It’s not uncommon for professional athletes and fitness lovers to take an ice bath after a workout or big game, but what are the benefits of this practice that make it so appealing? Taking a 10 to 15-minute dip in 50-59°F water, immediately following a workout, is said to work wonders on muscle soreness and pain. Research remains somewhat inconclusive, but there are many reasons people have turned to ice baths for years. Let’s look at the many benefits and precautions to take before taking the plunge.
Cool Down. This may seem obvious, but taking an ice bath or cold shower is the best way to cool yourself down quickly and relieve exertional heatstroke after a workout.
Discomfort + Fatigue. Ice baths have traditionally been used to decrease pain in the muscles, and overall soreness in the body. They can also improve central nervous system function, aiding in sleep and helping you feel less fatigued after a workout.
Recovery. Lowering the local temperature directly after physical activity can help lower your body’s inflammatory response, helping your muscles recover faster. Your blood vessels constrict in cold water and rapidly expand when you get out. This action may help to flush metabolic waste from the muscles and increase oxygen, aiding in quicker recovery.
Stress. Ice baths can help to train your vagus nerve—part of the parasympathetic nervous system—to better respond to stress. For example, runners, particularly long-distance runners, may experience increased stamina during long runs instead of fatigue when they commit to taking regular ice baths after sessions.
Immunity. Ice baths and cold showers could also have a positive effect on your body’s immune response. A study done in 2016 by the journal, PLoS One, found that those who took regular cold showers were about 30% less likely to miss work or school due to illness.
Things to Know
Do not stay in an ice bath/shower for more than 15 minutes, due to the risk of hypothermia and frostbite. If your skin begins to change color (blue, purple, etc.), it’s time to get out.
Take an ice bath/shower immediately following physical activity, as this is when the muscles are hot and eager to cool down. If you wait, the process will begin on its own and the bath will not have the same effects.
You should not take an ice bath if you have a preexisting cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure, as it may slow the blood flow to a dangerous level and could lead to a risk of stroke or heart attack.
Do you have experience with ice baths or other cold-immersion therapies? Tell us about it in the comments!