by living and working in temperature controlled rooms. After all, our ancestors weren’t wearing fancy puffy jackets when they trudged across deserts and ice sheets to follow food. So perhaps it’s time to get out of that comfort zone and take the plunge into cold-water therapy.

Today it is common to see professional sports athletes dunking into ice baths after a game to speed recovery and reduce the onset of muscle soreness. Current science supports the anti-inflammatory effects of ice baths, or even icing down sore muscles. There are some caveats as to what degree the baths are effective as most professional athletes may take ibuprofen or adjust their diets to further reduce inflammation, but the general consensus is that the practice does work.

Reducing inflammation and muscle soreness isn’t just to avoid discomfort or pain, but helps speed the recovery needed in order to train more and perform at optimal levels. 

Are you ready to try it yourself?

Rather than a full ice bath —that’s a lot of water and time— a more approachable at-home method is taking a cold shower, usually cooler than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature is easily achieved by turning only the cold water handle. The hard part is getting into the shower under that water stream and staying in for five minutes or longer.

One way to make the immersion easier is to first take a warm shower to get clean and then slowly turn off the warm water until it is off. Taking short breaths can help the body adapt to the temperature change. In fact, this method of alternating hot and cold water to stimulate blood flow is consistent with the common medical advice of applying ice and heat to a swollen injury.

Try it for a month, slowly building up your cold exposure to several minutes, and let us know how you’re feeling. We’re always looking for ways to help the body recover using its own processes.

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