Why is everyone plunging their bits in ice cold water?

Cold water immersion is nothing new, just ask the ancient greeks and romans but there's little question as to the prevalence amongst middle-aged men, meditation buffs, AFL, NRL, NSL athletes and even corporates these days. The only demographic I'm yet to see on socials to take the icy plunge are toddlers (it'll come though mark my words).

So for any of you still uninitiated in the realm of cold water immersion, why are people doing it and what are the benefits..?

Well the short answer is that when the body is exposed to cold, it triggers the body's to elicit a suite of hormones which essentially fires a rocket up our arses.

The primary hormone to flush through our systems is dopamine which is the reward and motivation molecule which puts a proverbial spring in our step. Dopamine's biological cousins get a call-up to in the form of cortisol and adrenaline aka the catecholamines.

If the plunge is cold enough and duration long enough, it can trigger a release x2 above baseline.  This is incredibly significant and the effects can be felt for hours (up to 5hrs) post plunge.  Meaning, we experience greater motivation, alertness, goal-directed behaviour, focus and improved mood.  

Typically when we increase dopamine via behaviour (porn and sex for example) or by a substance (cocaine, nicotine) etc there is a dip below baseline after the initial release, this however, doesn't occur during cold water therapy.  The dip below baseline can lead to addictive-like behaviour as it represents the 'pain' or 'craving' that can promote the behaviour or substance to be repeated.

The other benefit to cold water immersion is the stimulation of brown fat.  Brown fat is slightly different to the typical fat we think of, in the sense that it's energetic tissue (like muscle) as it contains energy power station in the form of organelles known as mitochondria.  Regular cold water exposure can elicit an adaption of beige fat into brown fat (increase energetic tissue), which positively contributes to metabolism - an important consideration with regards to weight loss.  

Finally, as far as I can tell, plunging your bits into cold water 'hardens your steel' and lifts your resolve and resilience.  In order to get your body into a cold body of water, requires effort!

This effort comes into the form of suppressing the urge to get out! You have to override your pre-frontal cortex (responsible for reasoning, control and judgment) to NOT get out of the water.  Everything about your cold water activity is screaming a threat to your survival and therefore there is a need to override this.  This effort and subsequent hardship and discomfort sharpens your resolve in the water but, I believe, in all other aspects of your life.

If you wish to take a deeper dive (pun intended) into cold water immersion then take a look at the work by Dr Susanna Soeberg...

Doing deliberate cold exposure for 11 minutes per week TOTAL. NOT per session, but rather, 2-4 sessions lasting 1-5 mins each distributed across the week. Again, the water temperature should be uncomfortably cold yet safe to stay in for a few minutes. 

Potentially you could break these sessions into 1 x ice bath weekly, plus 2-3 cold showers ensuring you are allowing the cold water to pass over head, chest and neck areas.  Admittedly the cold water in Sydney isn't too uncomfortable but it's about to turn as the ambient temperate drops over coming weeks and months.  Just so long as you can accumulate 11 minutes across the week.

Good luck!

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