Cold water therapy: what are the benefits?

Wait, cold can be good for us? 

Though many may despise the cold, using it as a therapeutic tool can activate healing processes in the body that are well worth the temporary feelings of discomfort.

Cold therapy, also known as cryotherapy, has become increasingly popular amongst health fanatics and influencers.

Recently made famous by Wim Hof, extreme athlete and global health leader,  cold therapy has been shown to provide many health benefits and is used by high performing individuals and athletes to enhance performance.

But it's not just for athletes. Research has shown that cold exposure has been linked to many benefits for health including immunity, sleep, weight loss, mood, focus and energy by improving circulation and reducing inflammation.

This kind of therapy can be done very simply by immersing into a cold body of water such as the ocean or lake or even within the comfort of your home with a cold shower or ice bath.  

Cold therapy is especially therapeutic when practiced on a regular basis, we promise it gets easier over time!

 

Cold therapy benefits 

Boosts Immunity

Can cold activate the immune system? Studies show it can! 

Repeated cold water exposure provides a temporary stress to the body which can stimulate the immune system and may provide increased protection against infections, resulting in fewer sick days (1)(2)(3).

Cold immersion has been shown to promote the body's production of anti-inflammatory compounds and result in higher levels of immune cell activity (4).

These immunoprotective effects can be further enhanced by combining cold therapy with exercise and deep breathing.

 

Improves Inflammatory Conditions 

Cold water can help to reduce pain and swelling by causing blood vessels to constrict, reducing nerve activity, and lowering inflammation (5).

Cold therapy can be especially helpful to relieve muscle spasms and reduce muscle soreness post workout. This is why many athletes will do a cold soak after exercise as part of their recovery process or post injury.

This therapy can be used to treat or relieve many conditions including:

  • Runner's knee

  • Muscle strains and sprains
  • Tendonitis

  • Arthritis

  • Lower back pain

  • Pain or swelling

 

Improves mood and anxiety

Mental health issues continue to rise however there are many alternative and complementary therapies that can be added to our toolbox to address this epidemic, many of which are free, including cold therapy!

Though cold water therapy may not directly reduce anxiety and depression it may help to improve mental health and reduce stress through various mechanisms such as lowering inflammation, releasing endorphins, reducing blood pressure, and decreasing cortisol (6)(7).

If you do experience low mood, regular cold therapy such as cold showers may be a worthwhile activity to adopt to help improve your mood and even depression as it has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms (8).

 

Enhances detoxification

Cold therapy can promote and support the detoxification process through lymphatic stimulation. The lymphatic system is part of the circulatory system and consists of a collection of vessels that moves lymph fluid through the body to remove toxins, bacteria, viruses and other waste products. It has many functions including fighting infections and protecting the body from foreign invaders. 

This system relies on muscle contraction through movement in order to do its job, however cold therapy can also activate this system. When the lymphatic system is activated it pumps lymph fluid throughout the body in order to flush waste and toxins out of the system. As an added benefit this also activates the immune system by triggering white blood cells to do their job and attack any unwanted pathogens.

 

Supports weight loss

Can cold therapy help you lose weight? Research says it can.

Though cold therapy isn't a weight loss cure and won't make up for a sedentary lifestyle or poor diet, practicing it consistently can influence metabolic and hormonal changes to support a healthy weight.

Cold water immersion can increase the metabolic rate by up to 16% as it forces your body to burn through calories in order to raise your temperature back up.

It also can help to activate brown fat, the good type of fat that helps our bodies stay warm and reduce white fat. Too much white fat can pile up around our organs increasing the risk of obesity and chronic disease. Brown fat is activated when exposed to cold temperatures and goes to work at burning calories and improving the metabolic profile (9).

What's more, cold water may improve leptin sensitivity, supporting hunger regulation and fat burning (10)(11)(12).

 

 

Increases resiliency to stress

Cold water therapy actually creates some stress for the body, however it's a beneficial form of stress, also known as hormetic stress.

Cryotherapy is a good example of hormetic stress which is short lived and results in a beneficial response of the body.

When the body undergoes small amounts of controlled and low dose stress it actually becomes stronger and more resilient when it is confronted with external stressors.

Being uncomfortable for small periods of time may lead to being more comfortable and healthy in the long-term!

 

Though cold therapy has many benefits for health and wellbeing, it may not be for everyone so as always consult with your health care practitioner before attempting for yourself.

 

 

 

About the Author

Laurence Annez

Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.
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