Are ice water baths good for your health?

Immersing yourself in a bath of ice water is a trendy challenge right now on social media. Details from Martin Ducret, doctor and journalist at “Quotidien du Médecin”.


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Taking a bath in ice water on New Year's Day is a tradition in many countries, but it is also a practice that high-level athletes use in a very specific context, to improve muscle recovery.  (Illustration) (HELEN H. RICHARDSON/MEDIANEWS GR / DENVER POST / GETTY IMAGES)

This practice of rapid immersion in ice water is said to have many virtues, such as strengthening the immune system or improving muscular performance.

franceinfo: What is it really?

Martin Ducret: Our body has a temperature of around 37°C, and when we immerse it in a bath of cold water at 10°C for several minutes, what we call thermal shock occurs. First, the small blood vessels on the surface of our body shrink to reduce body heat loss, this is vasoconstriction. This leads to an increase in blood pressure, which in turn causes an increase in heart rate and breathing. Vasoconstriction also produces an analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect.

Once out of the cold water, the body warms up, blood circulation returns to the body surface and the extremities, often leading to a euphoric feeling of well-being. But be careful, in the event of immersion in ice water for too long, the body loses the battle against the cold, the extremities become numb and its temperature will drop, this is what we call hypothermia, with serious consequences for health.

What are the benefits of these ice baths?

Athletes, particularly high-level athletes, frequently use them as a “one shot” (an immersion of 10 to 15 minutes in water between 10 and 15°C) after a match or competition to improve muscle recovery and reduce muscle soreness. . But to date, scientific studies cannot confirm whether these benefits are real or based more on subjective markers, such as the feeling of fitness or the perception of pain.

Concerning repeated immersion, very fashionable (every day over a month for example), even if some enthusiasts feel benefits on their physical and mental state of fitness and on their ability to resist the cold, there is no solid scientific proof that this practice stimulates the immune system, prevents you from getting sick or helps you lose weight.

What advice would you give to people wanting to take ice baths?

For a person without health problems, you must start gradually, with water temperatures not too low, for less than 5 minutes, dry yourself well after the bath and not be alone. For other people, especially in cases of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or allergy to cold, medical advice is essential.

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