Growing up, we all probably had some sort of parental guidance along the lines of ‘keep warm to avoid getting sick.’
I’ve said this before, but avoiding the cold is something heavily ingrained in our values:
Don’t play out in the rain, dry up properly after swimming, don’t forget your sweater when you go out in the winter, etc.
And as an adult, it also seems instinctive to bundle up or turn on the heat when temperatures drop.
Ice Bath #Goals. Photo by Tobias Oetiker on Unsplash.
Therefore, it might seem counterproductive to engage in activities like Ice Baths—which health and wellness enthusiasts as well as multi-million-dollar mega athletes seem to like doing: a lot.
But maybe they know something we don’t.
As a bit of a cold exposure enthusiast, plunging into a tub of ice is nothing new to me: and so are the several benefits of Deliberate Cold Exposure that I’ve felt and experienced, as the scientists and researchers call it, whether it’s turning that shower knob cold or plunging into a tub full of ice water.
In this article, you’ll find 5 key points showing if ice baths really are good for you (and if they’re even worth it.)
Let’s get started.
Quick Answer: Are ice baths good for you?
Ice baths can be good for you, provided you don’t have pre-existing health conditions such as heart disease. Given that you’re in decent physical condition to withstand the stresses of the cold shock, there are a whole host of physical and mental benefits that ice baths can give you if you take them regularly such as 1 or 2 a week.
We’ll discuss a bit more in depth these exact benefits of ice baths in this article, as well as factors to note so that you can decide if ice baths really are worth it for your particular situation.
Ice Bath Factor 1: Athletic Recovery
You might have seen photos of sports stars neck deep in ice, a lot of them doing so in between their highly-competitive sports tournaments.
This is because they need their bodies to recover quickly in time for their next matches.
When you hop into an ice bath, your body undergoes an initial vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels) phase, which squeezes out bodily waste products.
This is similar to what a nice massage after a heavy workout can do for your sore muscles.
Soon after the ice baths, you’ll also be having increased blood flow which helps your circulation in the end, thereby improving recovery and repair.
Therefore, if you’re into sports and need to recover fast, ice baths could be very good for you to aid in restoring your athletic performance quickly.
Ice Bath Factor 2: Boosting Mood
The whole process of icing yourself to recover faster seems like a “no pain, no gain” sort of deal.
But even more counterintuitive is how the stress and your body’s reaction to ice baths (and cold exposure in general) can actually elevate your mood.
A study on deliberate cold exposure showed how participants had elevated levels (250% higher than baseline) of dopamine circulating in their bloodstream after some cold water exposure.
Ang guess what, unlike harmful substances that can spike dopamine in a short burst, the cold exposure-induced dopamine increase lasted hours after the ice-cold baths the participants did. (Source.)
In addition to that, Dr. Anna Lembke, who is an addiction researcher, talked about how one of her patients successfully treated their addiction with ice baths, in her book, “Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence.”
She recounts her patient’s words, that doing ice baths “for five to ten minutes every morning and again just before bed” was “key to [his] recovery.” (Lembke, 2021)
That individual successfully used ice baths to stop and keep away from substance addiction.
Just 10-15 minutes of ice baths can have this mood-enhancing effect, leading to a repeatable, healthy way to elevate one’s mood.
If you're ready to take the plunge and try cold immersion therapy, our portable ice bath is the perfect solution. — Delivered straight from Christchurch to your doorstep NZ wide.
Ice Bath Factor 3: Mental Acuity and Memory
Aside from increasing dopamine circulation, submerging yourself neck-deep in ice cold water can help your ability to think better and solve problems, as well as increase your alertness.
That’s because deliberate cold exposure in ice increases the presence of another neurotransmitter: noradrenaline. (Source)
This hormone, commonly put out by your body in fight-or-flight situations, can boost your alertness while you’re in the stressful-but-controlled situation of dunking yourself in ice water.
Interestingly, in medieval times, before people wrote things to remember them, they would apparently throw children in a cold river after teaching them something:
“[A] child was selected to observe an event and then thrown into a river so that the child would subsequently have a lifelong memory of the event.” (McGaugh, 2003. Source)
While this practice would seem barbaric in modern times, researchers have studied something along the same line: through stress, cold immersion can indeed help you memorize and remember things, if you do it right after the learning period. (Source)
Now, of course, it’s not that feasible to do ice baths right after studying for every exam if you’re a student, but I’m just saying. The option is there, you know? 😊
More realistically-speaking, you can also try a lighter form of cold exposure, like cold showers, and some light exercise to increase your adrenaline to help you remember things right after a period of study.
In addition to this, you can even combine it with caffeine to layer the effects of wakefulness and focus.
Ice Bath Point 4: Hypertrophy
People work out for different reasons.
Health, athletic ability, general fitness, as well as aesthetics related to building muscle, among other reasons.
I’ll keep it simple:
Don’t take ice baths right after your gym session if you want to build as much muscle as possible.
While cold exposure doesn’t outright halt muscle growth, it can lessen what contributes to muscular hypertrophy. (Source: Postexercise cooling impairs muscle protein synthesis rates in recreational athletes)
But you can rest assured, you can both build your physique and get the benefits of cold exposure in your life if you time things right.
We go into more detail about taking ice baths while building muscle in our article here, so check it out if you want to find out more about ice baths and muscle gains:
Ice Bath Point 5: If your current fitness and health level can withstand the stress of it
Of course, at the end of the day, cold exposure is not for everyone.
It may be up to personal preference, but up to personal safety too.
Consult your healthcare professional before doing any cold exposure therapy of any kind.
Even more so if you have any underlying health conditions like hypertension and heart disease.
However, going back to individual preferences, just like if someone just won’t do squats, or hates tennis—not everyone has to do ice baths.
You can even just do some deliberate cold exposure like cold showers without ever stepping foot in a tub full of ice if you want to.
You’ll still get some of the benefits, either way.
More importantly, you may just not necessarily want to go with the stress that ice baths can give you.
(Although arguably, that good stress is what can help your body recover and give your mind a boost.)
But still, feel free to know that especially with products like our easy to set up Ice Bath NZ, trying ice plunges out when you’re ready is as easy as ever.
The benefits of your cold exposure journey are always ready when you are.
In summary, yes, for the most part, ice baths can be good for you.
There are a ton of benefits in your brain and body that you can get from Deliberate Cold Exposure therapy such as from ice baths.
However, they can’t solve every health problem.
But in the end, take it from me and thousands of other cold exposure enthusiasts who have reaped the many benefits that cold plunges can give you.
If you're ready to take the plunge and try cold immersion therapy, our portable ice bath is the perfect solution. It's easy to set up, requires no plumbing, and can be easily stored away when not in use. —Delivered straight from Christchurch to your doorstep NZ wide.
Lembke, A. (2021, August 24). Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence. Dutton.
Mcgaugh Jl. Making Lasting Memories: Remembering the Significant. In: National Academy of Sciences; Cela-Conde CJ, Lombardo RG, Avise JC, et al., editors. In the Light of Evolution: Volume VII: The Human Mental Machinery. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2014 May 19. 9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK231619/
Schwabe, L., Hermans, E. J., Joëls, M., & Roozendaal, B. (2022). Mechanisms of memory under stress. Neuron, 110(9), 1450–1467. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2022.02.020
Šrámek, P., Šimečková, M., Janský, L., Šavlíková, J., & Vybíral, S. (2000). Human physiological responses to immersion into water of different temperatures. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 81(5), 436–442. https://doi.org/10.1007/s004210050065