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What’s all the Hype with Cold Plunging and Should the MAC Offer Regularly?

What’s all the Hype with Cold Plunging and Should the MAC Offer Regularly?

During the Fitness Palooza event in September, I (and dozens of other members) took the plunge into a small tub of icy water. Why, exactly, would we put ourselves through this? Like many other fitness fads, we all believe that cold water exposure can provide health benefits. And Josh Janis, host of the Breathe Social event that included yoga, breath work and cold plunging, challenged us to try it and use our newly acquired knowledge of breathwork to withstand the discomfort. 

 

Milwaukee has long since participated in the Polar Plunge on New Year’s Day as hundreds of people dash into the frigid Lake Michigan waters at Bradford Beach. But the popular trend of cold plunging on a regular basis has been growing at health clubs too. 

Here is what the cold-water immersion (CWI) trend is all about:

Method: Most people start with one or two minutes and work their way up seven minutes fully submerged up to their shoulders in cold water – anywhere from 41-68 degrees Fahrenheit. There is no specific research on water temperature or length of time, but most experts agree that submerging longer than 10-15 minutes could pose some risks. 

Potential risks: Risks associated with cold exposure include frostbite, hypothermia, heart arrhythmias and even heart attacks for certain people with pre-existing conditions. 

Proven benefits: The only proven benefit backed by scientific evidence is soothing sore muscles, due to the constriction of blood vessels and less blood flow, leading to less swelling and inflammation. Many professional athletes who are training at very intense levels find that it helps them recover quickly. 

Claimed benefits: Health benefits that have been reported, but not backed by scientific evidence are: increased immunity, improved mental health, improved sleep and mood, reduced stress, better lymphatic drainage, hormone regulation and accelerated metabolism.

The benefit that makes the most sense to me after trying it multiple times is the ability to build mental resilience and discipline, which leads to better mental wellness. 

If you are curious about reading some of the research, here is a link to a review of 17 small studies, published by the Cochrane Library in 2012. There are studies that show CWI does release endorphins and raise dopamine levels, two types of chemicals that are known to boost mood. But both of these chemicals are also released when you exercise, which even on your hardest leg day, feels less daunting than sitting in a tub of ice for several minutes. 

The other theory behind the improved mental health angle is that the sudden shock to the body by exposing it to cold water activates the sympathetic nervous system (commonly referred to as fight-or-flight mode). When you then remove yourself from the cold water, you activate your body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which makes your body feel suddenly relaxed. 

If you would like to try it, start with two minutes in water that’s about 68 degrees. Your body will feel numb after about 30 seconds.  If done correctly and safely, there’s little risk for most people, so you could even experiment for a few minutes at the end of your next shower.

Would you try it if the MAC offered cold-plunge tubs on a regular basis? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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