If you have ever had a muscle strain or joint sprain, chances are you have used the local application of heat or ice (or both). The application of heat and ice to injuries has commonly been utilized as methods of non-invasive, non-addictive pain relief therapies to treat muscle and joint pains, and to accelerate healing.
While most in the western world have experienced many of health benefits of a hot bath, shower or sauna, likely a very small percentage of people (even athletes) have immersed themselves in an ice bath to speed up their post-activity healing or for the other associated health benefits. Much research has been done suggesting many health benefits of exposure to hot and cold that you may not expect.
Benefits of Ice Bathing
While the great benefits of hot and ice applications are widely talked about in the world of fitness and sports, its positive effects certainly go beyond aiding in recovery. Athletes and non-athletes alike can reap the health rewards of ice bathing, or even taking a cold shower.
The thought of immersing your body in ice cold water may seem horrifying rather than soothing, but as the body responds to the drastic change in temperature, it brings about a series of positive effects. For example, there is a significant increase of oxygen intake. It also increases heart rate, resulting to a rush of blood through the entire body, giving a natural dose of energy.
Refines Hair and Skin
The cold temperature helps tighten pores and cuticles, preventing them from getting clogged. Cold water also prevents the skin from being stripped from its natural oils. It also flattens the hair follicles, making hair appear stronger, healthier and shinier.
Improves Circulation and Immunity
The temperature increases the blood flow around the major organs of the body, helping combat certain problems of the heart and skin. The increased efficiency of whole body blood circulation leads to boosting overall heart health. This helps in lowering blood pressure, clearing clogged arteries and boosting the immune system.
Stimulates Weight Loss
Unknown to many, cold baths also aid in weight loss. Exposure to extreme cold burns a considerable amount of energy as the body must thermo-regulate to prevent hypothermia. The energy required is derived from the conversion of carbohydrates and fats to support bodily processes. Also, the human body is composed of two types of fat tissue, brown and white fat. In particular, brown fat is good fat seen in higher concentrations in Inuit populations. It is used by the body to generate heat to keep it warm. Ice baths and cold showers have been known to promote brown fat activity.
Improves mood and Eases Stress
If you have ever experienced an ice bath or a prolonged cold shower, chances are you can attest to the euphoric feeling that occurs after such exposure.
Cold stimulus increases the body’s tolerance to stress and even diseases. In addition, researchers have also observed an increase in glutathione, which is an important antioxidant to help all other antioxidants perform at their optimal levels. Regular cold showers and ice bathing has also been show to help body adapt to oxidative stress.