"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Why immersing yourself in very cold or hot water may be so healthy

March 13, 2024 – There's an excellent likelihood you've come across this popular 10-second social media narrative:

A physically fit person looks into the camera. Zooms out and shows them wearing only a hat and swimsuit. Hey, I'm about to submerge myself in ice cold water. Voluntarily! Because I find it irresistible, hate it, find it irresistible, hate it! Really! You should too.

Should You?

Everywhere we glance, somewhere someone is dipping something. Hot water. Ice water. faces. Feet. Full bodies.

And for good reason: water – in lots of forms and in some ways – heals.

A growing body of research is finding that water immersion will help relieve muscle pain, promote leisure and improve blood circulation, amongst other things, said Judy Ho, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist and associate professor at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles Angeles.

“It makes sense in a lot of ways because water is an easy way for people to have a sensory experience and gain mindfulness,” she said.

There are also biological principles. Water immersion affects many body systems – cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels), respiratory, endocrine systems (glands that produce hormones), and more. “It's probably the shape of them all that defines them [water immersion] helpful, useful and beneficial,” said Bruce Becker, MD, a clinical professor on the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle who has researched and lectured on aquatic therapy.

We asked Becker, Ho and others to clarify the science behind five popular methods. Ready? Let's dive in.

Cold jump

Although the research remains to be in its early stages, pilot studies have established a connection Immersion in cold water to improvements in blood pressure, mood and depression, said Dr. Heather Massey, a lecturer on the University of Portsmouth within the UK, who studies cold water immersion. There might be a wide range of reasons for this, including reducing inflammation and stimulating the vagus nerve, “which can calm the heart rate and the body – providing the space to be in the moment rather than driving a thousand miles an hour.” said Massey.

Other Research involves immersion in cold water reduced body fat and improved insulin sensitivity, although most of those studies are small and inconclusive.

Remember that an icy jump is just not without risks. The cold can trigger a shock response, increasing blood pressure, respiratory rate and heart rate for the primary 30 seconds before the effect wears off. This can increase the chance of heart and vascular problems reminiscent of cardiac arrhythmias and the chance of drowning.

If you could have these risks, refer to your doctor before attempting a chilly dive. Climb in step by step (don't jump in to get it over with) to scale back the results of cold shock and to avoid blocking your airway underwater once you reflexively gasp for air, Massey said.

While there isn't any ideal “dose” of cold immersion, “we know that colder and longer immersion is not better; In fact, the shorter immersion times may be responsible for an improvement in mood,” Massey said, adding that lower temperatures, even when not freezing, can result in vascular and nerve injuries, particularly within the extremities. An excellent start line if you happen to're latest to this: About 5 minutes at temperatures between 50 and 59 F.

If you don't have access to cold plunge pools, do-it-yourself models may include soaking in a cool or cold bath (add ice if you happen to can tolerate it) or cooler showers.


Aside from being rather more comfortable than cold dives, heat therapy can also be linked to cardiovascular health, Dr. Tom Cullen, an assistant professor at Coventry University within the United Kingdom who has studied heat therapy.

According to Cullen, “passive heating” can mimic a few of the effects of exercise on the body Review of studies within the Journal of Applied Physiology. “We believe a lot of this is due to increased blood flow to the skin, which pushes a large amount of blood through our arms and legs,” Cullen said. This puts strain on the guts and blood vessels and strengthens the cardiovascular system in an identical solution to exercise. It could also reduce anxiety and lower stress hormones, he said.

To see the cardiovascular effects, you wish about half-hour in water heated to 102 F, Cullen said. “You can probably go shorter – 15 minutes – and a little cooler if you just want an improvement in mood, relaxation and a slight decrease in blood pressure.”

Immerse face in ice water

Touted as a fast option Alleviate fearsThere's actually some science behind this TikTok hack: When you're in fight-or-flight mode, your body temperature, heart rate, and stress hormones rise to organize your body for the literal or symbolic bear you're facing. Cold water prompts your parasympathetic nervous system — which is related to calm and leisure — and triggers a biological response that tells you to calm down, Ho said.

Why dunk your face? “There are so many nerves in the face that it's the quickest way to activate the response,” she said. “And just the proximity to the brain. It’s about us just trying to get that message to the brain as quickly as possible.”

Precaution: You should never feel excessive discomfort or gasping for air. Splashing cold water in your face, placing a chilly pack in your neck or just holding an ice cube anywhere in your face can have similar effects, Ho said.

Foot bath

A foot bath in warm water is just not only good for you, but may assist you sleep and relieve pain. One possible reason: It affects the body's thermoregulation systems, which might affect core body temperature. After a warm foot bath, The body temperature dropswhich might promote good sleep.

A Study 2023 found that a warm foot bath improved sleep quality in patients who had just undergone back surgery. Another study within the Journal of Nursing Sciences found that sleep quality improved in older men with 20-minute nightly foot baths (the study lasted 6 weeks). Other Research shows similar leads to Women in menopause and has found that foot baths can relieve the pain related to menstruation.


This could be the most evident reason, but there's a particular reason why swimming is a really perfect exercise beyond its cardiovascular advantages and low impact on joints.

Swimming can increase each heart rate and the quantity of blood pumped by the guts (each good things when exercising) higher than other types of activity hydrostatic pressuresaid Becker. That's the force of the water pushing against you, and it helps transport fluid throughout the body. (An interesting area of ​​latest research, he said, is the effect of swimming and vertical water exercises like underwater running on the brain, since increased blood flow may help improve considering skills as we age.)

As with cold diving, increasingly more individuals are turning to cold, open waters Bathe. Although people swam in cold water before the pandemic, the practice became more popular as people were forced to go about their normal activities, said Massey, a lifelong cold-water swimmer. “Many have remained cold-water swimmers or divers since then,” she said.

Again, it is vital to follow precautions as this poses risks, especially for many who are latest to it. An article within the British Medical Journal reported a major increase in lifeguard calls and deaths related to the rise in cold water swimming.

But when done safely, the activity can have similar health advantages to cold diving. In addition, a current one study In Post-reproductive health showed that ladies had menopause Relief of symptoms with cold water swimming.

Another profit: it forces us right into a state of discomfort. “When we feel discomfort, it's how we maintain our health and well-being,” Massey said, adding that exercise (whether in cold water or not) is a type of discomfort. “When we put ourselves in a situation of discomfort, we can adapt to and maintain some elements of health.”