Ice Baths and Mental Wellness

A man laying in a cold plunge tub

From gym memberships and healthy food to meditation and good sleeping patterns, you can do a wide range of things to take care of yourself and your well-being. However, while many people excel at the physical aspect of wellness, mental health can often go unchecked. 

Taking care of your mental wellbeing should be just as important as taking care of the rest of your body, and if you neglect your mind’s needs for too long, it can really set you back. Just like any other muscle, your brain needs care and attention to improve itself. Of course, you can help yourself by going to therapy or consulting with your doctor, but how else can you work on your mental wellness?

Surprisingly, you might be able to help both your mental and physical health in one fell swoop. Just like gym buffs who have post-workout muscle soreness, or marathon runners after long runs, what you might need is an ice bath. 

Ice baths and other cold-water therapy techniques are standard in the fitness world, but beyond the physical benefits, taking a regular cold plunge might actually help your brain! We’ll go over the best ice bath practices and the methodology behind them to show you how you can start using ice baths for a physical and mental advantage. 

What Does An Ice Bath Do?

Before we get into any of the nitty-gritty details, it’s helpful to know just how exactly an ice bath works. While there is still plenty for science to learn about cold water immersion and the human body, some studies have found fascinating results.

From the world of sports medicine, we know that ice baths can be one of the best ways to recover your body after a lot of stress. There are a few variations on ice baths, such as contrast water therapy (going between cold and hot tubs) and cryotherapy (tubs of extremely low temperature), but the principle is the same regardless of your method! 

When the body enters an ice bath, typically with a water temperature around 54 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 15 degrees Celsius), all of our blood vessels constrict, lowering our body temperature. Our bodies do this to protect our vital organs by bringing blood closer to the essential areas of our bodies. Once you get out of the water, your vessels will relax again, and this relaxation helps to clear waste like lactic acid from our system. 

How Long to Ice Bath

It’s important to note that an ice bath should not be for an extended period of time. Most experts recommend a 2 to 5 minute plunge at maximum! For better physical benefits, try combining your ice bath with some active recovery like yoga or a light walk. 

Using ice baths in this way can help to improve performance in your physical fitness, reduce swelling and tissue breakdown, and speed up your body’s recovery time. In this sense, an ice bath is an excellent short-term recovery tool.

So, where does the brain come in?

Routine Ice Bath Benefits

Mental Wellness and ice bathing infographic

If you don’t work out regularly, and if you’re still asking, “What are ice baths good for?” this next section might clarify some worries! As we said before, cold therapy doesn’t just extend to athletes; it can benefit almost anyone. Regular users of ice baths have reported boosted levels of energy, greater focus and mental discipline, and even changes in their mood! Let’s take a look at some of the science behind these feelings.

Medical Disclaimer: All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Energy

Many people (our co-founder Mike included) have noticed how awake and energized they feel after a cold plunge, and this is likely due to the chemical change that happens in response to the cold. 

According to a 2008 study, cold shocks to the body help to increase our brain’s production of norepinephrine, a hormone and neurotransmitter. Norepinephrine helps our focus, mood, attention and vigilance within the brain and within the body, it increases the constriction of our blood vessels. 

So not only is norepinephrine helping your body recover and flush out toxins by increasing your blood vessel constriction, but it may also be boosting your energy, focus, and mood! 

Mood

Beyond boosting your daily energy levels, it’s possible that long-term exposure to ice baths can help with your moods and emotions! Just like your energy, norepinephrine can play a big part in your moods and emotions.

Studies have shown that in people who suffer from depression, there is usually an imbalance of either serotonin, dopamine, or… you guessed it, norepinephrine! In addition, there is heavy evidence that depleted levels of norepinephrine can play a significant factor in depression, which has led to more exploration in norepinephrine-boosting therapies. 

Most commonly, these therapies are related to norepinephrine-boosting medicine, but with the effect ice baths and cold therapy have shown on our brain’s chemical makeup, it’s certainly worth exploring. 

Your ice bath experience may also help reduce cortisol, a chemical associated with stress and anxiety. Though there is little preliminary research so far, expect more studies and information on this connection in the future! 

Plunge 

Here at Plunge, we know firsthand how amazing a cold therapy routine can be! We want to help more people understand and embrace the fantastic benefits of cold therapy as we do. Check out our blog for cold plunge tips and tricks, or try one of our PLUNGE tubs today!

Take the cold plunge challenge today and change your life!