Cold exposure therapy involves deliberately exposing yourself to cold temperatures in order to gain various health benefits.

Here is a beginner’s guide to getting started with ice bath therapy and what to expect.

1. Getting Started

If you’re new to cold therapy, start gradually. Dramatic or sudden drops in temperature can be shocking to the body. Build up your tolerance slowly over several weeks or months. Start by ending your warm showers with 30 seconds of cold water. Over time, increase the duration of this exposure to 1-3 minutes.

Other entry-level techniques include using ice packs on specific body parts or taking walks outdoors during colder weather while underdressed. As you acclimate, you can advance to more intense methods like cold water immersion baths. Check a site like Cold Plunge Facts to find out more.

2. Health Benefits of Cold Exposure

Here are some of the evidence-based health benefits of consistent cold exposure therapy:

  • Improved circulation and heart health – Cold stimulates circulation. It may help artery and vein function.
  • Decreased inflammation – Cold exposure initiates an anti-inflammatory response that may help chronic inflammation.
  • Increased immunity – Frequent cold immersions have been shown to increase immune system function and white blood cell counts.
  • Improved mood – Cold exposure releases endorphins and other mood-boosting hormones and neurotransmitters. It may reduce depression and anxiety.
  • Increased energy – The cold triggers the release of stimulating neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, giving an energy boost.
  • Enhanced weight loss – Cold activates brown adipose tissue which increases fat-burning. It also boosts metabolism.
  • Reduced muscle soreness – Cold therapy constricts blood vessels, helping flush waste products out of muscles and reduce soreness.
  • Better sleepCold exposure improves sleep quality by regulating circadian rhythms and promoting deeper REM sleep.

3. What to Expect When You Start

It’s normal to experience some discomfort and acute reactions when you first start cold exposure therapy. Here’s what to expect, so you don’t panic!

  • Gasping reflex – Sudden cold water may cause an involuntary gasping response as you acclimate.
  • Cold shock response – You may experience an immediate increase in breathing and heart rate for 1-2 minutes.
  • Decreased coordination – Motor coordination may be impacted during the cold shock response period. Use caution to avoid injury.
  • Numbness and pain – Your extremities may become numb, painful, or turn red or white temporarily. This is normal and subsides after warming up.
  • Afterdrop – You may continue cooling down with lowered core body temperature for 30 minutes after this exposure as blood circulates back to your organs.
  • Euphoria and clarity – Following cold exposure you may experience a boost in mood, mental clarity and alertness from release of stimulating neurotransmitters. This is a common reason why people learn to enjoy cold water exposure.
  • Increased appetite – Appetite stimulation is common after cold therapy sessions. Your metabolism is ramped up.

4. Safety With Cold Exposure Therapy

While generally safe for most healthy adults, take precautions with cold therapy. Always check with your doctor before starting, especially if you have any medical conditions or take medications that may be impacted. Slowly build up tolerance over several weeks. Avoid dramatic temperature drops.

Have someone with you for safety if you do more dangerous techniques like ice baths. Limit exposure to 10-15 minutes. Watch out for signs of hypothermia such as violent shivering, confusion, slurred speech and loss of motor control.

Get out and warm up immediately. Avoid total body submersion in freezing water if you are new to cold exposure. This is advanced and risky.

Finally, listen to your body’s limits and don’t overdo it. Allow time to warm up and recover between cold sessions.

5. Consistency Over Intensity

When starting cold exposure therapy, focus on consistency over intensity. Frequent short cold exposures of even just a few minutes have great benefits. With time and practice, you can advance to more intense and longer durations for amplified effects. But start gradually, be patient with yourself, and allow your body to adapt at its own pace.