Ice bath in summer: Should you take the plunge? Know ideal temperature, duration, amazing benefits, risks | Health - Hindustan Times
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Ice bath in summer: Should you take the plunge? Know ideal temperature, duration, amazing benefits, risks

By, New Delhi
May 27, 2024 10:56 AM IST

Is taking a bath in icy cold water good or bad for your health? An expert on ideal duration, benefits and precautions to follow.

Ice bath or cold water immersion are catching popularity nowadays courtesy social media and some celebrities who vouch by its effectiveness for their mental health, rejuvenation and faster recovery. Ice baths involve submerging your body in icy cold water for a brief period. The practice is said to improve blood circulation, trigger endorphins that enhance your blood and also aid in relieving swelling and tissue breakdown post intense workout. There are risks too, warn experts, as prolonged exposure to cold water can lead to hypothermia, a dangerous drop in body temperature. (Also read: Wonderful benefits of cold shower in morning; why it works better than coffee)

Ice baths may help in reducing pain and inflammation, improving mental health, and can cool the body fast in case of heat stroke. (Freepik)
Ice baths may help in reducing pain and inflammation, improving mental health, and can cool the body fast in case of heat stroke. (Freepik)

The practice of ice baths or use of cold water for therapy, also known as cryotherapy, goes back to centuries ago, according to an article published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. As per a study published in the journal of Sports Medicine in January 2022, people who used ice baths after high-intensity exercise reported feeling better, increased muscular power and improvement in soreness. Ice baths thus may help in reducing pain and inflammation, improving mental health, and can cool the body fast in case of heat stroke. They are also said to improve moods and concentration. Taking ice baths can also improve quality of your sleep.

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What is ice bath?

"An ice bath involves immersing the body in cold water, typically at a temperature ranging from 50-59°F (10-15°C). This practice is widely used by athletes and fitness enthusiasts to aid in muscle recovery and reduce inflammation," says Dr Rahul Agarwal Consultant Internal Medicine CARE Hospitals Hitech City Hyderabad.

Dr Agarwal in an interview with HT Digital talks about the ideal duration, potential benefits, and precautions of ice baths in summer.

Wonderful benefits of taking ice baths in summer:

1. Boosts immunity

Regular exposure to cold water can stimulate the production of white blood cells, which are crucial for fighting infections. Additionally, the improved lymphatic circulation from ice baths helps to remove toxins from the body, potentially enhancing overall immune function.

2. Increases alertness and energy

The shock of cold water immersion stimulates the body's nervous system, leading to an increase in alertness and energy levels. This can be particularly beneficial during the hot summer months when lethargy can be more common.

3. Aids mental health

Cold water exposure triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals. This can improve mood, reduce anxiety, and even alleviate symptoms of depression. The practice can also enhance mental toughness and resilience by teaching the body and mind to adapt to stress.

4. Promotes better sleep

Taking an ice bath can lower the body's core temperature, which is a natural signal for the body to prepare for sleep. This cooling effect can help to improve the quality of sleep, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.

5. Reduces muscle soreness and inflammation

After intense physical activity, muscles can become sore and inflamed. Ice baths help to constrict blood vessels and reduce metabolic activity, which decreases swelling and tissue breakdown. This can lead to a significant reduction in muscle soreness and faster recovery times.

6. Enhances recovery

By lowering the temperature of the muscles, ice baths can help to minimise the risk of further injury and expedite the healing process. The cold immersion helps to reduce muscle damage and inflammation, allowing athletes to recover more quickly and perform better in subsequent activities.

7. Improves circulation

Immersing the body in cold water causes blood vessels to constrict. Once you exit the ice bath, these vessels dilate (expand), leading to improved blood flow. This process helps to flush out metabolic waste products from the muscles and deliver fresh, oxygen-rich blood to aid in tissue repair and recovery.

Ideal duration for ice baths

Time: 5-15 minutes. Beginners should start with shorter durations, such as 5 minutes, and gradually increase as their tolerance improves.

Frequency: 2-3 times per week, depending on individual recovery needs and tolerance.

Precautions to follow while taking icy cold baths

1. Avoid extreme cold

Ensure the water temperature is not too cold, staying above 50°F (10°C) to prevent hypothermia or shock. Extremely cold water can be dangerous, especially for those not accustomed to ice baths.

2. Gradual exposure

Start with shorter durations, such as 2-3 minutes, and progressively increasethe time spent in the ice bath as your body adapts to the cold. Sudden, prolonged exposure can be harmful.

3. Monitor health conditions

Individuals with cardiovascular issues, hypertension, or other medical conditions should consult a healthcare professional before incorporating ice baths into their routine. Cold immersion can place additional strain on the heart and circulatory system.

4. Hydration

Stay well-hydrated before and after the ice bath to avoid dehydration. Cold water can increase the body's metabolic rate, leading to increased fluid loss.

5. Avoid long exposures

Prolonged exposure to cold water can lead to hypothermia, a dangerous drop in body temperature. Stick to recommended durations of 5-15 minutes to stay safe.

6. Warm up gradually

After exiting the ice bath, warm up gradually with a warm shower or by wrapping yourself in a warm towel. Avoid jumping into hot water immediately, as this can shock the system.

7. Listen to your body

Pay close attention to how your body responds to the cold. If you experience excessive discomfort, numbness, or pain, exit the ice bath immediately. If symptoms persist, seek medical advice to ensure your safety.

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