Cold water therapy: It’s hot right now, but is it working?

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One of the hot wellness trends of 2021 is actually on the cold side – immersing your body in cold water as a way to boost your immunity, mood, and recovery from sports injuries or just sit still for too long. .

The tastes of TUSEN, Marie Claire, The Conversation, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s controversial Goop Lab have talked about cold water therapy – whether it’s an early morning dip in the ocean or a cold shower – as a cheap, invigorating health strategy.

He’s an old man too. Cold hydrotherapy has been around since people wore gowns.

The Scandinavians threw their naked bodies in the snow long before Santa Claus fled with their reindeer.

The evidence for cold water therapy is promising, if mixed – and you better be careful when reading statements made by wellness gurus and life coaches.

As an explanation from healthline.com advises: “Proponents of this technique believe that cold water therapy can improve your circulation, deepen your sleep, increase your energy level, and reduce inflammation in your body.

“Although anecdotal evidence supports these benefits, little research has been done to support these claims. “

It should be noted that people engaged in cold water therapy consistently report feeling better – sharper, less painful, more resilient – regardless of the clinical data. At least in the short term.

What cold therapy could do for you

Cold water therapy can be done by a cold shower, with the effects of increased alertness, increased heart rate and blood pressure (similar to a mini-workout), and increased metabolism.

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But a 15-minute shower is a lot of water down the drain, and those benefits won’t last long.

Immersion in cold water, where the water temperature is between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius, will provide much faster cooling after exercise, temporary pain relieving effect for sore or even torn muscles and reduction perceived fatigue.

As healthline.com advises, “According to medical experts, the reason cold water relieves pain is because it causes blood vessels to constrict. This reduces blood flow to the area – for example, an injury that you apply ice to – which helps reduce swelling and inflammation.

This is a technique commonly used in professional sports, where the immersion is about 15 minutes – the same duration as an indulgent shower, but with greater perceived benefits due to the immersion of everything. the body.

The following tips come from Bath Rugby Club and give some idea of ​​the common thinking among sports scientists.

“When you step into cold water, it forces you to breathe more deeply. This lowers the levels of CO2 in the body, which can help improve your focus, ”advises the club’s website.

“Cold water stresses your body and hardens it so that it can better cope with the little stresses of everyday life. Ideal for the management of stress, depression and anxiety.

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Does it help strengthen the immune system?

Exercise, which puts essential stress on the body, has been shown to boost the immune system, so why not take a dip in cold water?

A widely reported 2018 study enlisted 3,000 volunteers in the Netherlands to end their morning showers with a 30, 60 or 90-second stream of cold water, or to shower as they usually did, for 30 consecutive days.

Then, according to a report by Harvard business review, the researchers examined the work attendance records of the same people during this period.

“On average, in all groups that sprayed themselves with cold water, people were absent 29% fewer days than people in the control group. “

The researchers concluded that “cold showers lead to fewer sick days.”

The effect was maintained regardless of the duration of exposure of the volunteers to cold water.

Symptoms of depression have improved

In 2008, American researchers investigated the idea that our modern way of life lacks “certain physiological stressors that have been experienced by primates over millions of years of evolution.”

These may be “brief changes in body temperature”.

Scientists have suggested that this lack of “thermal exercise” can lead to improper functioning of the brain.

They conducted an experiment in which participants who took short cold showers twice a day reported a decrease in depressive symptoms.

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None of the participants in this study were diagnosed with depression.

However, in 2018, researchers at University College London published a remarkable case study of a 24-year-old woman with symptoms of major depressive disorder and anxiety.

She had been treated for this disease since the age of 17, but her symptoms were resistant to drug therapy.

As stated in the British medical journal: “Following the birth of her daughter, she wanted to be free of drugs and symptoms. A weekly open (cold) water swimming program was tested.

“This led to an immediate improvement in mood after each swim and a sustained and gradual reduction in symptoms of depression, and consequently a reduction and then discontinuation of the medications.”

At the follow-up one year later, she was left without medication.

This is only a study, and it cannot be said that cold water therapy is a cure for depression. But the case study is very promising.

A note of caution

People who have had a heart attack or are receiving treatment for heart problems should probably avoid cold water therapy.

Talk to your doctor first.

Immersion in cold water affects blood pressure, heart rate and circulation, and puts your heart under significant stress.

As healthline.com reports: There have been a number of deaths from cold exposure and heart attacks during open water swimming events.

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