Cold or hot; which do you prefer?
For many people, cold comes last on the preference list, and that’s not surprising given most of us love summertime and its warm days and activities. But what might be less well known (and a little staggering at that) is that cold — especially cold water bathing — has been a first choice in world cultures for centuries. From its frequent practice among the ancient Romans to being used as a healing tool by Hippocrates, cold water therapy has continued to gain popularity for its known health benefits even into the modern era.
One of the best parts about cold water therapy is that it’s a versatile practice. You can fill your bathtub up with ice, take a cold shower, or even enjoy an invigorating cold plunge outside to gain its bodily benefits. And now that it’s winter, you can use the season as an excuse to get outside in nature too.
If you’re unfamiliar with the practice, we break it down for you in this blog, talk through some of its benefits, and let you in on a little secret… our four favorite places to cold plunge outdoors in the winter season.
How Does Cold Water Therapy Work?
Cold water therapy is an immersion process where you spend time in cold water that’s at or below 58 degrees fahrenheit. This practice sparks the body’s natural healing processes which can help relieve chronic illness as a result.
How you choose to practice cold water therapy is up to you. However, the important thing to remember here is that you need to stay immersed in the cold water for three to eight minutes, depending on your comfort level. For best results, you need the right pairing of time and temperature. Let’s say you’re cold plunging in a 38 degree swimming hole? We’d recommend a three minute session. If you’re at the beach on vacation and in 50 degree ocean water, our advice would be to make your session longer and go for five minutes. But again, it all comes down to what you’re comfortable with. The time you can spend immersed in cold water will build (along with your resiliency) the more frequently you practice.
What Are the Benefits of Cold Water Therapy?
One of the biggest proponents of cold water therapy is the health benefits it offers — from helping sore muscles to boosting the immune system.
Build a stronger immune system
In the winter, especially, germs run rampant and people tend to get sick more often when life shifts to being primarily indoors. Taking measures to boost your immune system can help your body fight off sickness, keeping you healthy and happy.
Cold water therapy stimulates leukocytes — white blood cells that help combat germs. It also signals the lymphatic system to contract, forcing fluid through the lymph nodes which provides detox benefits and immunity support.
Dr. Geert A. Buijze, an Orthopedic surgeon at the Academic Medical Center in the Netherlands, conducted an experiment to study the effects of cold water therapy on immunity. Dr Buijze and colleagues asked 3,000 volunteers in the Netherlands to end their morning showers with either a 30, 60, or 90 second rinse of cold water, or to shower as normal for 30 consecutive days. The researchers then looked at work attendance of the same group of people during that period. On average, the participants that finished their showers with cold water were absent 29% fewer days than people in the control group who didn’t incorporate the cold water blast into their routine.
Better muscle recovery
If you’re an athlete, you know training and competing can put major strain on your muscles.
Taking time to immerse yourself in cold water for short periods at a time after exercise can help with soreness which is why you frequently find people taking ice baths after training or game play. The cold water diffuses any lactic acid build up and inflammation that’s caused from exercise.
Time and time again, professional tennis players and other athletes have given kudos to cold water therapy as the key to quicker recovery and better performance.
Mental health benefits
Natural relief that works.
Sauna time has been shown to ease mental health ailments like high stress, anxiety, depression and even seasonal depression. For those of you who prefer to put wellness first or are looking for a more natural solution, a sauna routine is a must — and here’s some research to back it up.
Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, completed two studies in which he had people with major depression sit in an infrared sauna. In his first study, the participants had just one infrared sauna treatment and it reduced their symptoms of depression by about 50%. In his follow-up study, he found that a single session caused a quick and powerful antidepressant effect, and the benefits continued for six weeks — a wildly unexpected and promising result.
4 of the Best Places to Practice Cold Water Therapy in Asheville, NC
Take your practice outside! We’re lucky to live in Asheville, NC, where the mountains, waterfalls, and rivers are part of our personal backyards. If you’re local or just visiting and want to get outside, give your body some exercise, and enjoy the benefits of cold water therapy. Here are four of our favorite places to cold plunge.
Skinny Dip Falls
This oasis, hidden in the mountains, offers a swimming hole and a perfect cold plunge spot with clear, cold water. The backdrop is a beautiful waterfall setting with multiple cascades and pools, so you’re getting a serene setting combined with your practice.
To get there, drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway to milepost 417 at Looking Glass Rock overlook. There aren’t signs specifically pointing you to the falls, but you’ll want to follow the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. The trail is an easy, ¾ mile hike with a few climbs and rocks, but nothing challenging. The trail ends at a bench and staircase that takes you down to the waterfall and swimming hole.
Hooker Falls is a wide, 12-foot waterfall that drops into a large pool of water, creating a beautiful setting and is a perfect spot for cold water therapy. The falls are easy to access on a ¼- mile trail from the parking area. You’ll come to an observation deck above the falls and then continue on the trail to the pool in front of the waterfall.
Midnight Hole is a deep, scenic pool nestled under a 6-foot waterfall in the Big Creek section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The water is cool and clear, and the waterfall is surrounded by large boulders, making for a natural place to wade or swim.
For cold water therapy, the pool offers a perfect place to immerse yourself in the cold mountain water and spend some time in the soothing calm of nature.
To get there, take I-40 to the Waterville Road Exit (#451). Turn left after crossing the Pigeon River and proceed 2.3 miles to an intersection. Continue straight through, pass ranger station, and you’ll come to a large parking area at the end of the road. Just before entering the parking lot, you’ll see the Big Creek trail head to your right.
Whaleback Swimming Hole
Its name alone makes this spot a memorable adventure. But the whale in the name of this swimming hole is purely metaphorical as it describes the curved rock in the middle of the pool. Whaleback is considered an Asheville hidden gem located in the mountains of Pisgah National Forest. The boulder-lined water offers plenty of room for wading and of course, a cold plunge if you’re feeling up for it.
Swimming hole access is across from the trailhead to Cove Creek Falls. From the parking area, follow a trail along Cove Creek down to Davidson River. The skinny trail will take you through a forest to a few openings along the river. You’ll find Whaleback swimming hole just below the junction of Cove Creek into the river.
We hope you enjoy these beautiful outdoor places for your cold water therapy practice! If you feel inspired to venture out, please remember to always honor and respect our natural places by leaving them the same, if not better, than you found them.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out this blog on cold water therapy.
Want to keep your practice indoors? Come visit us at Sauna House!