Cold plunges, also known as cold water immersion or cold baths, involve immersing the body in cold water for a short period of time.
Blood vessels tighten in the cold water, reducing blood flow to your extremities.
When you expose your body to cold water, especially in cold weather, the blood vessels in your skin and extremities constrict, a process known as vasoconstriction. Vasoconstriction is a natural physiological response that helps to conserve heat and maintain core body temperature.
For those who are cold plunging for the first time, experts advise easing into the activity gradually to develop a tolerance for the subzero temperatures. According to Dr. Russell, beginners should aim for no more than 10 to 15 minutes of cold exposure. While Dr. Van Dien points out that research typically focuses on the frequency of cold plunges when considering its health benefits, rather than the duration of each plunge, the length of the cold plunge can be extended as one develops a tolerance to the temperature.
What Is a Cold Plunge?
The practice of immersing oneself in cold water temperatures, typically for some type of health benefit, is known as cold water therapy or cold water immersion. Cold plunging is one aspect of this practice. According to Troy Russell, M.D., regional medical director of Primary360 at Teladoc Health, "people of all activity levels are experimenting with cold plunging as a non-pharmacologic means of [relieving] joint pain and inflammation."
According to Craig Van Dien, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Hackensack Meridian Health's JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute in Edison, New Jersey, "Traditionally, athletes have used cold therapy to improve post-workout recovery." He continues, "There has been growing interest among the general public, perhaps as a result of the alleged health benefits and wellness trends.
Potential Advantages of a Cold Dip
According to Dr. Van Dien, the research on the advantages of cold plunging is largely inconclusive. "Athletes looking to reduce post-workout muscle soreness, or individuals looking for an experience, may find cold immersion appealing," he says. Athletes who compete over long distances and are susceptible to heat stroke can also benefit from the practice.
Cold plunges might be helpful for reducing stress as well. According to a recent study published in EXPLORE, taking a wintertime sea bath is linked to lower stress levels and greater overall wellbeing. The study contends that participants who participate in winter sea bathing experience a greater awareness of their health than those who do not . In a different, smaller 2020 study, a group of inexperienced open water swimmers experienced modest increases in positive mood, heightened sense of well-being, and slight decreases in negative mood.
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