Are Cold Showers Just as Beneficial as Ice Baths?

This is a highly contested question and is often top of mind for anyone interested in cold water therapy. Which is better: a cold shower or an ice bath? Is one better than the other? Or are the benefits the same? Here is what we know!

Fat Loss

The potential relationship between weight loss and exposure to cold temperatures is still being investigated by researchers, but there are promising findings. Some studies have demonstrated that immersing oneself in ice water can increase metabolic rate, which is the rate at which calories are burned. The activation of brown fat in response to cold exposure is responsible for this effect. Research indicates that repeated exposure to cold temperatures can improve the efficacy of brown fat activation, leading to increased calorie burning. However, it is crucial not to compensate for the calories burned during cold water immersion by overeating. Maintaining a balanced, healthy diet with an appropriate caloric intake can potentially lead to weight loss through ice bathing.

Vagal Nerve Stimulation

Looking for a natural and healthy method of de-stressing? Consider using an ice bath, which has been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve by exposing the body to cold temperatures. The vagus nerve plays a crucial role in regulating the heart, lungs, and digestive system, and activating it has been shown to aid relaxation and reduce stress. While a cold shower may activate the vagus nerve to some extent, an ice bath is potentially more effective as it can provide better coverage for the neck and abdomen, where the nerve extends. Additionally, because an ice bath can achieve lower temperatures than a cold shower, it has the potential to more rapidly and effectively stimulate this essential nerve center, resulting in a more comprehensive sense of relaxation and stress reduction. Baths have long been used as a means of relaxation, and an ice bath may offer an even deeper level of rejuvenation.

Better Sleep

Ice bathing has been reported to enhance relaxation by activating the vagus nerve, leading to better quality sleep for many individuals. Furthermore, athletes who experience reduced muscle soreness following an ice bath may also benefit from more restful and comfortable sleep. Adequate sleep is crucial for muscle recovery, as the body undergoes protein synthesis and releases human growth hormones during this time. Insufficient sleep or chronic sleep deprivation has been associated with an increased risk of developing certain diseases. Therefore, any intervention that can improve the quality of sleep, such as ice bathing, may potentially enhance workout recovery and overall wellness. Just because ice cold water therapy may help to promote better sleep, it is not useful to immerse oneself in a cold bath or shower right before bed. 

Workout Recovery

When it comes to workout recovery, the effectiveness of cold showers versus ice baths is a topic of debate. While cold showers can provide a refreshing sensation, scientific research supports the use of cold water immersion for recovery.

A 2011 study found that cyclists who engaged in intense training experienced reduced muscle soreness after immersing themselves in cold water for ten minutes. Similarly, a 2016 study yielded similar findings. Cold water exposure constricts blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the affected area and alleviating inflammation temporarily. Many athletes incorporate ice baths or cold water immersion into their recovery routines, alongside proper hydration, stretching, rest, and a balanced diet.

It is extremely important for the body to be fully immersed in cold water to feel the equivalent effects all over the body. Cold showers may make this challenging as the body's surface temperature may not drop uniformly. 


Additional Ice Bath Benefits

Although professional diagnosis and treatment are always necessary for serious mental health conditions, there are individuals who claim that ice bathing has improved their mental wellbeing. Some ice bathers have reported experiencing reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. Although the science behind this phenomenon is still not fully understood, it is possible that the vagus nerve could be involved. The vagus nerve is known to be activated by cold, which can promote relaxation. Therefore, it is possible that ice baths can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety by activating the vagus nerve, therefore improving mental health.

How to Take an Ice Bath

Step 1: Purchase a SubZeroSoak Pod.

Step 2: Fill your ice bath with cold water between 45 and 55 degrees (temperature should vary based on tolerance level).

Step 3: Submerge your entire body into the water from 2 to 5 minutes. 

Step 4: Get out of the bath, towel dry, and let your body naturally return to normal body temperature.

Ice baths and cold showers both have benefits, and can both be incorporated into your weekly routine.

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