The Invigorating World of Cold Water Immersion: The Benefits and How to Implement into Your Life

by | Jan 17, 2024 | Blog, Health | 0 comments

The Invigorating World of Cold Water Immersion: The Benefits and How to Implement into Your Life

Cold and even ice water immersion can be a transformative and invigorating experience that greatly contributes to wellbeing.

Full ice submersion
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The rising popularity of cold water activities

Reports suggest that when the first national lockdown hit in March 2020, the number of people signed up as members of the Outdoor Swimming Society rose by a staggering 36%. (Triswim.org)

The Triswim article references a survey conducted at outdoor swimming events in 2022 and found that as many as 20% of the 4,500 people asked had taken up the discipline during the previous 12 months.

The Benefits of Three Cold Immersion Activities

 

1) Cold Showers

  • Improved Circulation: Cold showers can stimulate blood flow, enhancing circulation throughout the body.
  • Energy Boost: The shock of cold water can increase alertness and provide a natural energy boost.
  • Pain Relief: Cold exposure can temporarily numb nerve endings, providing relief from pain.
  • Skin and Hair Health: Cold water may contribute to healthier skin and hair by closing pores and cuticles.
  • Mood Enhancer: Cold exposure can trigger the release of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters associated with feelings of pleasure and well-being. Endorphins act as natural mood enhancers.
  • Improved Immune Function: Some studies suggest regular cold water exposure may enhance immune function.

 2) Cold Water Swimming:

  • Energy Boost: The shock of cold water can increase alertness and provide a natural energy boost.
  • Increased Calorie Burn: Cold water stimulates the body to generate heat, potentially leading to increased calorie expenditure.
  • Pain Relief: Cold exposure can temporarily numb nerve endings, providing relief from pain.
  • Skin and Hair Health: Cold water may contribute to healthier skin and hair by closing pores and cuticles.
  • Stress Reduction: Cold water swimming may act as a stress reliever and contribute to improved mental wellbeing.
  • Mood Enhancer: Cold exposure can trigger the release of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters associated with feelings of pleasure and well-being. Endorphins act as natural mood enhancers.
  • Improved Immune Function: Some studies suggest regular cold water exposure may enhance immune function.

3) Ice Baths:

  • Enhanced Muscle Repair: Cold temperatures may facilitate the repair and regeneration of muscle tissue.
  • Improved Immune Function: Some studies suggest regular cold water exposure may enhance immune function.
  • Improved Endurance: Some athletes use ice baths to enhance endurance by promoting quicker recovery.
  • Burning Calories with Cold Water Immersion. There is a potential link between cold exposure and increased calorie burning (more about this further below.)
  • Pain Relief: Cold exposure can temporarily numb nerve endings, providing relief from pain.
  • Skin and Hair Health: Cold water may contribute to healthier skin and hair by closing pores and cuticles.
  • Mood Enhancer: Cold exposure can trigger the release of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters associated with feelings of pleasure and well-being. Endorphins act as natural mood enhancers.

There is some obvious crossover in benefits across these three activities. Meaning that any form of cold water immersion is beneficial, and starting with a blast of cold after a warm shower each day is a great start to building tolerance for what is now known to be great for overall wellbeing.

Cold water swimming
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Cold Water Immersion Benefits (the takeaway)

Here are the highlights but remember, everyone has different reactions and results. It’s always best to try for yourself. Proceed with caution and check out the final section, after you’ve read the step-by-step guide that will help you to introduce one or more of these these activities into your life — if you choose to.

  • Cold Water Immersion can Promote a Healthy Immune System
  • Cold Water Immersion can Reduce Stress and Build Resilience
  • Cold Water Immersion can Burn Calories
  • Cold Water Immersion — Tips and Precautions

Cold Water Immersion can Promote a Healthy Immune System

When immersed in cold water, blood flow is reduced. This process is called vasoconstriction and is said to reduce inflammation by limiting the migration of inflammatory cells to the affected muscles. Although chronic inflammation can be detrimental, exposure to cold water may help modulate this inflammatory response, promoting a balanced and healthy immune system.

One Dutch study of 3,000 participants found that people who took a daily cold shower (after a warm shower) were off work with self-reported sickness 29% less than those who had a warm shower only (study reference in the Guardian 30th Sept 2023)

healthy, happy employees
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Cold Water Immersion can Reduce Stress and Build Mental Resilience

Mu-shin promotes experiences that help manage the fight-or-flight response. Cold water immersion creates this response via our sympathetic nervous system ( the role of the sympathetic nervous system is to prepare the body to respond to challenges by increasing alertness, mobilising energy, and redirecting blood flow to critical areas). This is why cold water immersion stimulates blood flow, enhancing circulation throughout the body.

This controlled stress response can lead to a subsequent parasympathetic response (the role of the parasympathetic system is to promote relaxation when the exposure ends. Despite the experience of tightened muscles — these muscles feel less tense than before the immersion.

While the sympathetic system prepares the body for action and stress, the parasympathetic system promotes a “rest and digest” response, facilitating relaxation and recovery.

relaxing after cold water swim
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Balancing sympathetic and parasympathetic activity facilitates relaxation and recovery. This is crucial for overall wellbeing and maintaining physiological equilibrium.

Homeostasis is the physiological process by which an organism maintains a stable internal environment despite external changes. Consistent exposure to a low or moderate stress level such as cold water immersion, stimulates adaptive responses, improving resilience and health.

In the context of cold exposure, hormesis suggests that controlled exposure to cold stress can trigger adaptive responses that strengthen mental resilience. This means cold water bathers and swimmers are more likely to handle stress better over time.

8 Ways Cold Water Immersion Can Burn Calories

 

  • Thermogenesis: Cold exposure stimulates a process called thermogenesis, which is the generation of heat in the body. The body uses energy to produce heat, leading to an increase in calorie expenditure. This is particularly true in brown adipose tissue (BAT), known for its role in thermogenesis.

 

  • Activation of Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT): Brown adipose tissue is a type of fat tissue that specialises in burning calories to generate heat. Cold exposure activates BAT, and the mitochondria within BAT cells burn calories to produce heat. This process is more prevalent in infants but can be stimulated in adults through exposure to cold temperatures.

 

  • Shivering Response: When exposed to cold, the body may initiate shivering to generate heat. Shivering involves rapid muscle contractions, which require energy and result in increased calorie burning.

 

  • Increased Metabolic Rate: Cold exposure can elevate the metabolic rate, which is the rate at which the body burns calories at rest. This increase in metabolic rate is an adaptive response to maintaining body temperature in a colder environment.

 

  • Muscle Activation: Cold exposure may lead to increased muscle activation as the body works to generate heat. Muscle activity requires energy, contributing to higher calorie expenditure.

 

  • Cold-Induced Hormones: Exposure to cold can stimulate the release of certain hormones, including norepinephrine. These hormones play a role in increasing metabolic rate and promoting the breakdown of stored fats for energy.

 

  • Non-Shivering Thermogenesis: Besides shivering, the body engages in non-shivering thermogenesis during cold exposure. This includes increased sympathetic nervous system activity and the release of hormones that contribute to calorie burning without shivering.

 

  • Adaptive Response: Regular exposure to cold temperatures may lead to an adaptive response, making the body more efficient in generating heat. This adaptation can result in sustained increases in calorie burning over time.
    active swim in open water
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Mu-shin is all about gaining confidence by ‘knowing’ while helping you to onboard new routines that have an empowering result. Since there are numerous benefits of cold water immersion, and this links well with physical exercise, which we endorse — here’s how to implement cold water immersion habits. Start small to develop this new habit.

Step 1. Finish a warm shower with a 10-second cold blast and progress each day as and when you feel like it. If there are days you don’t feel up to it, don’t do it. Just embrace any willingness next time you’re in the shower.

Step 2. When you’ve got used to the cold shower blasts, arrange an open water dip/swim induction with a friend or as part of an organised group. Here are a few suggestions.

Step 3. As mentioned in the beginning, try teaming a cold water immersion with a workout. Showering first can seem counterproductive, so why not leave the bath water overnight (yours or your child’s.) The following day, you can take the plunge just before a workout. Studies suggest that plunging before a workout can be extra beneficial. Cold plunging can help maximise the benefits of your exercise routine. Furthermore, cold therapy before a workout has been suggested to increase the secretion of certain hormones, including norepinephrine, which plays a role in fat mobilisation and metabolism. If you’re feeling extra brave, add some ice. Three to six minutes is usually enough to activate muscles. Or, just stick to turning the temperature to cold in your shower after your workout. It all helps.

Step 4. When you have developed a liking (seems odd, but you will) for cold water immersion, you will likely want to explore doing so while connecting with nature.

The sensory experience of being surrounded by natural elements — water, air, and perhaps the sounds of nature — can have therapeutic effects, promoting mindfulness and a sense of tranquillity. If you do try some of the suggestions from the link to the Time Out article in step 3, you may wish to search locally for a place to frequent.

Tips and Precautions for Cold Water Immersion

  • Gradually introduce cold water to avoid shock.
  • Start with 1–2 minutes and gradually extend as tolerance increases (pay attention to how your body responds).
  • Aim for 2–3 times per week and adjust to suit.
  • Adjust the duration and frequency based on your own comfort and tolerance levels.
  • Stay well-hydrated and maintain a balanced diet to support your body’s overall resilience, especially when engaging in cold water activities.
  • If you have pre-existing health conditions or concerns, it’s advisable to consult with healthcare professionals or experts in cold exposure therapy before trying.

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