As the winter chill sets in, the thought of voluntarily dousing yourself with icy water may cause you to raise a skeptical eyebrow, as you gratefully cuddle yourself deeper into your cosy woolen slippers. Yet there are those who would disagree and would go so far as to say, what better way to kick-start your immune system and give you some sparkling get-up-and-go in the bleak midwinter?

According to alternative medicine practitioner Dr. Joseph Mercola, exposure to cold temperatures via cold water and ice baths (otherwise known as cold water immersion or “cryotherapy”), is a popular technique among amateur and professional athletes, as it helps muscle recovery; but cold water immersion may in fact offer health-boosting benefits for virtually everyone.

Let’s dive into the key benefits of cold water immersion:


Enhances Immunity

Cold water stimulates the release of substances vital to immune function, such as cytokines. It was found that healthy people who swim regularly in ice-cold water during the winter demonstrated a drastic decrease in uric acid levels, which means a lower risk of conditions like heart disease, fatty liver, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease and more. There was also a notable increase in glutathione, the body’s most powerful antioxidant, which keeps all other antioxidants performing at peak levels.


Increases Metabolism

Studies also indicate that cold water immersion can stimulate brown fat – a special form of fat that has been studied in human babies, known for its heat-generating properties. An interesting new take on fat, brown fat is fat that actually burns energy rather than storing it! Now that is the kind of fat we can get behind. Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Body, claims you can increase your fat-burning potential by as much as 300% simply through adding ice therapy to your dieting strategy.


Rejuvenating

And if you are not one of those extra-hardy sporty types, well the Indian yogis have already been practicing cold water immersion for centuries. In Ayurveda, they call it Ishnaan. Yogi Bajan said, “If I with my body can conquer the chilliness of the water, I can take away the chilliness of my life”. Cold water can literally be a fountain of youth, as its bracing effect cleanses deposits and toxins by opening the capillaries. Cold water prompts the organs to flush and the glands to change their secretion. The glands are the guardians of health and life, and stimulating and rebalancing their secretions is the secret to maintaining and restoring vibrant youthfulness.

(You can read further about Ishnaan here.)


Uplifting

And if you are still feeling a sluggish reluctance, you can banish your winter blues with this little wonder therapy, as the effect of cold water stimulates the release of mood-boosting endorphins and activates sensory nerves leading to the brain. So a cold splash can be a real feel-good experience!


Sense and Safety

When practicing cold water immersion, don’t forget to use your common sense. Cold water will shock your body to some degree, so make sure you start off gradually. Start by simply turning down the temperature in your shower, or by sipping on a glass of iced water throughout the morning. Listen to your body, find out what you can tolerate, then gently and gradually work your way up to an icy dip or a cold soak in the bathtub. Also, be sure to dry off immediately and wrap up warmly once you get out of the water, to prevent colds, coughs and chills.


Cold Water Therapy at Home

For some of us the great outdoors calls, and icy rivers, lakes and seas will provide the necessary bracing plunge of icy water. But there are simpler and less daring ways to enjoy a bit of cold water therapy in your own home:

  • Take a cold shower after a workout
  • Start your morning with a 500ml glass of ice water
  • Place an ice pack on your upper back and upper chest for 30 minutes a day (you can do this while simply relaxing in front of the TV)
  • Immerse yourself in a bath of ice water up to your waist for 10 minutes, three times per week. (Simply fill your tub with cold water and ice cubes)

Have you ever tried cold water immersion before, and what were your results? We’d love to hear about your experiences!