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Illustration of a smiling person enjoying the benefits of an ice bath, surrounded by ice cubes. The text "ICE BATH MYTHBUSTING" is written beside the illustration, and there is a logo of "10 almonds" in the bottom right corner.

Ice Baths: To Dip Or Not To Dip?

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Many Are Cold, But Few Are Frozen

We asked you for your (health-related) view of ice baths, and got the above-depicted, below-described, set of responses:

  • About 31% said “ice baths are great for the health; we should take them”
  • About 29% said “ice baths’ risks outweigh their few benefits”
  • About 26% said “ice baths’ benefits outweigh their few risks”
  • About 14% said “ice baths are dangerous and can kill you; best avoided”

So what does the science say?

Freezing water is very dangerous: True or False?

True! Water close to freezing point is indeed very dangerous, and can most certainly kill you.

Fun fact, though: many such people are still saveable with timely medical intervention, in part because the same hypothermia that is killing them also slows down the process* of death

Source (and science) for both parts of that:

Cold water immersion: sudden death and prolonged survival

*and biologically speaking, death is a process, not an event, by the way. But we don’t have room for that today!

(unless you die in some sudden violent way, such as a powerful explosion that destroys your brain instantly; then it’s an event)

Ice baths are thus also very dangerous: True or False?

False! Assuming that they are undertaken responsibly and you have no chronic diseases that make it more dangerous for you.

What does “undertaken responsibly” mean?

Firstly, the temperature should not be near freezing. It should be 10–15℃, which for Americans is 50–59℉.

You can get a bath thermometer to check this, by the way. Here’s an example product on Amazon.

Secondly, your ice bath should last no more than 10–15 minutes. This is not a place to go to sleep.

What chronic diseases would make it dangerous?

Do check with your doctor if you have any doubts, as no list we make can be exhaustive and we don’t know your personal medical history, but the main culprits are:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes (any type)

The first two are for heart attack risk; the latter is because diabetes can affect core temperature regulation.

Ice baths are good for the heart: True or False?

True or False depending on how they’re done, and your health before starting.

For most people, undertaking ice baths responsibly, repeated ice bath use causes the cardiovascular system to adapt to better maintain homeostasis when subjected to thermal shock (i.e. sudden rapid changes in temperature).

For example: Respiratory and cardiovascular responses to cold stress following repeated cold water immersion

And because that was a small study, here’s a big research review with a lot of data; just scroll to where it has the heading“Specific thermoregulative adaptations to regular exposure to cold air and/or cold water exposure“ for many examples and much discussion:

Health effects of voluntary exposure to cold water: a continuing subject of debate

Ice baths are good against inflammation: True or False?

True! Here’s one example:

Winter-swimming as a building-up body resistance factor inducing adaptive changes in the oxidant/antioxidant status

Uric acid and glutathione levels (important markers of chronic inflammation) are also significantly affected:

Uric acid and glutathione levels during short-term whole body cold exposure

Want to know more?

That’s all we have room for today, but check out our previous “Expert Insights” main feature looking at Wim Hof’s work in cryotherapy:

A Cold Shower A Day Keeps The Doctor Away?

Enjoy!

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