Cold water immersion can be beneficial for the body aiding recovery and boosting energy levels, but it has also been proven to act as a Neurotransmitter in the brain.
According to research, taking an ice bath can indeed make you a happier person! Cold water immersion as low as 14°C increased noradrenaline (an energy level booster) by 530% and dopamine (the happiness hormone) by 250%. A decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone) was also recorded.
Let's examine the process together…
How does cold water therapy affect the brain?
Chronic cold exposure is a type of Hormetic stress. This type of stress is looked upon by scientists as the perfect stressor. One that challenges your body to adapt and make a beneficial change, yet its not overexposure that could lead to health complications. Its the perfect ‘’sweet spot’’.
In our case taking an ice bath promotes the release of Norepinephrine in the Locus coeruleus region of the brain.
Norepinephrine is a chemical neurotransmitter responsible for promoting:
Low levels of Norepinephrine can lead to:
- Decreased attention
- Cognitive ability
- Energy levels
- Poor mood
If Norepinephrine is depleted it could also lead you to experience depression…
Do ice baths work for depression?
The increase of Norepinephrine is pharmacologically targeted and used to treat depression and ADHD, but instead of taking drugs you can naturally cold shock your body and get the same benefit!
For example a study on the effects of cold exposure on depression took a random group of participants suffering from depressive symptoms and exposed them to extremely cold temperatures for short periods of time.
The participants in the controlled group that received the cold shock showed a 150% percent improvement in their mood, life quality and energy as opposed to the other group.
Does cold therapy increase dopamine?
In addition to the increase in norepinephrine production during cold water therapy, short periods of cold shock also activate a release of dopamine in your brain.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that acts as a chemical messenger to the pleasure and reward systems in your brain. It’s that satisfying feeling that accompanies task-completion and achievements.
In short, dopamine release helps us ‘’get in the zone’’ and is the main trigger that drives us to be successful and happy!
If going in an ice bath for 20 seconds a day at temperatures below 5 degrees helps you to become a more driven, successful and happy person wouldn't you take that cold plunge?
What are the most effective types of cold exposure?
Ice baths at below 5 °C and cryotherapy at 110°C are the most effective ways to expose yourself to the cold and get all the mental health benefits discussed above.
In the table below we have described the details involving when to take your ice bath or cryo session, how many times, for how long and at what temperature.