by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist
Published in Lifestyle on 15th August, 2018
Tony Robbins exalts it's benefits, Floyd Mayweather swears by it and marathon runner Paula Radcliffe attributes her wins to it, so this life-changing technique must be pretty astounding, right? Even though it's effects are, cold-plunging really doesn't sound that exciting, more than anything it sounds pretty off-putting, and the technique itself isn't that challenging. Unknown to many, plunging your body into a pool of cold water can actually have incredible benefits, but how so?
In short, cold-plunging is submerging your body in as cold water as you can find, and staying there for a while. A lot of cold-plungers also incorporate breath work into their plunge, taking rapid, deep and powerful breathes to circulate their blood and get the full benefits of the plunge. Fans of cold-plunging such as Tony Robbins start their day every morning with an ice-cold plunge into 56 degrees F (13 degrees C) water.
Historians say that there are records of humans taking cold-plunges throughout history, in fact it's still a common practice in modern bath-houses. The ancient Roman, Russian, Turkish, Chinese and Finnish civilizations were all shown to use cold-plunges as part of their bathing routines and reap the health benefits from it, so this isn't a new trend at all.
Your lymphatic system is a network of vessels that run throughout your entire body, that transport waste, bacteria and toxins away from your cells. It works like a garbage removal service essentially, removing anything unwanted. When our lymphatic system isn't circulating properly we can quickly start feeling unwell, come down with colds, have achy joints, infections and get a build-up of toxins in the body. Usually the body relies on exercise to keep the lymphatic system circulating, as it has no heart to pump the fluid around the body and therefore relies solely on the contraction of muscles to move the waste out. Cold plunging causes the bodies muscles to contract, and gives the lymphatic system a huge boost by re-starting circulation and helping to get waste products and infectious material out of the body.
As we all know, our circulatory system transports blood around the body, supplying vital nutrients and oxygen - it is therefore paramount that we keep our circulatory system working efficiently. A modern lifestyle of working a 9-5 office job and cheap easy foods makes it difficult for our circulatory system to thrive, but cold-plunges can help with that. They send the body into somewhat of a "shock" state, in which all the blood flows directly to the vital organs, replenishing them with oxygen and nutrients and improving the efficiency of our blood flow for the rest of the day.
Your metabolism is how fast your body converts food into energy, the faster and more efficient your metabolism is, the more energy you'll likely have and the easier you'll find it to lose weight. Not only that, but cold-plunging can actually aid weight loss by encouraging your body to start burning "white fat" aka the bad kind of fat that tends to collect around your hips, stomach and thighs. This all happens because the cold exposure causes your body to immediately rev up its metabolism to get enough energy to generate heat, this gives your metabolism a boost but also starts to use brown fat (aka "good fat") to convert to heat energy. The rest of the body that is using energy unrelated to heat production starts burning up the "bad fat" and as a result, can lose weight faster.
When we stagnate, we tend to procrastinate. That feeling of just not wanting or being able to get anything done is killer and can really affect our productivity on days where we just wish we could be more efficient with our time. Cold plunges might just become your new favorite remedy because they are the exact opposite of stagnation. They shock your body, causing your circulation to start directing oxygen and nutrients towards your vital organs and brain, which revitalizes and removes any foggy-headedness. Their action on your lymphatic system will get toxins and any other nasty waste materials out from your body, leaving you fresher for days to come. This all works to completely re-start and rejuvenate, so no matter how excruciating stepping into that cold shower is at the start, you'll feel amazing afterwards.
Generally, when we experience muscle soreness, especially after a workout, we immediately go to a hot bath or heat packs to apply to the affected area, but what if really, we should be going in the opposite direction, and soaking in cold water? Cold-plunges have actually been scientifically proven to help counteract the side effects of muscle-overuse such as soreness, pain and tightness. When we dip into cold water, we constrict a lot of the blood vessels and this helps to reduce swelling and inflammation caused by the body sending too much blood to the affected area. Even better, the cold can actually numb the nerve endings and act as a pain reliever. Lot's of pro-athletes recommend soaking in cold water after a tough workout, to prevent this inflammation from happening.
When most of us think about submerging ourselves in cold water every day, we probably don't associate this with a happy feeling, it's more likely that we'll be wondering how we can avoid it at all costs. Once you learn to embrace and breathe through the shock of submerging yourself in cold water however, you could soon be reaping the benefits mentally. Studies have shown that cold water immersion therapy can actually be as effective as prescription medication in treating mental illnesses like depression. This is because when we are submerged in cold water, our body sends a rush of all the good, happy and mood-boosting neurotransmitters (chemicals in your brain). While it would be incorrect to suggest that cold-plunging is a cure for depression or will work for everyone, it's definitely worth a shot if you're feeling down in the dumps.
Location: there's no perfect place to cold-plunge - some such as Tony Robbins like to install their own cold-tubs in the house, so they can jump out of bed and straight into the freezing water. Most, however, can't afford this anti-hot-tub and prefer to go for cold showers. There's no evidence to suggest that a cold shower won't work just as well as submerging your body in a pool of water. If you really want to re-connect with nature, those living by streams or who go camping often might want to consider a nature dip. Extra caution may be required, but the act of being close to nature can be hugely beneficial.
Health: it's not safe for everyone to dunk themselves in freezing cold water. While the benefits of cold-plunging can help many to overcome illness and fatigue, if you suffer with a heart condition, or have issues with your circulation such as Raynaud's Syndrome, you may want to avoid it or start off on more of a lukewarm temperature. Always do some research and check up with your doctor if in doubt.