Best 5 Health Benefits of Ice Baths

After a game, you may have experienced professional athletes jump into an ice bath. Perhaps you have a fitness enthusiast friend who uses ice baths religiously to recover from a workout. Cryotherapy, a type of treatment that uses cold to treat a variety of health issues, includes cold-water plunges. A lot of celebrities also like them, with singers and football players among those who have dipped into them.

While the practice has gained popularity recently, it is not a novel concept. For centuries, people have used immersion in cold water to improve their overall health and well-being. Supporters of the method assert that it can improve sleep, lessen inflammation, and ease sore muscles. However, there is a lot of conflicting data regarding the advantages of ice baths.

What are the benefits of ice baths?

Ice baths aren’t as extreme as whole-body cryotherapy, which involves exposure to very low temperatures. Instead, ice baths require a brief—usually around 5 to 10 minutes—plunge in water that’s 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Ice bath fans use the practice to remedy muscle soreness, stress, and more.

1. Reduces inflammation and swelling 

When you take an ice bath, the cold temperature narrows your blood vessels. This decreases blood flow to your muscles, which may reduce inflammation and swelling. And some research suggests that cold therapy may lower post-exercise inflammation better than other methods, like compression socks.

2. Relieves sore muscles 

Stepping into a cold bath might help relieve sore muscles. Scientists aren’t sure exactly how it works. But less inflammation and slower nerve signaling could mean less pain. Cold water could also lower your perception of pain or how much soreness you feel.

According to one systematic review, ice baths may reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after exercise. But the studies analyzed in the review were of low quality. And the best way to take an ice bath to soothe sore muscles—including the ideal water

temperature, duration, and frequency—was unclear.

Evidence indicates that ice baths may also ease pain from chronic conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and fibromyalgia. But there’s a need for more research on ice baths for chronic pain relief and the possible long-term side effects.

3. Aids exercise recovery 

Your blood vessels dilate, or widen, after you step out of an ice bath, improving circulation. Your muscles’ nutrient-rich blood flow may aid in the removal of metabolic waste that accumulates during exercise. However, there is little and inconsistent data on the use of ice baths as a post-workout recovery technique.

Ice baths may speed up the recovery process after exercise, according to certain studies, but it’s not clear if the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. A review published in 2021 discovered that ice baths help lower inflammation brought on by exercise. However, the researchers also found that ice baths can prevent training adaptations that lead to muscle growth and enhanced performance. However, this possible side effect might only be relevant to endurance exercises—not aerobic ones.

4. Supports immunity

Ice baths have been shown to support a healthy immune system. People were exposed to bacteria in a small study to see how their immune systems would react. Deep breathing, meditation, and immersion in cold water were all combined by participants, including those who did not experience as many symptoms of bacterial infection. However, because the study examined a variety of techniques, it is challenging to extrapolate findings about how beneficial cold-water immersion is for immune system function in general.

5. Improves mental health 

Your mental health may benefit from ice baths as well. A brief study indicated that giving patients with gout a daily 20-minute ice bath enhanced their quality of life. After four weeks, the study participants experienced reduced stress, anxiety, and depression in addition to improved joint mobility. Researchers believe that exposure to cold water stimulates the nervous system and sets off a stress reaction in the body. Over time, these adjustments can lift your spirits and assist you in managing stress.

How do you make an ice bath?

There are no standard guidelines for how to make an ice bath. So most information—on the best water temperature, how long to sit in an ice bath, and how often to take one—comes from research and firsthand accounts.

You have plenty of options if you decide to try ice baths. You can go to a gym or spa that has a cold-water pool or buy an at-home ice bath with a temperature control system. But you can also just use your bathtub. All you need is some ice cubes, a thermometer, and a timer.

To make an ice bath at home:

  • Run lukewarm water and put your thermometer in the tub.
  • Gradually add ice cubes to the tepid water. Remember to put on comfortable clothes, like a T-shirt and shorts, before getting into the tub.
  • Step into the tub slowly when the water reaches 50–59 degrees Fahrenheit, or 10–15 degrees Celsius.
  • Set your alarm for 5–10 minutes or less based on what feels reasonable.
  • Get out of the tub carefully, and be sure to dry off thoroughly before changing into dry clothes.

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