Is a 30-second dip in cold water enough? Or is there more to gain from extending your stay in an ice bath or a cold plunge? Are you missing out on some hidden benefits?
What I am going to say is probably a bit contradictory to what you may have heard before but this is based on my experience, research, and the insights I've gathered from hundreds of cold immersions.
When it comes to hobbies, sports, or business, I'm all about exploration and experimentation. Why? Because I believe there's always something new to learn and possibly a better way to do things. When I first dipped into cold immersion, it was no different. I wanted to see how different temperatures and durations would feel, ranging from 10 degrees Celsius (50 degree Fahrenheit) to a numbing 3 degrees Celsius (37 degree Fahrenheit).
The journey was filled with trial, error, and discovery. It became more than just a therapy; it was a new frontier to explore. Ok, let's dive into my learnings, shall we?
A Caution to Beginners (2 minutes): But wait! Before we dive headfirst into icy waters, let's take a moment for safety. While I do very long stays in low temperatures, I want to stress that this isn't for beginners. Like any physical activity, cold immersion requires gradual progress, mental and physiological adaptation. So, if you're just starting, please, take it slow, be aware of your body's signals, and enjoy the process. The ice will wait for you!
Let’s assume you have just started and are enjoying a quick of 30-second to maybe 2-minute dip in your cold plunge about 10,12 degree Celsius (50-54 degree Fahrenheit). Now, what could be the difference between that and a 5 to 10-minute stay at, let’s say, 15 degrees Celsius (60 degree Fahrenheit)? This comparison is more than just about the temperature; it's about the experience and benefits you gain. Does longer mean better? Or is there a sweet spot we're missing? Let's break it down piece by piece.
Mental Resilience & Will Power: In a pervious blog I talked about the top 12 benefits of cold exposure & ice bath. Now, going through that list, where it comes to increasing the mental resilience and will power, Mental strength is like a muscle, and cold immersion is a perfect gym to train it. Whether you stay in the ice bath for a minute or ten, the icy waters challenge your mind, pushing you out of your comfort zone. But what's fascinating is how this consistent discomfort builds resilience. It's not just about braving the cold; it's about training your mind to face adversity with a smile. It's a mental boot camp.
Brown Fat Activation & Weight Loss: What about brown fat activation, weight loss and metabolism? Studies show Cold exposure activates brown fat and kickstarts metabolism.
Both short and long stays in cold pluge provide these benefits, but the question is whether a longer stay may amplify them. Science hasn't gone there, however my personal experience says there might be something to explore. After a long stay in the cold plunge, I do feel hungry, extremely. Anyhow It's an exciting area for future exploration, and I might even volunteer as a test subject! 😊
Inflammation, Pain, & Muscle Recovery: For reducing Inflammation, chronic pain, and for muscle recovery – a longer stay in an ice bath has my vote. Quick dips are beneficial, but I've found that longer immersions penetrate deeper into the body, resulting in a more soothing experience. Anecdotal evidence suggests also a link to increased anti-inflammatory hormones like cortisol. Where research is lacking, our experiences can shine a light. Could longer dips become a new recovery tool? The possibilities are there…
Energy & Mood Boosting: When it comes to energy and mood, taking a dip in a cold tub really does something special for me. Even a quick splash provides a surge of energy. That initial shock from the cold stimulates the production of epinephrine and endorphins, and I can't help but feel more alive. But when I stay in longer, that's when the magic happens! The longer I'm in, the more refreshed and satisfied I feel, mood-wise. You see, even a brief dip triggers the production of those "happy hormones" or neurotransmitters like Dopamine and Serotonin. In a short dip, they usually kick in after you are out of the cold tub, but during my long stays, something even better happens. Once I get past that initial shock - which takes a few minutes, and allow the vasoconstriction to do its thing, I find that the initial excitement is replaced with a sense of calm and happiness. It's like those happy hormones really start working their magic! Often, I listen to one of my favourite music play lists, which intensifies the enjoyment.
Experimentation & Precautions: Now, Feel like experimenting? If you've got access to a temperature-controlled cold plunge, why not? Maybe you're using ice to chill your tub – if so, you can hop in a little earlier before the water gets too cold. On the other hand, if you're using the cold plunge at your local gym, which is often set at a specific temperature, give yourself a challenge by gradually extending your stay. Perhaps 30 seconds at a time. But be cautious – ramping up the duration too quickly can leave you feeling worn out, almost as if you've just wrapped up a weightlifting session. That's your body telling you it's not used to the stress, so take it slow.
Remember, every body is unique, so tune into what yours is saying. Also it's always a smart move to check in with a healthcare professional, especially if you've got any existing conditions like heart disease or high blood pressure.
Warming Up After Extended Stays: When you decide to extend your stay in the cold tub, there's one key thing you need to keep in mind – warming up. After a quick dip, you can usually warm up naturally, or maybe by doing some light exercise. But when you're going for those longer stays, you might need something more, like a sauna or a hot bath. The "after-drop" will be more intense! Right now, my routine is soaking for about 30 minutes in 5-degree Celsius (that's about 41 degrees Fahrenheit). Believe me, just exercising won't do the trick for warming up afterward. But then, hopping into a sauna or a hot bath doubles the pleasure, if not more.
Conclusion: So, short dip or extended stay? Both have their unique benefits and challenges. It’s not about one size fits all; it's a journey, an exploration, and a personal connection with the cold. Keep experimenting but stay safe, and let your body be your guide.