Stress? Sore muscles? Try a ‘cold plunge’ in 15-degree water

Cold plunges help with muscle soreness, stress, and concentration, practitioners say

June 22, 2023:

Cold plunges are the new health trend championed by high-fliers and ordinary people alike. By submerging yourself water that's 15 degrees Celsius (or colder!), you can manage stress, reduce muscle soreness, improve your concentration, and more, advocates say. Plus, learn the English expression "if all else fails."

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This hot new health trend is ice-cold

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone, I’m Jeff and this is Plain English lesson number 583 for Thursday, June 22, 2023. The full lesson, including the transcript, is online at PlainEnglish.com/583. At Plain English, we help you upgrade your English with current events and trending topics. You learn about the world, you learn some English, but the really nice thing is that I also learn about the world while I make the episodes. It’s a win-win. And this is one of those episodes where I learn a lot! I had no idea this was a trending topic, but here we go.

You can do it at a spa or a wellness center. You can do it in your fancy condo building. If you’re willing to invest, you can do it in your backyard. If you’re not willing to invest, you might be able to do it in a public park for part of the year. Celebrities and average Joes are doing it.

It’s a cold plunge: submerging yourself in very cold water improves your concentration, your blood flow, your sleep, and more, its practitioners say. Just researching today’s lesson is making me cold—you might want to grab a blanket as you listen.

In the second half—I’m serious, I’m cold just thinking about it—in the second half of the lesson, I’ll show you how to use the English idiom, “if all else fails.” And JR has a song of the week. Here we go.

Ice-cold baths are the hot new health trend

Whether you call it a cold plunge, an ice bath, or its more scientific name, cold water immersion, one thing is clear: this ice-cold activity is red hot. Athletes, actors, business executives, and—let’s not forget—average Joes and Janes are taking the plunge and sitting (voluntarily!) in very, very cold water.

We’ll call it a cold plunge. Here’s what it is: you put your body into water that’s 15 degrees Celsius or colder for an extended time. There are many ways to do it. Luxury health centers and spas have circulating cold tubs with powerful jets. Others are simply pools of very cold water. You can dump ice in your bathtub if you like. If you live in a cold-weather place, you can jump in a lake or an ocean. A cold shower also counts.

Professional athletes have long used cold tubs to relax their muscles and improve their recovery after games and competitions. Alternating between piping-hot saunas and ice-cold baths is a tradition in Finland. Human texts going back thousands of years have touted the benefits of cold.

But now, the trend is spreading as the health benefits of cold-water exposure are more widely understood. Here’s what experts and practitioners say are the benefits of cold-water immersion:

First, it relieves muscle soreness and joint pain. This is why athletes have used cold baths for years. If you’ve run a marathon, or just had a strenuous week at work or in the gym, your muscles will thank you for sitting in a cold tub. Studies have shown that cold water therapy reduces fatigue and muscle soreness over the long run, too. But if your goal is to build muscle: be careful. Cold water can impede muscle growth, so be careful if that’s your goal.

Another benefit: it improves your mood. Subjectively, people who do cold plunges like it; they report feeling better and more energetic. There’s a reason for that. Cold water changes the release of hormones in your body.

Cold water therapy is also said to boost your immune system, reduce stress, and increase your metabolism.

Finally, it builds mental discipline. Sitting in cold water is uncomfortable! But that’s the point: you get used to being in a state of discomfort. That builds your mental strength so you can more easily deal with stress in other parts of your life.

So if you’re convinced you should try cold plunging—I’m not, but if you are—then here’s how it works. You should start gradually. Beginners shouldn’t expose themselves to too much cold, too early. Start at the higher end of the temperature range—about 15 degrees Celsius. Get in the water for jus t one to two minutes at a time, once or twice a week. See how your body responds.

Then, you can gradually increase the intensity of your cold therapy. You have a few levers to pull. You can lower the temperature and increase the time you spend in the water. Just find the sweet spot that works best for you. If you dare, you can work your way down to 10 degrees Celsius. Some research shows that eleven minutes per week is the right amount of time for most people.

You can break your plunges into three or four sessions per week. Die-hards find a way to do a cold plunge daily. But be careful. Like strenuous exercise, cold plunges put your body under stress. Too much and you’ll do more damage than good .

Don’t tell that to some extreme practitioners, though. In Chicago, some hardy souls jump in frigid Lake Michigan in the winter. Others seek out even colder, Arctic climates for a more intense rush.

Even if you’re not that crazy, you might still want to try it. Where can you do it? Spas and health centers often now have cold plunges. If you’ve never done one before, that might be your best bet. They’re now a popular new amenity at high-end condominium buildings, if you’re lucky enough to live in one of those. Got a big backyard? Homeowners can buy a cold plunge that’s like a hot tub, only for cold water. The water in these is chilled with a slab of ice on the bottom. Prices range from about $15,000 to $50,000 or more.

But there are ways to do it on the cheap . A product called the Ice Pod is like a backyard plastic swimming pool, but for ice plunges. It’s portable and insulated, like a person-sized, soft-sided cooler. Fill it with water, dump the ice in, and enjoy. They say you can do it in an apartment: I’m not so sure about that! But it would definitely fit in a garage.

If you live in a cold-weather place, you can just find the nearest swimmable body of water. And if all else fails , you can just take a cold shower to get at least some of the benefits of cold water therapy.

One minute is a long time in cold water

No thanks. They say beginners should start with just a very short amount of time in the water, like one or two minutes. I have news for you: one minute is not a short amount of time in 15-degree water! I got a free pass to a spa a few months ago and they had a cold plunge. And I went into the cold water long enough to submerge myself up to my shoulders and I immediately got out. That was maybe ten seconds.

I grew up in a cold weather place, in New England in the northeast of the U.S. And I lived for fifteen years in Chicago, one of the coldest big cities in America. But I can’t do this. This is just crazy. I need my shower water to be hot enough to cook pasta in.

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Expression: If all else fails