The Ultimate Guide to Cold Plunges: Benefits, Risks, and How to Get Started

Timothy Munene Timothy Munene
The Ultimate Guide to Cold Plunges: Benefits, Risks, and How to Get Started

The ancient Greeks used cold plunges to gain physical and mental benefits. Today, people have adopted cold plunging to acquire spiritual clarity and mental resilience and improve their overall health.

Cold water immersion is the practice of briefly submerging yourself in cold water. You can cold plunge at any time, depending on your specific needs. For example, some people use cold plunges first thing in the morning to enhance focus, while others prefer cold plunging after working out to facilitate muscle recovery. Before integrating cold therapy into your wellness routine, you must understand its benefits, risks, and how to do it safely. Read on for the details. 

Why You May Want to Incorporate Cold Plunges into Your Wellness Routine

There are numerous reasons for adopting cold plunges, which include:

·       Re-energize and Alleviate Stress and Fatigue

Many people who engage in cold plunging opine that it helps them gain energy after working out. Cold water immersion triggers the sympathetic fight-or-flight response of the autonomic nervous system, stimulating the release of the neurohormone norepinephrine, which is responsible for concentration, focus, and energy.

High norepinephrine levels can improve executive functioning or the cognitive skills you rely on to coordinate and regulate other cognitive behaviors and abilities. Combining your cold plunging session with deliberate breathing facilitates the re-regulation of the nervous system.

Also known as deliberate breathwork, this process has therapeutic benefits for mental health. For instance, slow, deliberate breathwork triggers the parasympathetic system, which is responsible for the rest and digest function in the body. Increased norepinephrine levels and controlled breathing promote alertness and reduce stress levels. 

·       Improves Cognitive Performance and Brain Health

Exposure to cold water can impact brain function. Cold plunging improves memory, focus, and alertness by increasing endorphin levels in the body. Further, cold water immersion increases the production of cold shock proteins, which help the body operate more efficiently and facilitate synaptic function.

Synaptic function transmits nerve impulses between neurons or a muscle cell and a neuron. Synapses link one neuron to another and are responsible for discharging messages from the brain to the nerves and vice versa. Researchers opine that cold shock proteins can protect you against neurological-related complications like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

·       Boosting Cardiovascular Health

Immersing your body in ice-cold water enhances cardiovascular health in various ways:

Improves circulation

Cold water activates the constriction of blood vessels leading to your extremities, drawing blood towards the core. After exiting the cold plunge, the body warms up, dilating blood vessels and pushing blood back via the body.

Increased circulation can facilitate the delivery of oxygenated blood to your body areas that need recovery. Some studies reveal that regular cold plunge sessions can result in microvascular adaptations that further boost circulation over time. 

Strengthening the Heart

The shock from cold water can activate a strong response from the heart, which often strengthens it. Cold immersion can enhance cardiovascular health by increasing venous return and cardiac output, facilitating the efficient return to baseline of the heart’s neural activity. 

Reducing the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Some studies suggest that regular cold immersion sessions could reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications by improving blood pressure and reducing cholesterol levels. 

Relieving Anxiety and Improving Mood

 Studies suggest that cold plunging can alleviate anxiety and stress, improving feelings of wellness by increasing norepinephrine levels in the brain. When cold receptors are stimulated on the skin, the peripheral nerve endings give the brain anti-depressive electrical signals through serotonin and norepinephrine, improving overall mental health.

Cold plunging can activate electrical signals from the cold receptors in the skin to the brain, which can have an antidepressant effect. This happens because ice-cold water can generate a shock effect, activating nerve impulses that move from the brain across the nervous system, simulating the impact of antidepressants. 

Hormesis and Mental Resilience

Cold water hormesis is a form of hormetic stress-activated when cold water enthusiasts physiologically shock their bodies by plunging into cold water. The more frequently you immerse in cold water, the easier it becomes. Your body adapts to the initial shock of ice-cold water, and the body becomes protected against cold stress. It is worth mentioning that hormesis is not a preserve of cold water.

Your body will react similarly when exposed to healthy practices such as workouts and sauna sessions. Should you skip cold plunging sessions, your body loses the ability to adapt to cold water, making cold water immersion difficult. Regular cold plunging sessions build your mental resilience, encouraging you to maintain the cold plunge sessions. 

What to Beware of when Cold Plunging

Before adopting the best cold plunges, you must understand their risks. Some of the things to be on the lookout for include:

·       High Blood Pressure

When you immerse yourself in cold water, the body reacts by constricting blood vessels, increasing blood pressure and heart rate. This response can strain your heart, especially if you have underlying cardiovascular complications.

·       Ice Burn

Direct contact with ice-cold water could burn your skin, leaving discolored gray, white, or red skin and painful blisters. You could even develop frostbite. 

·       Nerve Damage

Prolonged exposure to cold water can lower blood flow, killing tissue and causing permanent nerve damage, also known as neuropathy. Nerve damage can result in poor muscle strength, numbness, and pain. 

·       ‌Heart Arrhythmia Triggers

Sometimes, cold water shock may 2trigger hypothermia and raise stress hormone levels, prompting abnormal heart rhythms and occasionally cardiac arrest, especially in people with heart complications.

·       Reduced Heart Rate

While cold water immersion may cause high blood pressure, some people can experience reduced heart rate or bradycardia. Bradycardia is a reflexive response from the autonomic nervous system that leads to a slowed heart rate. Through this process, the body can conserve energy and maintain balance. However, a slowed heart rate can prevent the brain and other vital body organs from getting sufficient oxygen, causing fatigue, lightheadedness, and memory problems. 

How to Cold Plunge Safely

If you’re considering incorporating cold water immersion into your wellness routine, filling a bathtub or barrel with cold water is the cheapest way to get started.  Add ice cubes and immerse yourself gradually, beginning with the legs. Engage in this practice regularly so your body can adapt to the cold. You can add more ice as you get used to the process.  To remain safe while cold plunging, consider the following:

·       Consult Your Doctor for Approval

Do you have a pre-existing heart condition or any other health complication? Seek guidance from your doctor before engaging in cold water immersion. They will examine you and provide a verdict based on your needs. 

·       Bring a Friend

Avoid cold plunging alone, especially if you’re a beginner. A friend will lend a helping hand should you experience sudden effects like dizziness or weakness. 

·       Warm Up Gradually

Take time to re-warm your body after the cold immersion process. Doing so will allow your heart and nervous system to adjust to the change in temperature.

Finally

Cold plunges can help you re-energize after a workout, relieve anxiety, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. However, there are risks involved that you should beware of, such as high blood pressure, reduced heart rate, and nerve damage. To avoid these risks, consult your medical practitioner before incorporating cold water immersion into your wellness routine, especially if you have underlying heart-related complications.

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