In case you’ve ever wondered if taking a dip in an ice bath first thing in the morning is worth it, we’ve got news for you: with improved mood, less muscle soreness, and reduced inflammation among its many benefits, it’s high time to add cold exposure to your daily routine. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: absolutely not. That was my initial response, too! But even as little as 30 seconds in a 50–60°F bath has the potential to make a big difference in your mood and health. If you’re ready to take the plunge, here’s how to do an ice bath.
Benefits of an Ice Bath
Using ice on the skin is known to have lifting and tightening benefits. But cold therapy used on the entire body brings full-body benefits, such as reducing inflammation, boosting cardiovascular health, and speeding up post-workout recovery.
Jono James, CEO of Odin Ice Baths and a cold water therapy expert, tells us that “before I began using ice baths, I started using my sauna because I found it helped me to breathe better, especially because I have cystic fibrosis. By using my sauna, I found my sleep improved, my mental clarity doubled, and I got sick less often. After using my sauna for a while, I started to research the health benefits of cold water therapy and ice baths”
“That’s when I began experimenting with ice baths and almost immediately found all of the benefits I had discovered from saunas doubled when I immersed myself in cold water,” says James. “In fact, since I started using ice baths, I have noticed it has helped improve my mental health and discipline, recover more quickly from workouts, and reduce inflammation. My immune system and response to stress now make me feel invincible, not to mention I feel like superman after I come out of the ice.”
While studies on ice baths are somewhat limited, there are studies on cold exposure in general, which includes cold showers [source] and hot-to-cold hydrotherapy, that show some promising benefits.
Cold exposure may help:
— Improve the body’s response to stress.
A 2018 study of 61 participants showed that cold stimulation of the neck area decreased the participants’ heart rate and stimulated the vagus nerve, both of which lend to a feeling of relaxation and calm [source].
— Cool down the body and reduce sore muscles.
Athletes have long used ice baths to cool down and recover following a workout. Some studies suggest that cold-water immersion helps to keep muscles from being so sore after exercise [source].
— Recover more quickly after exercise.
Research in athletes does show improved recovery after competitive matches [source] and improved oxygenation of the muscles during subsequent exercise [source], but more investigation is needed to determine its usefulness in the general population.
— Improve cardiovascular health. Swimming in cold water has been shown to improve blood pressure and lipids [source], but it’s important to work up to this slowly or it could have stressful effects on the body.
— Get you in a better mood.
A recent small study with healthy students showed that one episode of wading out into cold water on a very chilly day at the beach for up to 20 minutes significantly improved their mood [source].
— Reduce inflammation.
Everyone knows about the usefulness of an ice pack when an injury occurs. That’s because it reduces the swelling caused by inflammation (from tissue injury) by constricting the blood vessels. So, it makes sense to consider a cold bath for conditions involving chronic pain and inflammation. And studies have shown the benefits of cold therapy for the pain of arthritis, both rheumatoid and degenerative, and even fibromyalgia [source]. But it is important to check with your doctor before attempting any type of cold application to make sure it’s safe for you.
When to Take an Ice Bath
Right after you work out, when your muscles are tired and your body is overheated, is a great time for an ice bath. If you can, aim to take your bath no more than 2 hours after a workout or physical activity.
If you’re not currently working out (no judgment!), you can still benefit greatly from the healing effects of ice baths. I recommend doing an ice bath in the morning after your shower to harness the hot-to-cold benefits mentioned earlier. Or you can try it 30 to 60 minutes before bed since lowering your body temperature can help lull you into a deeper, more restful sleep.
“Some people like to do it first thing in the morning to kick-start their day—it’s probably the hardest thing they’ll have to do, so it’s a good way to start! You can do ice baths daily if you build yourself up to it, and a lot of people will do cold plunging as a daily practice. It is incredible before, during, and after breathwork, an ocean swim, or whenever you are feeling fatigued or need a pick-me-up,” says James.
How To Do an Ice Bath
It turns out that an ice bath is pretty simple to do at home. You’re free to add flower petals, a hair mask, or another homemade beauty treatment to maximize your soak time, but it’s not necessary to reap the benefits of cold exposure. To keep things simple, just grab a couple bags of ice from the grocery store, and you’re good to go.
Turn on the water and add a pound of ice into the bathtub. Climb into the tub before the water has had a chance to really cool down so as not to shock your system. The hardest part is the first 4 to 5 seconds, so don’t think about it. Just get in!
As you sit, add a little more ice as your tolerance builds and you get used to the temperature. A 3:1 water-to-ice ratio will get the water to 50 degrees F in about 10 minutes.
Try to stay in the bath for as long as you can but no longer than 15 minutes. This is important for preventing hypothermia. (Note: Don’t do this when you are drinking alcohol because it shortens the time to hypothermia.) If you’re new to ice baths, start with 1 minute and slowly work up to the maximum of 15 minutes without pushing past your limits or hurting yourself [source].
Ice Bath Tips
Wear clothing on the top part of your body to keep your body warm while your lower body is immersed in the bath.
Before you climb into the tub, make sure to set your post-bath clothing nearby so you can access them shortly after drying off. You can also warm up faster by drinking a hot beverage right after climbing out.
After getting out of the bath, skip the hot shower and let your body warm up more slowly. This will prevent you from shocking your system with hot water.
If you plan to make ice baths a regular thing, it might be worth investing in a pair of ice bath socks to help keep your feet warm.
Ice Bath FAQs
Are ice baths safe?
Ice baths aren’t completely risk-free. Obviously, one of the drawbacks, if done incorrectly, is pain, hypothermia, or even shock. People who are pregnant or have any sort of underlying health condition like high blood pressure or heart disease should talk to their doctor before doing any form of cold therapy.
Do I have to use ice? What if I don’t have a tub?
No! Cold showers can also work to cool down the body and potentially turn on the body’s healing response. The water will be coldest in the winter, but a cool shower in the summer may still constrict the blood vessels and even help the body recover after a workout.