Taking an ice-cold bath right after a high-intensity workout or physical activity might sound challenging, but many athletes swear by this technique to get relief from muscle soreness, among other benefits.
Not just sportspeople, but many celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Harry Styles, Kristen Bell and Lizzo have also passed on glowing recommendations for cold bath therapy. Want to know if it is worth the hype? Take a deep dive into the health benefits, risks and more of ice baths.
What is an ice bath and how does it work?
Cold water immersion therapy is a healing technique where one plunges into an ice-cold tub of water after a workout session or sporting activity. According to Everyday Health, the chilly water constricts the blood vessels and blood flow increases to your vital organs. Once you come out of the ice-cold water, the tissues open up leading to oxygen-filled blood returning to the tissues, removing lactic acid buildup and aiding the healing of the muscles.
Generally, people take an ice bath for a maximum of five to 10 minutes. However, there is no expert-recommended time limit set for this activity.
Bonafide ice bath health benefits
Relieves sore muscles
According to Healthline, cold baths may provide intense relief to sore muscles after a heavy-duty session of exercise or physical exertion.
A study conducted on the benefits of cryotherapy published in the Springer Journal shows evidence that it has been used to reduce chronic pain for many years due in part to its ease of use, affordability, and simplicity.
Cold plunging may also facilitate the body with quicker recovery after a workout by lowering the chances of muscle inflammation.
Helps the body deal with physical stress effectively
Aurimas Juodka, a certified ice bath conditioning specialist was quoted by Healthline explaining that the vagus nerve is a part of the parasympathetic nervous system that relaxes your body after periods of stress or danger. Studies have found that the nerve, which extends from its origin in the brainstem through the neck and the thorax down to the abdomen, responds directly to cold water immersion.
As a result, ice bath therapy in this area can trigger stress relief by absorbing physical shock.
Lowers body temperature
Research, according to Healthline, shows that the body performs better when its core temperature is lower. Cold water immersion improves the lower baseline temperature of the body, which is why it is recommended by experts.
Aids sleep after a heavy workout
Cold immersion has a soothing effect on the central nervous system of the body. It helps in calming the mind and improving sleep after the workout. Hence, it helps prepare the body for the next session of physical exercise.
Risks you should know about before going for a cold plunge
A 2017 study published in The Journal of Physiology sheds light on the effectiveness of cold water immersion therapy. It claims that active recovery techniques like exercise on stationary bikes after a high-intensity workout might be more useful than the ice-cold bath.
Keeping this counterargument in mind, it is pertinent to analyse if this technique is the best option for you after looking at its possible side effects.
Since cold baths work actively on the blood vessels, people with cardiovascular and heart-related diseases should steer clear of them as they may worsen their condition.
Additionally, individuals with type one and two diabetes should be extra careful as it is proven that their bodies find it challenging to cope with extremely cold temperatures.
Lastly, with an extremely cold shower, there is a risk of hypothermia, which leads to shivering and mental confusion caused by prolonged exposure to ice-cold water.
Precautions for cold bath therapy
Regulate the temperature
It is recommended by Healthline that the temperature should not be less than 10 to 15 degree Celsius. Water colder than this can lead to health complications.
Check the timing
Even though there is no medically recommended time for an individual to spend in an ice bath, it is advised not to exceed 10 minutes. Doing so may have chronic effects on the body.
Add variations in the ice baths technique
One can opt for the 10-10-10 format based on Lewis Hunting Reaction theory. It suggests you ice yourself with a cloth barrier for 10 minutes. After that, remove ice from the water for 10 minutes and then follow it up with 10 minutes of direct icing on the affected areas.
Adopt a step-by-step approach
If you are apprehensive about taking a dip into a complete cold water immersion, then only expose the most stressed-out body part after the physical activity first. Starting from the lower body, gradually take the ice bath on the upper body once you get comfortable with the temperature.
It is best to speak with your medical practitioner before attempting ice bath therapy. They can guide you about its potential risks.
But overall, ice baths are known to elevate mood, aid in relaxing and recovering the body after strenuous activities, build resilience and increase preparedness for the next round of exercises.
(Hero and featured image: Courtesy of Yaroslav Shuraev/Unsplash)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: While there are both benefits and risks of taking ice baths, they do make up for a relaxing and healing experience after a high intensity workout. Experts claim that it reduces muscle soreness and limits inflammation.
Answer: Ice baths are recommended only after high-intensity workout sessions.
Answer: Although there is no medical directive available in this regard, do not stay in an ice bath for more than 10 minutes.
Answer: Ice baths are not recommended for those have high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases and type one or two diabetes. It can prove fatal for people with these conditions to opt for an ice bath. Prolonged exposure to extreme cold temperature can also cause hypothermia.
Answer: Ideally, you should take an ice bath for around five to 10 minutes to enjoy its healing and soothing action.