I am standing in my bathing suit in a garden, next to a wooden barrel filled with ice and water. It’s a sunny day but the wading pool I’m about to wade into seems to radiate cold. The temperature gauge reads a brisk 7C (45F), and I’m shivering.
As my right foot surfaces, shock waves travel up my body and my toes go numb. Determined, I step up with my other foot and slam my butt down, desperately trying not to hyperventilate.
All I can think about is the cold and fighting every urge to go outside. But in a few seconds the unbearable sensation is relieved. I feel strangely calm. Cold, but calm.
I sink deeper, trying to submerge as much of my body and shoulders as possible. And suddenly it’s too much.
It feels like something has taken my breath away and my heart begins to pound. This is, I imagine, what it is like to be electrocuted.
FEEL THE COLD: Mail on Sunday Deputy Health Editor Eve Simmons tries an ice bath
I can’t take it anymore and, almost accidentally, I jump. I lasted all 90 seconds.
Why, you may ask, did I submit to this torture?
Well, ice baths are the latest wellness craze. Elite athletes and celebrities swear by them for the purported range of benefits, including boosting muscle repair after a workout and boosting mental health and the immune system.
Earlier this month, This Morning host Holly Willoughby shared photos on social media of herself taking a subzero bath, wearing a knit hat.
IT IS A FACT
About half of all regular swimmers have increased the amount of time they spend practicing outdoors since 2020, according to a survey.
Meanwhile, Monk, a company that makes ‘smart’ cold therapy baths for home use that can chill water without adding ice, already has a waiting list of nearly 3,000, despite the baths being priced at £3,000. 4,995.
I’m usually not one to jump on these bandwagons. But I’m here hoping that two minutes of freezing hell will cure me of my lifelong sensitivity to cold, because, as contradictory as it may seem, there is evidence that it might.
One of the founding fathers of this craze is Dutch wellness guru and author Wim Hof, famous for his superhuman ability to withstand freezing temperatures. He holds world records for swimming under ice in a frozen lake and completing a barefoot marathon in the snow.
I have no idea why anyone would want to do either, but it’s awesome nonetheless. The secret, Hof says, lies in gradual exposure to extreme cold, which acclimates the body to low temperatures.
This attracts me. I’m always freezing. I wear puffer jackets in August and can often be seen at my desk with a scarf draped over my shoulders to keep me warm. I fight endlessly with my colleagues about the air conditioning in the office.
Could this be the answer? I am willing to try.
As I prepare for my ice bath, my trainer, Christian Lewis Pratt, co-founder of The Move Method gym in London, one of many that now offer ice bath therapy, says that I should submerge as much of my body as quickly as possible. , to end the worst.
Afterward I felt relief, mainly, that it was all over. I was also proud that I lasted as long as I did. My legs tingled for a good minute. It wasn’t unpleasant, just weird, a bit like the release you feel after you sneeze. Other than that, nothing.
I was disappointed to learn that if I want to become more cold hardy I would have to take six cold dips over the course of a few days. Professor Mike Tipton, an expert in human and applied physiology at the University of Portsmouth, tells me this, and that a sudden drop in skin temperature throughout the body – obtained by submersion in ice water – generates what is known as cold shock. answer.
Nerves under the skin send signals to blood vessels telling them to restrict blood flow, which causes the heart to pump faster to make more blood. The impact on the skin receptors causes a loss of breathing control and hyperventilation.
But this can make it more acclimated to cold water, says Prof Tipton. “Studies show that if you are exposed to cold water for two minutes six times a week, you can reduce the response to cold shock. Your heart rate is slower and you’re less likely to hyperventilate, making for a more comfortable experience.
You don’t actually need an ice bath for this. ‘You get this effect in water colder than around 15C [59F]’ says Professor Tipton.
This Morning presenter Holly Willoughby posts a snapshot of her attempting an ice bath.
But research has yet to prove the other claimed benefits. Two studies found that cyclists and weightlifters who take cold baths after training are more prone to injury, perform worse and have less muscle than those who don’t. The authors of one concluded that when blood flow is redirected from the extremities to keep organs warm, the body’s repair processes stop.
Then there are the risks. “About 60 per cent of people who die at sea do so within the first minute,” says Professor Tipton. “The cold shock response puts extreme pressure on the heart. Anyone with an underlying heart condition is at risk of a fatal attack.
But the mental health benefits of ice baths are obvious. Studies show that 30 minutes of swimming in cold water can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety by increasing the production of mood-elevating hormones, such as dopamine.
It’s been 48 hours since I took the plunge and I can’t say I feel any warmer. I am writing this with a scarf wrapped around my arms.
What else can I try? Get muscular and fatter, says Prof Tipton. Muscle generates heat and having more fat acts as a ‘natural coat’. Hmm.
I’m more open to his final advice: “Hot air rises, so if you’re feeling cold at home, put your feet up.”