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.

Lady Gaga has famously submerged herself in ice in an expensive, roll-top copper bath, and British tennis champion Andy Murray regularly recovers in one.

Ice baths and freezing showers have become a fashionable way to soothe aching muscles, but what are the benefits of 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

Routine cold showers activate our sympathetic nervous system, which increases the production of hormones, including the “feel-good” endorphins, according to a US study.

Researchers found being drenched in cold water gently shocks our body and that sends electric impulses to the brain, which triggers the release of the happy hormones.

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 reach for the ice bucket or turn on the cold tap, check with your GP if you have underlying health conditions.

“Extremes in temperature can place the body under stress which can be risky if you have a heart condition,” Tim says.

“Being in freezing or very cold water can increase heart rate and blood pressure, potentially putting stress on the heart.”

Written by Sarah Marinos.

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