Take the Plunge: How Cold Water Therapy Can Save Your Winter

Here in the Western Hemisphere, the dog days of winter can sometimes feel like they last a year. In less horrific times, the lucky ones would be packing their bags and priming their Instagram accounts for a little R and R in warmer climes. Instead, we are Throwback Thursday-ing every damn day of the week to a time when we could wax poetic about the perspective gained from a long weekend spent with sand between our perfectly pedicured toes.

But it’s life in the time of Covid, and what we have now is perspective–and we’ve got it in spades. We’re tougher than we were a year ago and more ingenious, too. So maybe we can’t quite hop on a plane and take a true getaway (the horror!), but we can still throw our suit in a sack and take a trip of another sort, one that might even leave us feeling more refreshed than a holiday in St. Tropez. Did we mention it’s free and only takes, oh, about 3 minutes? Check out how taking the plunge can reinvigorate your winter and, as always, check with your doctor to make sure your heart is up to the task!

What is it?

Cold water therapy uses water just above freezing to around 59°F to restore, rejuvenate and heal the human body. Like so many beneficial practices, cold water treatment has been around for thousands of years. You’re probably aware the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians loved their tub time, but did you know some of those baths were icy cold? Records dating back to the 5th century B.C. describe the health benefits of a cold soak. In Scandinavian countries, cold plunging still plays a large part in the culture, often coupled with a sauna but sometimes on its own. And in recent years, Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof, who spent close to two hours covered in ice cubes, has brought this ancient wellness practice to the masses, complete with a breathing technique, a video course, and a downloadable app.

How it’s Done

If you live near open water, whether it be a river, lake, or ocean, consider taking your plunge outdoors. Not only will you be reaping the benefits of the cold plunge, but you’ll also enjoy wellbeing gained from spending time in nature, including increased self-esteem, reduced anxiety, and improved mood. However, if the idea of venturing out into the freezing cold only to plunge into an even deeper freezing cold sounds like nothing short of torture to you, fear not: your shower will do just fine. At the end of each shower, twist the knob to cold and linger a little longer. Whether you’re out in nature or in your bathroom, to harness the full range of benefits, resist the urge to tense your muscles and hold your breath. Instead, practice deep breathing, which will calm the body after the initial shock, send more oxygen to the brain, and trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, which will bring on a feeling of calm. To try the Wim Hof method, before you take the plunge, take thirty deep and quick inhales through your nose, exhaling through your mouth. Then take a deep breath in and exhale as long as possible. When you need to inhale, do so as deep as you can and hold for ten seconds. Repeat as many times as it takes for you to get the courage to jump on in.

Benefits of Cold Plunging:

Alleviate Symptoms of Depression

The anecdotal evidence that cold plunging makes people happier is real (check out the maniacal smiles of any basic #polarplunge pic), but there are scientific studies to support it too. One study theorized that a modern lifestyle that lacks the physiological stressors that we’ve been conditioned to experience since our primate days might contribute to depression in people already genetically predisposed to it. By activating the sympathetic nervous system, increasing endorphins in our brain, and sending an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from nerve endings in the skin to the brain, cold therapy was found to relieve symptoms of depression in healthy people. This can come in especially handy for those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

May Aid in Weight loss

To keep you from freezing when you immerse yourself in cold water, your body has to work. Not only does shivering burn calories but cold temperature activates the body’s elusive “brown fat,” which, while not so common in adults, is what babies, who aren’t able to shiver, use to keep warm. Brown fat burns calories to generate heat, called thermogenesis, but only does so when you’re cold. It’s why exercising in the cold won’t make much difference in calorie expenditure than exercising in heat–exercising keeps you warm, so the brown fat doesn’t have to do a thing. But plunging in a cold pool requires almost no exercise, allowing thermogenesis to kick in.

Stimulate our Immune System

Several studies suggest taking cold plunges can ward off sickness. A Dutch study that tested a group of Wim Hof’s students found that they were less likely to experience fever or nausea after receiving an inflammatory injection than the control group and experienced lower inflammation levels. In another study, participants who finished their showers with at least 30 seconds of cold water took 29% fewer sick days than those who didn’t, and when they added exercise, they were a 54% reduction.

So don’t wait till the temps climb to take a dip. Start cold plunging now, and who knows, you might even be sad to see the ice melt. To maximize the benefits, enjoy an après plunge organic mushroom elixir, which will double down on your calm, focused, and healthy bliss.