Does cold water therapy actually do anything?

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      I’ve willingly plunged my body into the icy waters of the Pacific Ocean. 

      Okay, okay—icy might be a tad hyperbolic, given that it’s a summer day and the water temperatures are allegedly at a cool 11-ish degrees, but the only real hyper thing on my mind right now is the thermia I feel creeping into my limbs. 

      Why am I doing this. Why am I doing this. Why am I doing this. Repeats in my head as the first 60 seconds tick away, my freezing fingers tucked into my armpits for some semblance of warmth, and the rest of my body going numb. 

      But really, why am I doing this? 

      Well, the easy answer is that it’s part of a media event put on by the good folks at Kathmandu, an outdoor apparel company that is a household name south of the equator (in New Zealand and Australia, to be a little more specific)—and one that has (somewhat) recently launched in Canada. 

      They’ve invited me and a dozen or so other brave souls to try out some gear during a cloudy Tuesday morning itinerary that includes a nature walk (complete with mushroom facts courtesy of Future Ecologies podcast host Mendel Skulski), a sauna hit (courtesy of the good folks at The Good Sauna), and the aforementioned ice cold plunge into the waters of North Vancouver’s gorgeous Cates Park. 

      Which brings me to the more complicated answer to why am I doing this?

      Any Vancouverite who has had the pleasure of making the round trip up north to Whistler’s Scandinave Spa has likely been run through the basics on cold water hydrotherapy; that is, a method of using cold water (be it ice baths, cold showers, or, in my case, the Pacific freaking Ocean) mixed with hot water and relaxation to promote health and immunity.

      Which all sounds well and good, until you’re actually in said icy water and wondering just how legitimate any of this actually is—or if you’ve just submitted yourself to an incredibly uncomfortable experience on nothing more than a whim. 

      So I resolved to find out. 

      It doesn’t take long to populate a Google search with articles listing the the benefits of cold water therapy, including from the arguably-most-famous cold water submerger: Wim Hof, AKA The Ice Man. You don’t get a name like that from having pleasantly warm baths, no sir. 

      Here’s what his website has to say on the subject:

      “Frequent exposure to cold is linked to a number of different health benefits. 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. Therefore, many athletes use ice baths and other types of exposure to cold as a means to speed up recovery after physical exercise. Furthermore, cold body therapy is also linked to improved quality of sleep, more focus, and even an improved immune response.”

      The science is (mostly) in when it comes to the use of ice when it comes to recovery for inflammation, swelling, and sore muscles—hordes of athletes can attest to that. It’s the other promised health benefits where things get a little shaky, because anything offering to just improve my life overall (?) automatically (??) gets a bit of a suspicious look. 

      And that also seems to be where the jury is out all across the world wide web. 

      Head over to YouTube and you’ll find countless videos of people attempting the 30-day cold dip/cold shower/ice bath challenge. You’ll also find other folks looking into why, exactly, it seems that everyone and their mother is risking pneumonia in the hopes of deeper sleep and clearer skin and everything else that masquerading as a penguin seems to promise. 

      And the general consensus of those who have dedicated far more hours of research, experience, and testing than I have? Well, there kind of isn’t one. A general consensus, that is. Perhaps it’s just that the kind of people who are willing to submerge themselves in painfully cold water are, generally, also the kind of people who will be willing to do other things to improve their health, and are therefore more healthy overall than their warm-watered counterparts. Maybe cold plunges do absolutely nothing, and we’re all just subjecting ourselves to the torturous elements for naught. Maybe placebo is just a hell of a drug.

      Anyways, cut back to me in the icy Pacific.

      Sure, I’m cold in the general sense, but I’m not feeling cold in a holy shit get me out of here and into a sauna ASAP kind of way—at least not anymore. The water actually feels quite pleasant. 

      As I emerge from the salty shore, reborn into a soggier, chillier—though admittedly clearer—world, I can’t help but think two things: 

      One: that I actually do feel pretty great. Exhilarated, awake, energized, and, as I pull on the fleece puffer jacket that Kathmandu so generously provided, actually kind of warm. Like deep-down-to-my-very-core kind of warm. 

      Two: that this was a hell of a smart way to get a buncha media folks to appreciate a warm jacket.