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How Long Should You Cold Plunge?

Written by Kimberly Danielle

Consider adding a cold plunge into your weekly routine.

Cold water immersion, or “cold plunge,” has been gaining traction as a natural way to enhance physical and mental health. Benefits may include reduced inflammation, improved mood, and a boosted immune system. But how long should you take a cold plunge to experience these advantages? This article will delve into the science of cold water immersion and provide guidance on incorporating it safely and effectively into your daily routine. Whether you’re an athlete seeking faster recovery or simply looking to improve your overall well-being, a cold plunge might be just what you need.

Research by scientist Rhonda Patrick highlights the impact of cold water exposure on the body. Cold water immersion can increase norepinephrine levels, a hormone and neurotransmitter that aids focus, attention, and mood enhancement. Additionally, cold water exposure can promote better sleep and reduce inflammation, a key factor in many long-term diseases.

Potential benefits

  1. Reduced inflammation: Cold water immersion can alleviate inflammation and pain in muscles and joints, benefiting athletes and those with chronic pain.
  2. Enhanced mood: Cold water stimulates endorphin production, which can relieve stress and anxiety, resulting in an improved mood.
  3. Improved immune function: Cold water immersion can increase white blood cell count and strengthen immune function, protecting against illnesses and infections.
  4. Faster recovery: By soothing inflammation in muscles and joints, cold water immersion aids in post-exercise or physical activity recovery.
  5. Increased metabolism: Cold water exposure can boost metabolism, leading to increased calorie burning and potential weight loss.
  6. Better cognitive function: Cold water immersion can stimulate norepinephrine production, which enhances attention and concentration, leading to improved cognitive function.

Keep in mind that individual benefits may vary, and some research in this area is still ongoing.

How long should you cold plunge?

Dr. Andrew Huberman suggests an 11-minute weekly exposure to cold, divided into two to four sessions lasting one to five minutes each. This duration has been shown to offer numerous benefits.

Cold immersion protocol

  1. Immerse yourself in a cold plunge, ice bath, or iced tub for 3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Submerge your body up to your neck in cold water for three to five minutes.
  3. Repeat this process two or three times per week.
  4. Allow your body to naturally warm up afterward.

The water should be too cold for swimming but safe for brief immersion. This 11-minute protocol is based on a recent study and provides a solid foundation for long-term use. Cold water immersions is an alternative treatment and should be discussed with your primary health provider. An integrative health provider is a great place to start the discussion on cold water immersion benefits.

Key Takeaways

Incorporating a cold water immersion routine into your weekly schedule can contribute to improved health and well-being. Begin with cold showers to acclimate yourself to the sensation. Whether you’re aiming to reduce inflammation, elevate your mood, or expedite your recovery, a cold water immersion protocol can be a revitalizing addition to your routine. Start with a brief cold shower or dip your toes in a cold stream to embark on your cold plunge journey.

As with any new health program or treatment, always remember to report and discuss the suitability with your primary care doctor, as individual health varies greatly. Never disregard professional medical advice from your personal physician.

Buijze, G. A., Sierevelt, I. N., Van der Heijden, B. C., Dijkgraaf, M. G., & Frings-Dresen, M. H. (2016). The Effect of Cold Showering on Health and Work: A Randomized Controlled Trial. PLoS One, 11(9), e0161749.

Costello, J. T., Algar, L. A., Donnelly, A. E., & Delgado-Lista, J. (2018). Effects of acute cryotherapy on inflammation and joint position sense in healthy young men. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 118(2), 401-408.

Delextrat, A., Hayes, L. D., & Minson, C. T. (2018). The use of thermal imaging in assessing skin temperature responses to cold-water immersion recovery. European Journal of Sport Science, 18(1), 15-23.

Huberman Lab. (n.d.). The Science and Use of Cold Exposure for Health and Performance. Retrieved from https://hubermanlab.com/the-science-and-use-of-cold-exposure-for-health-and-performance/

Kawasaki, Y., Matsunaga, M., Isogawa, N., Otsuru, N., Kasahara, T., Shirota, T., … & Saito, H. (2020). Endogenous opioids in the human brain under resting state are predicted by respiratory fitness. Scientific reports, 10(1), 1-11.

Lloyd, R., Faull, O. K., & Marnewick, M. (2018). The effects of cold water immersion after rugby training on muscle power and biochemical markers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 32(2), 514-519.

Patrick, R. (n.d.). Cold Therapy. [Audio podcast episode]. In FoundMyFitness. Retrieved from https://www.foundmyfitness.com/episodes/cold-therapy

Shevchuk, N. A. (2008). Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression. Medical Hypotheses, 70(5), 995-1001.

Srámek, P., Simecková, M., Janský, L., Savlíková, J., & Vybíral, S. (2000). Human physiological responses to immersion into water of different temperatures. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 81(5), 436-442. https://doi.org/10.1007/s004210050065

Versey, N. G., Halson, S. L., & Dawson, B. T. (2013). Water immersion recovery for athletes: effect on exercise performance and practical recommendations. Sports Medicine, 43(11), 1101-1130.

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