Do you need the ideal way to relax your body and mind after a grueling workout? Ice baths have some impressive physical and mental health benefits.
You might have seen elite athletes use this technique in their training. Temperature plays a crucial role in health, allowing for innovative treatments like cryotherapy. Fortunately, you don’t need specialized equipment or even an insurance policy to benefit from ice baths.
Learn more about what this treatment can do for you. You can explore the physical and mental health benefits of ice baths and how you can get started.
8 Impressive Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Ice Baths
Hopping into a vat of ice can sound downright painful — and it can be uncomfortable at first. So why would anyone want to take the plunge? Check out these impressive benefits.
1. Improves Body Temperature Regulation
Are you training for an ultramarathon that will take you through Death Valley’s punishing 110-degree-plus landscapes? If so, you might want to submerge yourself in an ice bath before your race.
A review of studies indicates that cold water immersion may be the best way to strengthen your body against such temperature extremes, although the mechanisms of this action remain unclear. An ice bath works better than cooling garments, which studies found ineffective.
The effect may occur because of water’s ability to help regulate body temperature during exercise. When your body becomes dehydrated, it doesn’t have adequate water to cool itself through sweating. Hydrating while plumping surface cells with a good soak could prevent heat accumulation from building up too quickly and impacting athletic performance.
2. Reduces Inflammation
Inflammation isn’t inherently bad — it’s how your body responds to injury by rushing cytokines to the scene to provide first aid. However, it becomes a problem when it turns systemic, as with nearly every chronic disease. Ice is one of the best-known ways to reduce the inflammation you see, such as swollen, achy joints. It can also reduce general post-workout swelling.
When you vigorously exercise, your body increases cortisol production, perceiving the activity as a stressor. While this rushes blood to your muscles to aid in recovery, it’s possible for your nerves to become overactivated, leading to overproduction and a generally uncomfortable, puffy feeling. Taking an ice bath after a workout constricts blood vessels, reducing exercise-induced acute inflammation.
Furthermore, ice baths bring your heart rate down after a workout. Why does this matter to inflammation? Your body releases cortisol in response to stress — it doesn’t matter if it’s physical or emotional. The body may interpret a racing heart as a danger sign, keeping the inflammation going instead of subsiding as it should. An ice bath can stop this inflammatory reaction chain.
3. Helps Vagal Nerve Tone
Another way ice baths help break the inflammatory chain is by improving vagal tone. Your vagus nerve is the longest of your 12 cranial nerves, touching upon nearly every organ as it branches out from the base of your skull to your tailbone’s tip. It also plays a crucial role in your body’s parasympathetic nervous system response, the side that cues you to rest and digest.
If you attend therapy, you might have heard your counselor suggest splashing cold water on your face as a grounding technique. That’s because your vagus nerve has a branch that extends along your ears where it joins with several others, like your trigeminal nerve. Immersing yourself in an ice bath lets you hit multiple branches of the vagus nerve at once, invoking deep relaxation.
4. Improve Skin Tone and Clarity
Some of the benefits of ice baths are mental and physical. Have you ever noticed that your skin looks spectacular after coming in from the cold? When your body gets cold, it pulls blood closer to the skin’s surface to warm you.
It has additional effects that last long after you get warm, too. Increasing circulation to your skin gives it the nutrients it needs to heal acne lesions. It also supplies skin with the building blocks for hyaluronic acid, which improves skin elasticity, preventing wrinkles and premature aging.
Some beauty brands capitalize on the cold’s capacity to improve skin tone and texture. For example, you can use ice rollers to soothe angry skin after a wax treatment or banish those undereye bags that make you look tired by 8 pm.
5. Improve Chronic Pain
Your vagus nerve also plays a vital role in your body’s pain response. There’s a significant correlation between survivors of traumatic abuse and people who later develop chronic illnesses. One reason is that you lose vagal tone over time as your body’s information superhighway becomes overwhelmed by the constant flood of nerve signaling. Over time, your vagus nerve loses its ability to calm you because it’s so logjammed with negative messages.
Ice baths improve vagal tone by activating your body’s relaxation response. It gains strength over time, just as your muscles improve with regular activity. You’ll gradually regain your ability to receive positive messages and respond to them, which reduces systemic inflammation and pain.
6. Support Immune Function
A cold or case of the flu can leave you sidelined. However, ice baths may improve immune function, preventing an infectious disease from taking a chunk out of your training time.
One study showed that stress-inducing non-infectious stimuli, such as cold water immersions, increased blood concentrations of catecholamines, proteins that increase signaling to other cells. These exposures also increased the metabolic rate and elevated immune response slightly.
7. Burn Fat Faster
Another physical benefit of ice baths may be helping you lose weight more quickly. You might have guessed that any activity that elevates your metabolism will help you burn fat. Ice baths can assist in this endeavor through another mechanism, too.
You have two kinds of fat, white and brown. The brown variety is considered the “good” fat, as it contains iron and consists of smaller particles readily broken down for heat. It also has two hormones, irisin and FGF21, which facilitate this process and proliferate when you shiver. An ice bath activates these hormones, potentially helping you lose weight faster.
8. Ease Anxiety and Depression
Scientists have discovered a link between systemic inflammation and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. In particular, pro-inflammatory cytokines are neurotoxic, meaning they destroy brain cells.
Ice baths may improve the symptoms of these disorders by lowering systemic inflammation. The response might not be immediate — after all, climbing into an ice bath is a bit of a shock. However, the relief you feel upon exiting the bath and getting cozy and warm is enough to make even the most melancholy soul breathe a sigh of relief.
Tips for Using Ice Baths to Improve Your Health
How can you enjoy ice baths at home and reap these benefits? The following tips will help you use ice baths to improve your health:
- Time it right: The sooner you ice yourself after a tough workout, the better.
- Use a thermometer: Your ice bath should ideally be between 50 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Go full immersion: Although you may want to start with just your lower legs, you’ll get maximum benefit if you immerse your full body.
- Keep it short: You should submerge yourself for no longer than 15 minutes to avoid the risk of hypothermia.
- Try the hunting/Lewis reaction method: This technique involves icing yourself for ten minutes, removing yourself from the cold for ten minutes, then re-immersing yourself for another ten.
Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Ice Baths
Ice baths are a fantastic tool for improving your mental and physical health. They’re accessible enough for nearly anyone to use — no prescription required.
See if this technique can improve your athletic performance or ease daily aches and pains. Once you discover the physical and mental health benefits of ice baths, you may get hooked for life.