Close up of female legs getting into ice cold water


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You may have noticed a brazen group of people that willingly jump into frigid cold waters every January to do something called the polar bear plunge. Are they wise or just plain stupid? Cold plunging, aka immersing your body in ice-cold water for several minutes, has soared in popularity as a wellness trend in recent years. The trend was popularized by Wim Hof, a Dutch athlete and motivational speaker who founded the Wim Hof Method based on three pillars: breathing, cold therapy, and commitment. While many people — including well-known athletes and celebrities — swear by the benefits of cold plunging, others remain skeptical. 

It can also be incredibly expensive. Ice baths can cost upwards of $10,000, all for the experience of taking a dip in water that ranges from 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. But you don't have to buy a pricey tub to partake in an ice bath: Cold plunging, or cold water therapy, can encompass a variety of activities, including taking cold showers, submerging yourself in a DIY ice bath, or swimming in frigid pools, lakes, or oceans. 

Take a virtual plunge with us as we explore the benefits and risks behind cold plunging, as well as highlight some DIY ice bath ideas for those who'd like to try it out without breaking the bank.

@russellbrand Replying to @Mike Collier You lot (including Mike) asked, so this is why! I learnt from @Iceman Wim Hof #coldplunge #icebath #wellness ♬ original sound - Russell Brand

Benefits of Cold Plunging

If you're reading this while wrapped up in a warm and cozy blanket (same) and thinking there ain't no way you'd ever try this, experts claim there are a slew of potential health benefits to cold plunging, both physical and mental. Here are a few possible benefits:

  1. Reducing inflammation: Studies show that cold water immersion can reduce inflammation in the body. Though inflammation is the body's natural response to injury or stress, it can lead to chronic health conditions such as arthritis and heart disease if it persists for a long time. By reducing inflammation, cold plunging may help promote faster recovery after exercise or injury.

  2. Enhancing circulation and relieving pain: The cold temperature of the water causes blood vessels to constrict, which in turn increases blood flow to the whole body. This improved circulation may help reduce soreness and fatigue to promote faster recovery, relieve pain, and deliver oxygen and nutrients to muscles and organs throughout the body.

  3. Improving insulin sensitivity and boosting metabolism: When submerged in icy water, your body will activate its natural survival mechanism by releasing adrenaline and other hormones to try and maintain its core temperature. This may help give your metabolism a boost to help it burn calories more efficiently and keep energy levels up. A 2021 study also found that 10 days of cold exposure increased insulin sensitivity in those with Type 2 diabetes by 43%. By improving insulin sensitivity, cells are better able to clear glucose from the bloodstream, potentially resulting in improved metabolic health.

  4. Alleviating stress, depression, and anxiety: Cold plunging has been associated with reduced levels of stress, depression, and anxiety by helping lower the levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in the body and increasing dopamine (known as the feel-good hormone). This decrease in cortisol can lead to a calming effect on both the body and mind to help improve your mood and decrease brain fog. 

  5. Promoting better sleep: Finally, cold plunging has been linked to improved sleep quality and duration. Research has shown that individuals who experience a drop in core body temperature tend to have longer periods of deep sleep, which is essential in helping the body restore and heal itself. 

@bobbbaaaay there’s always resistance when jumping into a cold plunge but the benefits outweigh the 3 minutes of uncomfort. biggest takeaway for me has been the power of our minds!! #coldplunge #coldplungechallenge #coldplungecam #coldplungetherapy #coldplunges #coldtherapy #mindsetmotivation #mindsetcoach #mindsetshift #selfimprovement ♬ Sensual Seduction - Snoop Dogg

Risks of Cold Plunging

While cold plunging can have many benefits, it's important to also note the risks involved. Cold water immersion can be dangerous if not done properly. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Hypothermia: Prolonged exposure to cold water can lead to hypothermia, a life-threatening condition where your body temperature drops too low and major organs start to shut down. Symptoms of hypothermia include: shivering, confusion, and drowsiness. If you start to experience any these symptoms while cold plunging, get out of the water immediately and wrap yourself up with a warm blanket.

  2. Heart problems: If you have a history of heart disease, exposure to freezing water can put extra strain on your ticker and potentially damage it, experts say. "I would caution against it for anyone with a cardiac history," says Dr. Jorge Plutzky, director of preventive cardiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

  3. Cold shock response: When the body is suddenly immersed in cold water, a condition called "cold shock response" can occur, which can cause difficulty breathing, increased heart rate, and blood pressure. This response can be dangerous for individuals with underlying health conditions, affirms Dr. Plutzky. 

  4. Drowning: If you're not a strong swimmer, it's important to take extra precautions when immersing yourself in cold water. Make sure someone is nearby to help in case you start feeling faint or start to struggle. 

Cold water and ice cubes melting under the sun, backgroundPhoto credit: Michele Ursi/istockphoto

DIY Ice Bath Ideas

If you're interested in trying cold plunging but don't want to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a fancy ice bath, there are plenty of DIY options available.

  • Put Your Bathtub to Work: Simply fill your bathtub at home with cold water and ice cubes, and immerse yourself for a few minutes. Experts recommend starting at one or two minutes and gradually working your way up. However, be sure not to stay submerged for longer than 15 minutes as this could be dangerous.

  • Use a Plastic Bin: Use a large plastic bin or storage container to create your own ice bath. Add water and ice, and voila! This video demonstrates how to make cheap and easy ice.

  • Repurpose a Large Cooler or Chest Freezer:Fill a large cooler with cold water and ice and close the lid to prevent the heat from entering. The insulation of the cooler or freezer will help to keep the water colder for a longer period of time. 

  • Invest in an Inflatable Pool: This is a great option for those who have limited space but still want to experience the benefits of a cold plunge. Buy an inflatable or kiddie pool and fill it with cold water and ice. You can buy one on Amazon for less than 50 bucks and use it indoors or outdoors. 

  • Turn a Trash Can Into a Cold Plunge Tub: Find a large trash can that can comfortably fit your body and fill it up with cold water and ice.

  • Take a Cold Shower: If you're not ready for a full-body immersion, start by taking a cold shower. Gradually decrease the temperature until your body becomes accustomed to the cold.

The Bottom Line

Overall, cold water therapy can be a worthwhile, affordable experience for those who are interested in exploring the health benefits it can provide, but it's important to do so safely and with proper guidance. As always, it's essential to approach cold plunges, or any health practice, with caution before deciding to incorporate them into your routine. And when in doubt, don't hesitate to reach out your health care provider with questions or concerns that you may have.

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