5 Ice Bath Benefits for Brain and Body

A woman relaxing in a cold outdoor pool

The cold has almost always been associated with, well, the chills. When the thermostat goes down, people tend to go into defense mode. Some make it a habit to take their annual flu shots. Others wear face masks. A good number, though, may decide to avoid the risk of getting sick by bundling up indoors. In contrast, heat is associated with wellness. Eating steaming chicken soup, sipping hot ginger ale, and taking a steam bath are typical ways people “warm up” to maintain or restore vitality and good health.

The avoid-the-cold perspective isn’t entirely without merit. We know all too well the wisdom of keeping out of the cold. But did you know that it isn’t exactly your exposure to plummeting temperatures that can get you sick? Contrary to common belief, the culprits are viruses that thrive in dry and chilly environs. In fact, “feeling the cold” may do you good. In this article, we’ll explore several ice bath benefits that can work wonders for you.

How Can Ice Bath Benefit the Brain and Body?

Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine himself, believed in the healing power of cold water bathing. Sometime later, during Roman times, bathers immersed themselves in a pool of frigid H20 before dipping in lukewarm and, eventually, hot water for their well-being and social purposes. Fast forward to today, and ice bathing is as popular as ever as an invigorating therapy. Here are a few good reasons why you, too, should take the plunge.

1. Ice bath benefits for your central nervous system

You may think that drenching yourself in extremely cold water can get you in a “state of shock.” Just thinking about submerging in an icy pool may already get you shivering. But research indicates that cold water immersion may actually prove helpful to the CNS or central nervous system. One study showed cold water immersion as an effective method of treatment that helps slow down the pace at which your nerves send pain signals to the brain. These nerves send impulses from the spinal cord that directly control the movements of our muscles. Additionally, the icy soak cools down skin temperature. Both these effects result in a decreased sensitivity to painful stimuli

This has positive implications for the improved management of neurological disorders such as sciatica, Guillain-Barre syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, brain trauma, and even migraine.

2. Ice bath benefits in stimulating your vagus nerve

Are you so racked up that regular massages and soothing music aren’t enough to calm you? Then perhaps some vagus nerve stimulation may be just what you need. 

The vagus nerves are the main nerves of the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your “rest-and-digest” conditions. Their primary function is to conserve your energy so you can use it later for other bodily functions like digestion and bladder control. So these nerves tend to allow you to relax faster, effectively counteracting the flight-or-fight response to stressful situations. 

According to certified strength and conditioning specialist Aurimas Juodka, CSCS, CPT, a clear benefit of taking ice baths is the training of your vagus nerve. The ability to control the vagus nerve to address stress may prove advantageous in enhancing mood, managing pain, pain management, and strengthening resilience.

A woman submerged in cold water

3. Ice bath benefits in relieving aches and pains

When you pull a muscle, reaching for an ice pack may be the first thing that’ll come to mind to relieve the pain and swelling. This fail-proof technique works because it is grounded in science. The cooling effect minimizes the transmission of pain signals, thus reducing pain perception. The cold also triggers the narrowing of the blood vessels in outlying tissues, such as connective, nerve, and muscle tissues. This reduces blood flow to the affected body part, diminishing swelling and inflammation.

Thus, a colder temperature, such as in ice baths, may relieve muscle fatigue and ease general aches and pains. It can even markedly aid in decreasing muscle spasms and edema. 

Colder temperatures, as seen with an ice bath, may also markedly aid in decreasing edema and muscle spasms. And the bonus? After a particularly intense workout, immersing in an icy bath can feel good as it relieves sore and burning muscles.

4. Ice bath benefits for patients with COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a long-term inflammatory disease that blocks the airflow from the lungs, making breathing difficult. Research shows a link between cold water immersion and the health improvement of patients with COPD. The repeated cold stimulation reduced infections and boosted the ability to exhale. It also improved the count of lymphocytes or the white blood cells that help clear inflammation. Thus, ice baths have the potential to enhance the quality of life for those afflicted with COPD.

5. Ice bath benefits in reducing the effects of heat and humidity

Hot and humid conditions can be quite uncomfortable, causing you to sweat and feel stuck all over. However, that isn’t the worst part of it. The increase in temperature or humidity can drain away your energy, making you feel tired and sluggish. The heat and dampness in the air can also put you in a bad mood, disrupt your sleep, and cause dehydration. 

On the other hand, chilly temperatures, like what you experience in ice baths, can have the opposite effects. One study showed that 15 minutes of shivering in cold temperatures could be the equivalent of working out for an hour. Just like exercise, it can impact brown fat, a particular type of body fat that gets activated when the thermostat goes down. It’s this fat that produces heat so you can stay warm. “Turning on” the brown fat then boosts metabolic activity. The result is that you feel more energetic. Improved metabolism can also support your bodily processes to function better. And when your body is in proper working order, you may be able to sleep better as well.

Icing Out in the Best Way Possible 

While ice bath benefits have been shown in several studies, this doesn’t mean that you should be walking on thin ice—if you get our drift (pun intended). All the amazing advantages may get you jumping into the nearest icy pool, but before you do, please note that there can be risks, such as non-freezing cold injuries. So ensure you’re properly “quivering” your way to better health. See a doctor first before proceeding with any water therapy to discuss any potential risks. Also, have someone tag along to monitor you or apply first aid in an emergency. 

You may also want to get a feel of cold therapies without having to submerge your entire body right away. For instance, you can try out a cryo facial, a non-invasive icy treatment that involves pumping liquid nitrogen onto your face. 

HigherDOSE, a cutting-edge company specializing in future-focused health therapies like infrared technology, offers safe yet potent freeze facial therapies. Although they may sound intimidatingly “frosty,” HigherDOSE’s cryo facials are actually a soothing, stimulating, and quite refreshing experience. All you need to do is sit back and relax, and the vaporized liquid nitrogen will instantly shrink enlarged, oily pores and boost the circulation of clean, fresh blood to your face. The result is collagen regrowth and cell repair, so you look fresh-faced with a cool glow. So if a fresh, glowing complexion is your thing, check out the HigherDOSE Cryo Facial, now available at our HigherDOSE Williamsburg wellness center.

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