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Health Benefits of Cold Water

Written by Dr. Daniela Steyn

Did you know that dipping in icy cold water could improve your health, boost your immune system and enhance longevity? 

Cold water therapy has been gaining popularity amongst our clients at Wellness MD as research reveals its many perks - from boosted immunity to better sleep quality.  I have tried it myself.

I recently spent a month in South Africa, where my children and I swam in the sea, where the lovely warm Indian Ocean meets the cold Atlantic Ocean. We started off in warmer water with wetsuits (21’C/ 70’F) and gradually made our way to colder areas, braving the water without wetsuits at (12’C /54’F).


At the same time, some of my patients in Canada participated in the Polar Bear Dip. An icy cold water plunge in Lake Ontario at 0’C/ 32’F

Here are eight ways cold water treatment plunges can transform your health:

1. Improved circulation: Cold water therapy can stimulate blood flow and improve circulation throughout your body. When exposed to cold water, blood vessels constrict and then dilate when you warm up, promoting improved blood circulation.

2. Reduced inflammation: Cold water therapy has anti-inflammatory effects. The cold temperature helps reduce swelling and inflammation by constricting blood vessels and decreasing the release of inflammatory substances.

3. Enhanced muscle recovery: Cold water immersion after intense exercise or physical activity may help reduce muscle soreness and speed up the recovery process. The cold water can help decrease muscle inflammation and promote muscle repair. As a marathon runner, I often take cold showers after a long run. Some of our Wellness MD clients have ice baths at home, exclusively used for cold water immersion.

4. Increased metabolism: Exposure to cold water can temporarily increase metabolic rate as the body tries to maintain its core temperature. This increased metabolic activity may result in burning more calories and potentially aid in weight management.

5. Improved mood and mental well-being: Cold water immersion has been linked to the release of endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting chemicals. It can also increase alertness and provide a sense of invigoration, leading to improved mental well-being. For some of my clients who struggle with a low mood, cold water showers first thing in the morning make a dramatic improvement to their mood for the entire day.

6. Enhanced immune function: Cold water therapy may have a positive impact on the immune system. Some research suggests that cold exposure activates the production of white blood cells, which play a crucial role in fighting off infections and diseases.

7. Stress reduction: Cold water exposure triggers the release of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can help improve the body's response to stress and promote resilience.

8. Pain relief:  I have worked with a couple of patients who have found tremendous relief from chronic pain with cold water plunges. Slowly, over time, they are able to come off high doses of chronic pain medication. I enjoyed watching this documentary on Netflix: Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive, where Johanna Nordblad shared her story of how cold water immersion helped her manage pain and aid in healing after a horrible bike accident left her legs shattered.

It's important to note that cold water therapy may not be suitable for everyone, particularly those with certain medical conditions such as Raynaud's disease or cardiovascular problems. That being said, it is not a contra-indication. I have Raynauds (fingers and toes that go blue/ white/ numb in the cold). I would still sometimes dip in cold Lake Ontario outside of Summer, but then I will do it with silly-looking warm booties and mittens (I might post pictures on Insta soon).

There are people with heart disease who are able to swim in cooler than typical water. As I always recommend, consult with your healthcare professional regarding your unique health plan. If you do consider cold water immersion, make sure you are never alone and do it wisely. You don't want to end up with hypothermia or frostbite. Always have warm, dry towels ready. I enjoy lukewarm tea to gently warm myself from the inside afterwards.

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