TREND: Baby It’s Cold: Ice Plunges & Cold Therapies Are on Everyone’s Wishlist
The pandemic and its threat to global health, accelerated our fascination and experimentation with any practices that promised to build resilience, combat stress or improve immune functions. One of the hottest therapies to come out of this happens to also be one of the coldest: extreme, ice-cold, whole-body immersion.
The concept of cold plunges, ice water swimming and cryotherapy was gaining traction among certain extreme wellness seekers long before the pandemic. In fact, in 2017, the Global Wellness Summit featured a lively keynote by Wim Hof (aka “The Iceman”) and predicted that the fascination with cold and ice would begin to go mainstream in its 2018 “Extreme Wellness” trend. A trend that proved true as we watched the “Wim Hof Method,” a practice combining breath work with cold temperatures to build resilience, find an enthusiastic group of followers using cold immersion not only for physical health, but also as a way to feel present, mindful and more alive.
With cold already getting hot, the pandemic accelerated Wim Hof’s message and helped introduce the power of cold to a new and expanded audience, making cold water plunges and ice baths de rigor among fitness and wellness seekers. This enthusiasm has been created a new market for cold treatments – from cryotherapy to at-home ice baths to natural cold plunges.
Though you can easily practice cold immersion at home by simply adding ice to a bath or taking a very cold shower; new products are being introduced to better serve this growing market, offering temperature consistency, sustainability and sanitization. Companies like Ice Barrel, Plunge, Blue Cube and Renu Therapy are serving this burgeoning marketing and touting celebrity users like Gwyneth Paltrow, Lizzo and elite athletes.
The founder of Blue Cube, Thomas Schiffer, dubbed the race to win market share as the “cold wars” in a New York Times article, saying he believes cold plunges will be as “ubiquitous as the Jacuzzi.”
Those who live near a body of cold fresh water – a river, lake or ocean – can take a natural cold-water plunge. In the winter months, water temperatures drop so low that cold-plunge devotees will chip away at several inches of ice to create a natural, personal plunge pool.
In the US, a group of women dubbed “Maine’s Ice Mermaids,” have created a ritual of hot/cold plunging, move between a fire-fueled sauna (converted from an old smelt-fishing shack) and freezing cold waters. The result? “These sessions are a direct experience of the body, anchoring me into the present moment,” said Ida Lennestål. “It has taught me to sit with the uncomfortable, both the hot and the cold, to breathe through it. To pay attention. It has taught me to listen to my body and hear what it needs. It’s a ritual. And the bliss when it’s all over lasts for hours.”
Beyond the mental clarity it offers – a handful of studies show a link between cold exposure and upticks in various brain chemicals association with well-being – cold water therapy has long been used by athletes to reduce inflammation, decrease muscle pain and swelling. And many also believe it can boost metabolism, shore up the immune system and even help us sleep better. Others report reduction in depressive symptoms, improved moods and even better brain function.
And there is research that backs up the reports of a post-cold positive mindset, including one that showed dopamine increases of 250% after cold immersion. Enduring cold temperatures may also increase the body’s stores of “brown fat,” with is associated with a lower body fat percentage.
Of course, all this enthusiasm for cold immersion comes with a warning label – with some health experts warning anyone with cardiac health issues to consult a doctor and for anyone looking to experience the benefits of cold to proceed with caution and, importantly, to proceed slowly. Just like with any new fitness program, it’s important to take things gradually and get your body acclimated so the shock to the system isn’t too extreme.
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