Should you take the ice bath plunge?

Long used by pro athletes to manage aching muscles, ice baths may also aid everything from immunity to stress relief and fat burning.

Fancy a shivery, cold blast for a health boost?

Ice baths and freezing showers have become the latest wellness craze, with celebrities like Lady Gaga, Liam Hemsworth and Andy Murray swearing by its benefits.

While it has quickly been suggested to be a fashionable way to soothe aching muscles, here are other reasons why everyone seems to be craving a quick, icy dip.

The potential health benefits of ice baths

Easing sore muscles

Ice baths reduce body temperature which reduces blood flow, swelling and inflammation in the tissue of hard-working muscles, according to research from Edith Cowan University’s Centre for Exercise and Sports Science Research.

“Following extreme, endurance-based workouts, an ice bath can aid recovery by relieving sore muscles,” Brisbane exercise physiologist Tim Douge says.

But he cautions against an ice bath following lifting weights or any resistance-based training.

Research, including a 2015 study, has found that soaking in icy water after lifting weights or resistance exercise may slow muscle growth.

Stronger immunity

A large Dutch study found people who finished their morning shower with a 30 to 90-second blast of cold water – between 10C and 12C – took 29 per cent fewer sick days than people who didn’t shower with a blast of icy water.

If you can’t manage the chillier temperatures of an ice bath, Tim says showers can be around 16C to 20C for similar effect.

Easing stress

While Bond University’s Professor of General Practice Mark Morgan says little is yet known about the effects of cold water immersion on mental health, a 2022 study suggests it could potentially help improve overall mood.

Routine cold showers may also activate our sympathetic nervous system, increasing the production of “feel-good” endorphins, according to a US study.

Burning fat

For losing weight, being physically active and eating a balanced diet are key, but a regular cold shower may give your metabolism a helping hand.

Research from Virginia Commonwealth University found that being exposed to cold increases the amount of calorie burning brown fat in our body.

How to reap the benefits of cold therapy

Dutchman Wim Hof holds world records for swimming under ice and running a barefoot half-marathon across snow.

Dubbed “The Iceman”, the Wim Hof Method founder believes exposure to the cold sparks a cascade of health benefits, including the build-up of brown adipose tissue, reduced inflammation, better sleep and the increase of happy hormones.

He recommends taking cold showers every day, starting with 40 seconds, and progressing to two minutes.

Once you’ve had your icy hit, Wim says you can have a warm shower for 10 minutes.

But he insists cold showers are necessary to reset our mind-body connection and allow us to function to our best.

But before you turn on the cold tap, Prof Morgan says it’s important to be mindful of the potential risks and to check in with your GP for any underlying health conditions such as risk for heart disease.

“Take it easy because when your body hits cold water, the phenomenon of ‘cold’ shock can cause significant changes in breathing, heart rate and also blood pressure,” he says.

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Written by Sarah Marinos. Updated by Melissa Hong, July 2023.