The science is thin, but enthusiasts claim regular exposure to cold has a whole host of health benefits

How cold therapy became the hottest new heath trend


Right about now, at the same time every year, when the sea temperature is like a bath, I vow that this will be the year I swim every single day. Like one of those stoic old ladies bobbing along the east coast at dawn in rubber floral caps.

My resolve usually lasts until Easter then I'm under the doona till September. But this year is going to be different because I've started my cold water training early by ending my showers with short icy blasts.

Cold water therapy is not new, humans have been seeking health benefits in cold places for thousands of years. But it's having a moment right now.

The coolest health trend of all is largely led by Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof who boasts several Guiness World Records for cold exposure and 1.7 million plus Instagram followers (if you're not one of them check out check out @iceman_hof) whom he leads through 20-day cold shower challenges, snowy meditation sessions and breathing routines.

US big wave surfer Laird Hamilton and his pro volleyball player wife Gabby Reece are also icy influencers who promote resilience training and post-workout recovery using "contrast therapy" via exposure to extreme heat or cold temperatures.

Enthusiasts also claim regular exposure to cold benefits our immunity, circulation, energy, concentration, moods, metabolism, nervous system and sleep while lowering stress, inflammation and post-workout muscle soreness.

The science on most of these things is still thin. One small 2017 studies in mice showed the combination of cold exposure and exercise increased mitochondrial function (which in turn improves cellular energy). Other small studies have shown athletes who soaked in cold water (12 to 15 degrees Celsius) after exercise experienced less muscle soreness.

Cold water also helps with pain by causing our blood vessels to constrict thus reducing blood flow, swelling and inflammation.

Non-athletes may be tempted to trying cold water swimming, ice baths or even brisk showers for their mental health benefits.

Exposure to cold is known to activate our sympathetic nervous system and boost blood levels of beta-endorphin ( a neuropeptide that can have morphine like effects on pain).

A cold shower also sends a cascade of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings in our skin to the brain, which may have anti-depressive effects.

One study showed cold open water swimming helps relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Another very small study suggested that twice-daily cold showers (about 20 degrees Celsius for 2-3 minutes) may relieve symptoms of depression.

Some people say learning to feel comfortable during discomfort can be empowering or awakening.

"It gives you the feeling that you are alive," says Wim Hof.

Who knows, it might even make you feel euphoric.