Cold water immersion has become all the rage, especially on social media. There are over 1.5 billion views of TikTok videos featuring the hashtag #coldplunge. Celebrities like Kristen Bell and Zac Efron are even taking the plunge, inspiring others to try their own ice baths. Despite being the next hot thing (or cold, rather), you may be wondering—does cold water immersion have any health benefits?
The Origins of the Cold Plunge
While cold water immersion may be relatively new on social media, this practice has been around for centuries. Particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, water is connected to spirituality and ritual practices.
“Water in many Native American cultures symbolizes the origin of life,” Adina Diaz, a holistic practitioner, told Refinery29. “Cold water baths are often part of a larger ritual that involves prayer and connection to the natural world. For some cultures, it was a way to prepare themselves not only physically, but spiritually for colder climates.”
Cold water immersion was thought to be a therapeutic way to cleanse your energy and get rid of any negativity standing in your way.
Athletes have also been using ice baths therapeutically for decades. Science suggests that using cold therapy within an hour of exercising can delay muscle soreness. “Cold therapy in particular has been shown to reduce inflammation and pain perception by slowing the transmission of pain signals from pain neurons to the brain,” wrote The Science Times.
Benefits of Cold Water Immersion
There’s evidence to show that cold water immersion can have benefits for alleviating pain. But advocates of cold water immersion say their icy baths help manage anxiety, help their immune systems, and offer a great way to wake up as an alternative to caffeine.
“Cold water immersion evokes a fight or flight response,” Professor Mike Tipton from the Extreme Environments Lab told CBSNews. “[Part] of that response is to release the stress hormones. So, absolutely, going into cold water and having a sudden fall in skin temperature — and part of that cold shock response — is going to wake you up.”
However, there is limited scientific research validating these benefits. And, without taking the right precautions, cold water immersion can be dangerous. Hypothermia, shock, and hyperventilation can all be triggered by taking the plunge without acclimating your body slowly to the cold water. Most experts recommend consulting with a health professional before diving in.