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Benefits of Cold Water Therapy

Swimming In the Winter and Why it’s So Good for Your Health

A practice that's made its way into the mainstream in recent years is Cold Water Therapy and while the thought of taking a plunge during winter can send shivers down your spine, research shows that the occasional polar plunge can improve your personal health.

In its simplest terms, Cold Water Therapy is the use of cold water to re-envigor and refresh the body. This can take many different forms, whether it be cold water swimming, ice baths, or the occasional cold shower. While this form of therapy has been practiced by athletes for some time now it's gained traction with a more mainstream crowd in recent years--no doubt due to the surprising extensive list of benefits for something as simple as starting your morning with a cold shower.     

Woman with most of body submerged in lake.
Photo by Freepik.

One of the most notable benefits that is noted in research on Cold Water Therapy is its ability to improve your immune system. Evidence for this was first found in a 1996 Study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology. The study involved participants beginning to be routinely immersed in cold water three times a week for six weeks. The researchers found that in response to the cold temperatures caused by the continuous routine of cold water exposure, body temperature decreased which activated the immune system and encouraged the release of chemicals that both increase metabolic rate for a short period and the activity white blood cells. 

Probably the most commonly known benefit of Cold Water Therapy is the benefit of boosting and aiding muscle recovery. Aside from the testimonials of athletes we had evidence from a 2011 Journal that showed a moderate correlation between the beneficial effect on perceptions of recovery and the use of these recovery strategies. These findings were given more evidence in a 2014 Study that found similar techniques exhibited profound increases in the release of epinephrine, which in turn led to increased production of anti-inflammatory mediators meaning reduced inflammation which improved muscle soreness. 

Woman in pool in winter.
Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev.

Something interesting found in a 2007 Medical Study was how the application of Cold Water Therapy could be used to fight depression. The study showed that Cold Water Therapy activated the sympathetic nervous system and increased the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline to the brain. At the same time, the cold of the water sent electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings in the skin to the brain. These responses combined to produce a minor antidepressant effect in the subjects. Even though this is only one study, should more research be conducted we may even be able to find a new way to fight depression in our own homes. 

Even today research is continuing to be done, showing and reinforcing the benefits of Cold Water Therapy. However, while the evidence continues to pile up many researchers have yet to answer one important question regarding Cold Water Therapy. Why would you, dear reader, willing subject yourself to a cold water shower when the hot water is right there? Sure, you’ll feel better in the long term but right now you just need that relaxing hot shower. Luckily, the best part of Cold Water Therapy is just how flexible it can be while still reaping the benefits.

Woman in bathrobe preparing a bath.
Photo by Monstera.

As shown by the experiment conducted in the 1996 Study, all you would have to do is expose your body to cold water three times a week and you’ll be reaping the benefits of Cold Water Therapy. This means, in exchange for three showers you gain all the health benefits of Cold Water Therapy. To recap, those benefits include an improved immune system, reduced muscle soreness, and a way to reactivate your brain and fight depression on top of saving cash from not heating the water. There’s really no reason not to trade a couple of showers for benefits like these. 

And with winter just around the corner there’s no better time to start applying CWT to your routine. You can drive right in, take a drip in the pool, slide into a cold bath, or even plan a beachside winter vacay.

Any way you decide to claim the benefits of cold showers or try Cold Water Therapy, we hope you stay safe and stay frosty out there.  

Written by Nicholas Viveros.

 Also read: The Toxicity of Plant Based Meat

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References 

Janský L;Pospísilová D;Honzová S;Ulicný B;Srámek P;Zeman V;Kamínková J; (n.d.). Immune system of cold-exposed and cold-adapted humans. European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8925815/ 

Kox, M., van Eijk, L. T., Zwaag, J., van den Wildenberg, J., Sweep, F. C. G. J., van der Hoeven, J. G., & Pickkers, P. (2014, May 20). Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4034215

Shevchuk, N. A. (2007, November 13). Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression. Medical Hypotheses. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S030698770700566X?via%3Dihub 

Stanley, J., Buchheit, M., & Peake, J. M. (2011, June 28). The effect of post-exercise hydrotherapy on subsequent exercise performance and Heart Rate Variability - European Journal of Applied Physiology. SpringerLink. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00421-011-2052-7 

Yeung, S. S., Ting, K. H., Hon, M., Fung, N. Y., Choi, M. M., Cheng, J. C., & Yeung, E. W. (2016, January). Effects of cold water immersion on muscle oxygenation during repeated bouts of fatiguing exercise: A randomized controlled study. Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4706272/

This blog provides general information and discussions about wellness and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, website or in any linked materials are not intended and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This blog does not constitute the practice of any medical, nursing or other professional health care advice, diagnosis or treatment. We cannot diagnose conditions, provide second opinions or make specific treatment recommendations through this blog or website.

Suggestions of changes to diet or exercise may not be suitable for everyone. Please consult with your doctor before attempting any changes to decide whether or not such changes would be right for you.

If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that you have read on this blog, website or in any linked materials. 

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