Cold water therapy has seen an increase in popularity in recent years with people who practise the method praising benefits such as reduced muscle pain and a boosted immune system – and now even Holly Willoughby is a (hesitant) fan.
The ITV This Morning presenter posted a video of herself to Instagram as she plunged into an ice water bath.
“Right let’s begin this icy journey! After working with @iceman_hof and the whole #freezethefear team, it’s taken a year, but I’m finally doing it for you…” she wrote in a caption.
“Didn’t last long but build up slowly right?” the 42-year-old added. “Wow, that was bloody cold but I did feel incredible after…”
Willoughby credited motivational speaker and extreme athlete Wim Hof for introducing her to cold water therapy, which is one of the key pillars of the ‘Wim Hof Method’ – a practice said to reward followers with “maximum energy, restful sleep and an uncluttered headspace”.
“Frequent exposure to cold is linked to a number of different health benefits,” the Wim Hof site states. “For example, scientists have found evidence that exposure to cold speeds up metabolism. Another benefit of exposing your body to cold is that it reduces inflammation, swelling and sore muscles.”
What is cold water therapy?
Cold water therapy, in its simplest form, means immersing yourself in water less that 15C, which can be via an ice bath, a cold shower, or an outdoor swim. You generally only tend to be in the water for a few minutes at a time.
A more extreme version of cold water therapy is ice swimming, which has been popularised by Wim Hof. This sees people swim for a longer period of time in water less than 5C.
The benefits of cold water therapy
According to Bupa, some of the benefits of cold water swimming include:
Reduced muscle pain and stiffness after exercise
Reduced swelling and inflammation
Improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels
Boosts immune system
Improved general wellbeing
Bupa adds that the evidence for the benefits of cold water therapy is currently scarce and most is anecdotal evidence.
There are also some things to be wary of when attempting cold water therapy, as the practice can put your body into shock. Cold water therapy can trigger arrhythmias, hypothermia and cold water shock which makes it hard to breathe.
If you are going to try cold water therapy, Bupa recommends starting slowly and building sessions up gradually to lessen the risk of cold water shock.
The science behind cold water therapy
There has been some interesting research into cold water therapy and its benefits. A study from 2022 analysing data from 104 different studies, determined that some benefits from cold water therapy include that it can have a positive effect on the immune system, mental health and improve insulin sensitivity.
A separate study from 2021 concluded that “cold-water immersion is a well-tolerated therapy that is capable of significantly improving mood in young, fit, and healthy individuals”.
How to practice cold water therapy at home
If you want to try cold water therapy, it’s best to start small and work your way up to allow your body to adjust to the exposure.
Bupa recommends trying a cold shower first, as this is less intense that swimming outdoors and can be a good indicator of how your body responds to the cold water. To do this, gradually reduce the temperature of your shower and how long you spend under the cold water.
When you’re ready to try cold water therapy in the great outdoors, it’s best to first go with an organised group who are doing cold water therapy together so that it is supervised by experts.
You could also take a leaf from Willoughby’s book and try an ice bath. These can be found in some spas, and should be attempted under supervision.
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