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Is Cold Water Therapy Worth the Hype?

I did it. I got sucked into the excitement and bought myself an Ice Bath. 


They seem to be everywhere on social media at the moment, and my resolve caved. £90 later and every morning I’m sitting in there, pondering my life choices as my testicles attempt to reverse puberty. 


While that’s not a selling point, there are a load of physical benefits and more importantly significant mental health benefits to using one of these things. Primarily, exposure to cold temperatures triggers the release of endorphins, our natural painkillers that improve mood and reduce anxiety (1), this can lead to improved sleep quality and decreased symptoms of depression. This improvement in mood is something that I have really noticed since I began. It’s always a bit grim at the start of the year, the gloom can just get on top of you, but after two weeks I’ve been seeing a bit more colour in the world.


Now this is a big one cold therapy causes the release of cold shock proteins from the liver and into the body, these proteins have been linked to repairing damaged cells and improving the body's response to stress (2) and they’ve also been associated with increased longevity and improved cognitive function (3).


Oh but there’s more, exposure to cold temperatures can stimulate the activation of brown adipose tissue (BAT), a type of fat that burns calories to generate heat. Research has shown that cold exposure can increase BAT activity, leading to an increase in energy expenditure and weight loss (4). Cold exposure has also been found to increase insulin sensitivity, which can help improve body composition and fat loss (5).

So once you’ve stumped up the cash, pumped it up and filled it how long do you need to spend in there? Well It’s recommended you start with short sessions of 2-3 minutes and gradually increase the time to a maximum of 10 minutes. Spending too long in the ice bath can lead to some pretty nasty effects such as hypothermia, decreased heart rate, and increased blood pressure (6). So it’s important to listen to your body and stop if you start to feel uncomfortable or experience any negative symptoms.

All those warnings aside I can report that I have seen real benefits from my time in the Ice Bath and those little victories in the morning, a little test of willpower, can really set you up for the day.

Photo of Man with sign

Communication is important... but there are somethings best kept to yourself.

According to a study published in the Journal of Athletic Training, cold therapy can:

  • Reduce inflammation & muscle soreness

  • Decrease pain

  • Improve circulation

  • Speed up recovery after exercise

  • Reduce fat (specifically that troublesome brown type)

…and most importantly improve your mood.

  1. Rymaszewska J, Ramsey D, Chładzińska-Kiejna S. Whole-body cryotherapy as adjunct

  2. Bruns DR, Drake JC, Biela LM, Peelor FF, Miller BF, Hamilton KL. Nrf2 signaling and the slowed aging phenotype: evidence from long-lived models. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2015;2015:732596. doi:10.1155/2015/732596

  3. Zhang Q, Chen X, Sun Y, et al. Cold-inducible RNA-binding protein (CIRP) triggers inflammatory responses in hemorrhagic shock and sepsis. Nat Commun. 2018;9(1):1417. doi:10.1038/s41467-018-03781-0

  4. van der Lans, A. A., Hoeks, J., Brans, B., Vijgen, G. H., Visser, M. G., Vosselman, M. J., ... & Schrauwen, P. (2013). Cold acclimation recruits human brown fat and increases nonshivering thermogenesis. The Journal of clinical investigation, 123(8), 3395-3403.

  5. Yoneshiro, T., Aita, S., Matsushita, M., Okamatsu-Ogura, Y., Kameya, T., Kawai, Y., ... & Saito, M. (2013). Brown adipose tissue, whole-body energy expenditure, and thermogenesis in healthy adult men. Obesity, 21(10), 2108-2115.

  6. Bleakley CM, Bieuzen F, Davison GW, et al. Cold-water immersion (cryotherapy) for preventing and treating muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;(2):CD008262. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008262.pub2

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