Ice bathing can boost your immune system quite a bit—but only if you do it right. Otherwise it can have devastating consequences for your health. An expert explains the benefits and risks.
Maybe you’ve experienced this before: It’s cold outside, you go for a walk in warm clothes and meet people who are only bathing in bathing suits in the icy lake at almost zero degrees.
This seemingly crazy activity isn’t just for the adventurous, on the contrary, regular bathing in freezing temperatures can be beneficial to your health. On the one hand, you can strengthen your immune system, but you can also improve your athletic performance.
Ice bathing has been common in Scandinavia for some time, and the trend now seems to have arrived in Germany too.
The water temperature during ice bathing is close to the freezing point of water. “We know from the principle of alternating showers: The alternating narrowing and widening of the blood vessels can have a positive effect on the immune system, the cardiovascular system, the connective tissue, the ability to regenerate after sport and also on the psyche, and thus increase general well-being,” explains Cardiologist, internist and sports physician Dr. Milan Dinic opposite FIT FOR FUN.
“This is due to the improved blood circulation through the ice bath – the alternating cold and warm stimuli ensure that the blood circulation is boosted down to the smallest vessels,” he adds.
However, if you hope to strengthen your immune system with a single ice bath, we have to disappoint you. When ice bathing, regularity is crucial to achieve a positive effect on the immune system. Accordingly, you should bathe in cold water about every other day. dr Dinic adds in the FIT FOR FUN interview: “So if you regularly jump into the cold water, you can strengthen your immune system and protect yourself from infections.”
Ice bathing is also popular in competitive sports, as the body reacts to the temperature stress by releasing endorphins, adrenaline and anti-inflammatory corticosteroids. In this way, the body’s ability to regenerate can be strengthened so that it recovers more quickly after exertion.
Ice bathing can also have a positive effect on fat burning. Regular bathing in the cold can activate brown fat cells, which in contrast to white release energy directly as heat. This has the advantage that fat is burned faster and is less deposited on the body in the form of fat deposits.
Appropriate to the topic: Ice bathing – kick and training for the body
You may know it from the swimming pool: when the water is cold, you often dare to jump into the cold water and then get used to the water temperature relatively quickly. However, jumping into ice bathing is not recommended for the untrained, as there is a risk of a life-threatening cold shock. Instead, prepare yourself for ice bathing slowly, especially if you are a beginner.
Taking a cold shower is a good way to train your breathing when it’s cold. You should try to breathe evenly and slowly. Then minimize the water temperature and try not to alter your breathing. If necessary, you can also regulate the temperature down in several steps. The advantage of breathing slowly and evenly when it is cold is that it can then be consciously and slowly guided out of the body. This way the cold will feel less painful than if you breathe quickly and frantically due to the cold shock.
hair and headgear
When ice bathing, you should definitely wear gloves, neoprene socks and a hat to lose as little body heat as possible. “We give off 30 percent of our heat through our heads. That’s why your head and hair should never get wet when ice bathing. Hands and feet lose body heat quickly. Therefore, you should hold your hands in the air when ice bathing. You can protect your feet with neoprene socks “, explains the doctor in an interview with FIT FOR FUN.
If it’s your first time ice bathing, it’s best to do so in a wetsuit and stay in the water for just a few seconds. It is also important that you are healthy. If possible, get a medical examination beforehand. “You can easily improve each time if it feels good for you – so extend the ice bath time and after a few times also leave out the wetsuit. If you are inexperienced and untrained, you should slowly approach the cool temperatures, for example with alternating showers”, tells us Dinic.
Not ice bathing alone
You should never go ice bathing alone, at least one other person should accompany you. Ice bathing puts the body into a state of shock that each person can react to differently. “Due to the extreme physical stress situation, you can never rule out the possibility of serious cardiovascular problems or a life-threatening cold shock. In the event of an emergency, you should always have someone with you who can help you,” says the expert.
Book tip: “The healing power of cold” at Amazon
“In countries like Finland, it’s common to stay in the water for only a few seconds. Staying in ice-cold water for a longer period of time also poses health risks, especially for inexperienced and untrained people,” says Dinic.
According to the expert, you should only stay in the water for a few seconds at temperatures below 0 degrees. “Otherwise never more than a few minutes, otherwise the risk of hypothermia would be too great,” explains Dr. Dinic.
“Always go into the water very slowly and focus on slow, deep breathing,” says Dinic. In this way, the blood in the body does not shift so abruptly and one can prevent one from being choked on air.
“Under no circumstances should you swim in the winter cold water. Water that cold is harder to move due to its higher density,” says the expert. In addition, more heat is withdrawn from your body with every movement – you cool down even faster.
If you feel that your breathing is becoming difficult, your circulation is not working or your heart begins to falter, get out of the water immediately.
Despite the many mental and physical benefits of ice bathing, the dangers of the winter trend should not be underestimated. As a beginner, you should never venture into ice water without preparation, otherwise you could suffer damage to your health.
“A healthy circulation is a prerequisite for anyone who wants to experience the cold kick. Because the cold water in winter causes the blood vessels to shrink, the body reacts with stress hormones and blood pressure rises for a short time,” says Dinic in an interview with FIT FOR FUN.
Related to the topic: Medicines are often not enough – high blood pressure is deadly – but there are three simple measures that can protect you
Therefore, if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or heart and vascular diseases, you should never step into cold water in winter. Since heart disease and high blood pressure in particular often go undetected, Dinic says you should have your doctor check you up before you dare to go ice bathing.
This is particularly important given the high number of people with high blood pressure. Dinic explains to FIT FOR FUN: “There are quite a few people with undetected heart disease. High blood pressure is also more common than many think – in Germany every third adult is affected. Ice bathing can be life-threatening for people with high blood pressure!”
Also interesting: Biohacking – The system of self-optimization