At face value, it sounds like a punishment you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Yet, when you dig into the concept of ice baths, there’s much more below the frigid surface.
You see, ice baths have been used for centuries for various types of therapy, mental health, and physical recovery, and while it may seem primitive, there’s actually good reason for this. Ice baths are a mild form of whole-body cryotherapy, which has become a go-to remedy for celebrities and professional athletes in recent years. Yet, while proper cryotherapy involves brief exposure to extremely low temperatures (which can be very risky), ice baths offer similar benefits with fewer risks (and at a far cheaper cost).
It is important to understand that ice baths are not your typical baths where you soak for an hour, relax, and listen to music. They’re brief – usually soak around 5 to 10 minutes – in 50-59°F water that will shock your body (don’t immerse your head!). Anything longer and you can risk hypothermia, but usually, you will be in for less than 10 minutes.
Now that we have that covered let’s look at why you should try this icy remedy.
1. Reduces inflammation
Cold temperatures make things contract, including blood vessels, which is why an ice bath can help reduce inflammation and pain. This decreases blood flow to your muscles, which may reduce inflammation and swelling after a workout. If you have a condition, such as certain forms of arthritis, you may find that soaking in an ice bath can reduce discomfort and swelling from flare-ups.
2. Reduces pain and soreness
If you put ice on an injury, it numbs the area and reduces the pain. Same concept here, but with your whole body, as the numbed nerves can reduce soreness, allowing for faster recovery. If you exercise regularly, you may find that post-workout cold water immersion is just what your muscles need.
3. Improved mental health
Ice baths are known to make people “feel alive” due to the initial shock, and they exit the freezing water feeling mentally rejuvenated. Many feel distressed and calm after an ice bath, and some even experience an increase in libido. Scientists believe that exposing your body to cold water triggers a stress response that kickstarts the nervous system. These changes can improve your mood and even help you handle stress better over time.
4. Lowers core temperature
This one sounds obvious, but quickly lowering your core temperature, especially after an intense workout, can help you avoid heat exhaustion. Some people even use ice baths pre-workout to jumpstart the nervous system, which they feel improves endurance and performance. If you are running a high fever, you can sit in an ice bath to bring your temperature back down for some slight relief.