In recent years, cold water therapy has gained significant attention for its potential health benefits. From improved circulation to mood boosting effects, the practice has become popular among health benefits and athletes alike. We explore the benefits and how you can incorporate cold water immersion into your routine.
A 2022 review titled ‘Health Effects of Voluntary Exposure to Cold Water’ delved into research around the role cold water immersion can play in preventing injuries and maintaining the performance of athletes when applied in the recovery period following exercise. One study compared the recovery of competing professional athletes, with and without post exercise cold water immersion.
The immersion group exhibited not only improved recovery time of sprint speed twenty four hours post exercise, but reduced flow of the biological marker creatine kinase, associated with muscle damage. The reduction in muscle soreness is thought to be due to the constriction of blood vessels whilst in cold water. As there’s less blood flow to the area, there is less swelling and inflammation, thus reduced pain.
Enhanced Neural Connectivity
Although little is known about the effect of regular cold-water swimming on the nervous system in humans, studies have been conducted on animals. Cold shock proteins, such as the binding protein RBM3, are involved in the reassembly of synapses after cooling down. One study on mice showed the overexpression of this protein to result in sustained synaptic protection in mice with Alzheimer's. If the same applies to humans, then cold water therapy could be used to protect against neurodegenerative disorders.
It is thought that cold water therapy can be used as a tool to improve mood. One particular study explored this in depth, examining the use of cold showers as a potential treatment for depression. The study theorised that lifestyles lacking certain physiological stressors experienced by primates through years of evolution, such as brief changes in temperature, may cause inadequate brain function. Researchers also posited that genetic makeup may predispose an individual to be affected by this condition more seriously than others.
To test this hypothesis, individuals, without sufficient symptoms to be diagnosed with depression, showed depressive symptoms were relieved effectively, although wider research in this area is required. This improvement is thought to be because exposure to cold activates the sympathetic nervous system and increases the blood level of the beta-endorphin and noradrenaline in the brain. Beta-endorphins are involved in pain management and natural reward circuits, such as eating and drinking. What's more, cold showers are expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could have an anti-depressive effect.
Improved Immune Function
Cold water therapy has been found to stimulate the production and activation of white blood cells, which play a crucial role in identifying and eliminating harmful invaders. It has also been shown to increase the production of Cytokines. These facilitate communication between immune cells, allowing for a coordinated defence against pathogens. If you’re looking for more ways in which you can boost the immune system naturally, check out our blog on natural immune boosting methods.
Incorporating Cold Water Therapy
You can gradually incorporate cold exposure by introducing cold showers into your routine. Begin with shorter durations at lower temperatures, which can be increased over time. Contrast therapy is another method often employed, which involves switching between warm and cold water to enhance circulation and promote recovery.
Swimming is another way to incorporate cold water immersion into your routine, however it's important to do so safely. If you are swimming outdoors, make sure to take off your wet clothes as soon as exiting the water and dress in warm layers. It may be worth consulting a doctor beforehand, particularly if you have underlying health conditions.Take the plunge in style, wearing the L’ACTIF Monogrammed Swimshort.