Should You Still Cold Plunge in the Winter? We Say YES & Here’s Why
On January 1, you’ll find groups of people across the country ringing in the New Year by participating in what is commonly dubbed Polar Bear Plunge Day. These courageous souls don their festive swim trunks and bikinis to sprint and splash their way into winter’s chilly waters. While some are freezin’ for a reason in an effort to raise money for a charitable cause, others simply do it for an invigorating endorphin rush.
The oldest documented New Year’s Day polar bear plunge took place over 100 years ago, in 1904, when the L Street Brownies, a swim club founded in 1902 in South Boston, Massachusetts, took their first icy plunge together in Dorchester Bay. But even before the club discovered the thrill of a New Year’s Day icy adventure, Scandinavians had been enjoying ice swimming for centuries. Ice-hole swimming as they call it — yes, we’re talking about cutting a hole in a frozen lake and getting in for a dip — is a traditional Finnish outdoor activity. Make your way over to Denmark and there are more than 20,000 registered ‘icebreakers’ in more than 90 winter swim clubs who relish an opportunity to take an icy dip.
So why all the craze to hop into cold water? Is it really a good idea even in the winter?
If you want our opinion, we say, take the plunge.
Cold water therapy: Back to the frigid roots
Only recently has cold water therapy been all the buzz in the western world, with celebrities like Lady Gaga and Zac Efron swearing by its benefits. But this frigid practice that’s taking the wellness world by storm isn’t credited to any modern discovery — it’s actually thousands of years old.
While the exact date is up for debate, evidence suggests that cold water immersion goes as far back as 3,500 BC. Most signs point to the ancient Greeks as the innovators. Referred to as thermalism, the ancient Greeks used cold water immersion as a way to soothe the body and combat health issues, such as skin conditions, physical injuries, wounds, and illnesses. Even some of history’s most esteemed philosophers and physicians, like Plato and Hippocrates, conducted a wide array of studies using cold water and touted its physiological benefits.
By the time the Roman Empire came into its prime, cold water therapy discoveries made by the Greeks only became more refined. Newer technology and more advanced infrastructures like aqueducts gave Romans easy access to cold water. In every town, you’d find at least one bathhouse, which had a combination of steam rooms, hot tubs, and cold baths. As a staple of Roman culture, even gladiators and soldiers frequently used cold water therapy as a way to soothe muscles and relieve pain from wounds inflicted during competition or battle.
The wonders of the modern cold plunge
Today, thanks to thousands of years of innovation, (and of course, the genius of ancient civilizations) cold plunges have become much more sophisticated. Sure, you can still take advantage of Mother Nature’s resources at your fingertips to take an icy plunge, but now, there are a slew of incredible modern creations at your disposal.
Specially designed cold plunges, ice barrels, and ice bath tubs make cold plunging easy and accessible. One of our favorites, The Plunge, requires no plumbing and can live outside or inside your home, giving you cold, clean water anytime you want.
Wintertime cold plunge benefits for your health
It’s no secret that germs run rampant in the wintertime. We stock our cabinets with vitamins, make our grandmother’s legendary immune boosting concoction to ward off sickness, and AVOID spending too much time in the cold. But what if we told you one way of supporting one’s health in the winter was actually getting cold? Sounds counterintuitive, right?
Here’s why we’re winter cold plunging fanatics. Taking a cold plunge stimulates leukocytes — AKA our sickness-fighting white blood cells. Think of it this way, you’re strengthening your immune army. Cold shock also makes the lymphatic system contract, forcing fluid through the lymph nodes, providing the body with a nice detox and added immunity support. So while you take your daily dose of vitamins (which we’re all for,) make some time for a cold plunge too.
Are there risks of cold plunging too?
Search the web for cold plunge, and you’ll find a whole host of articles detailing the benefits of this wellness practice far beyond just the role it plays to the immune system. And it’s true, there are a lot of great things to be said about it! While you’ll find we’re not shy about talking about the incredible things cold water therapy can do for the body, we also think it’s important to mention some risks, or at least things to be aware of!
Plunging into cold water triggers a sudden, rapid increase in breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, making the heart work harder. Although this is the point, and this controlled stressor does have numerous benefits, it could pose risks for individuals with heart problems. And for those that like to combine cold water therapy with heat, you could notice some blood pressure changes. So if you’re an individual with these concerns, make sure you talk to your doctor before trying a cold plunge!
With cold plunges, the best thing you can do is to take it slow. Let your body adapt and build up a tolerance, and practice controlling your breathing. Our rule of thumb is to stay in water somewhere between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit for three to five minutes. If you’re just starting out, start with just 1 minute (or an amount of time that feels comfortable to you.) As your body gets used to cold plunges, try to work up to three to five minutes.
Take it outside
A study of 20,000 people found that those who spent just two hours a week outside were substantially more likely to report good health and mental well-being than those who didn’t. Nature just does something for the soul. So if you’re feeling up for combining your cold plunge with some time in nature, we have a great list of wintertime places to cold plunge right here in our beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Happy plunging!
Curious to learn more about cold water therapy?
We love to hear it! For more information, check out our blog to learn more about cold water therapy, ways you can cold plunge at home, and more. And if you want to read a personal story, our founder, Andrew, takes you through his first time taking a cold plunge.
For those of you who are feeling daring, please join us for our annual 31 day cold water challenge during January! And if you’re feeling amped up and ready to try cold water therapy for the first time, come see us! We’d love to help you start your cold therapy practice.