What You Need to Know About Cold Plunge and Your Health

With nearly 800 million views on TikTok and 90 thousand tags on Instagram, the viral #coldplunge challenge has garnered tremendous attention.

But other than the entertainment value of watching celebrities dip into cold tubs of water, what benefit does the #coldplunge challenge offer?

Is taking the plunge good for your health?

Let’s dive in together and break down what you need to know about cold plunges and how they impact your health.


Cold Plunge

What is a cold plunge?

A cold plunge, or cold water immersion therapy, is a type of hydrotherapy where you immerse your body in cold water (below 60 degrees Fahrenheit), spending between five and 15 minutes in the water.[1]

Even though cold plunges are becoming increasingly popular, they have been practiced for centuries and have deep roots in many Scandinavian, Russian, and Japanese cultures. Cold plunges are commonly used after exercise, saunas, or hot baths because they stimulate the body’s natural healing processes and increase circulation, which can help reduce pain, inflammation, and sore muscles and improve overall health and well-being.[2]  Naturopathic colleagues have also been recommending forms of hydrotherapy for decades!


Mountain ridge and ice on the frozen lake surface

Types of Cold Water Immersion Therapy

The cold plunge has become the most well-known version of cold water immersion therapy, but there are several other types, including:

  • Cold water baths
  • Ice baths
  • Constant water therapy
  • Cold showers
  • Cryotherapy

Each type of cold water immersion therapy has its own benefits and risks. It’s important to choose the type of therapy that is most appropriate for your individual needs and health concerns.


Winter landscape with snowy trees, ice, beautiful frozen river

Cold Plunge and Your Health

Cold plunges can positively and negatively affect your health, depending on your circumstances and how you implement the practice. These can be a safe and effective way to improve your health and well-being. But it is essential to consult a healthcare provider before you take the plunge.

How does a cold plunge work?

Cold plunges work by triggering a physiological response in the body known as the “cold shock response.”[3] When exposed to cold water, your body responds by constricting blood vessels and reducing blood flow to the extremities to conserve heat and maintain core body temperature.

As your body adjusts to the cold water, it releases endorphins, which can help reduce pain, improve mood, and trigger your body’s natural anti-inflammatory response. Over time, regular cold plunging may also help to improve resilience and reduce stress and anxiety. It may even support the creation of new mitochondria! Although more research is needed.


Cold Plunge

Health Benefits of a Cold Plunge

The popularity of cold plunges has vastly outpaced research on the subject. So even though cold plunges support various health benefits, additional research is needed to help us gain the necessary insight into the health benefits of a cold plunge.

Here’s what the literature says so far:

Reduced Inflammation, Muscle Soreness, and Pain

Research has indicated that cold plunges help reduce short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic) inflammation and muscle soreness after exercise, which can help to speed up the recovery process.[4] [5]

The research has demonstrated that a cold plunge can alleviate pain for athletes. Still, it can also help alleviate pain associated with conditions like fibromyalgia and rheumatism without the side effects of anti-inflammatory medications.

Improved Circulation

Cold plunges can help to stimulate blood flow, helping to improve your circulation, making it one of the most significant benefits of cold plunges.

Poor circulation can lead to headaches, fatigue, muscle cramping, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular issues like heart attack or stroke. But exposure to cold helps enhance blood flow throughout the body, oxygenating the cells, organs, and muscles.[6]

Increased Energy Levels

The stress the body experiences during a cold plunge increases adrenaline production, boosting energy levels and improving mental alertness.

Cold water exposure helps stimulate the nerve endings in the skin, which increases oxygen level, heart rate, and respiration rate.[7] Leading to an increased energy level and alertness in the body.

Boosted Immune Function

Numerous studies show that cold water immersion helps to boost immune function by increasing the production of white blood cells and other anti-inflammatory chemicals in addition to reducing the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.[8] [9] [10]

Reduced Stress and Anxiety

The stress of cold water immersion can help improve resilience and reduce stress and anxiety by stimulating the Vagus nerve, which can lower the heart rate and reduce stress hormones in the body.[11]

A cold plunge also increases the production of endorphins and dopamine, two mood-elevating hormones and neurotransmitters.[12]

Improved Sleep Quality

Cold water immersion can help promote relaxation and improve sleep quality by triggering the body’s fight or flight response. After the cold-water “stressor” has been removed, the Vagus nerve is stimulated, leaving your body calm and relaxed.

Nourished Skin and Hair

Cold water immersion may help improve skin health by reducing inflammation and promoting circulation, giving a natural shine to your hair and leaving your skin feeling soft.


Cold Plunge

Potential Risks of Cold Plunge

Research continues to show us that a cold plunge can offer numerous health benefits, but there are also potential risks and side effects, including [13]

  • A cold plunge can lead to hypothermia if not done correctly, especially if the water temperature is too cold or your immersion time is too long.
  • Cardiovascular stress. Cold plunges can cause the blood vessels to constrict, which can increase blood pressure and put additional stress on the cardiovascular system. This is especially risky in individuals with pre-existing heart conditions such as arrhythmias or heart attacks.
  • Respiratory problems. Cold plunges can trigger respiratory concerns in people with asthma or other respiratory conditions.

It is important to consult with a healthcare provider before you attempt a cold plunge, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition, such as heart problems, respiratory conditions, or nerve damage, or are at risk for any potential side effects. It’s also best to start with short durations in the cold water and gradually increase the time as your body adjusts to the cold temperature.


Female athlete exercising with ball

Who can benefit from a cold plunge?

Many individuals can benefit from cold plunges, including athletes, people with chronic pain, and those looking to improve their health and well-being.

  • Cold plunges can help reduce inflammation and muscle soreness and significantly benefit athletes who need to recover quickly.
  • People with chronic pain. Cold plunges can help reduce pain and inflammation in individuals with chronic pain conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and back pain.
  • People struggling with mental health conditions. Cold plunges can help reduce stress and anxiety, benefiting those struggling with depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Cold plunges may not be suitable for everyone. It’s best to consult with your healthcare provider before attempting a cold water immersion therapy to determine whether it is safe and appropriate based on your health concerns.


The Spring Center, Healing Happens Here

At The Spring Center, we strive to renew hope, cultivate healing, and empower our patients in partnership on the journey to optimal wellness. And we can’t wait to hear about your cold plunge experiences!

Follow @thespringcenter and @drkellymccann to watch me take the cold plunge. Then, drop us a DM or comment if you have tried a cold plunge. We’re curious to hear how you liked it and what benefits you got from taking the plunge.



  1. “Water immersion recovery for athletes: effect on exercise … – PubMed.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23743793/. Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.
  2. “Winter swimming improves general well-being – PubMed.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15253480/. Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.
  3. “Rapid habituation of the cold shock response – PMC – NCBI.” 14 Sep. 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4580772/. Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.
  4. “Effects of Cold Water Immersion on Muscle Oxygenation During ….” 8 Jan. 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4706272/. Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.
  5. “Effect of post-match cold-water immersion on subsequent … – PubMed.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21077001/. Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.
  6. “Health effects of voluntary exposure to cold water – NCBI.” 22 Sep. 2022, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9518606/. Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.
  7. “The Effects of Cold Water Immersion and Active Recovery … – Frontiers.” 8 Jun. 2020, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2020.00737/full. Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.
  8. “The Effect of Cold Showering on Health and Work: A Randomized ….” 15 Sep. 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5025014/. Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.
  9. “Immune changes in humans during cold exposure: effects of prior ….” https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/jappl.1999.87.2.699. Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.
  10. “Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and … – NCBI.” 5 May. 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4034215/. Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.
  11. “Effects of Cold Stimulation on Cardiac-Vagal Activation in Healthy ….” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6334714/. Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.
  12. “Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression – PubMed.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17993252/. Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.
  13. “Cold water immersion: kill or cure? – Tipton – The Physiological Society.” 23 Aug. 2017, https://physoc.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1113/EP086283. Accessed 13 Mar. 2023.