You’ve probably heard about cold plunges, since they’re all the rage right now. The hashtag #coldplunge on TikTok has racked up more than 1.1-billion views, with thousands of videos of people trying a soak in frigid water. The popular trend is endorsed by everyone from celebs to athletes to influencers, with fans saying the practice can help with muscle soreness, recovery after workouts, inflammation and more.
But does it actually work? Here’s what you should know before taking the plunge:
- A cold plunge involves fully submerging your body in cold water, which could be in a bathtub, pool, or lake or ocean. The water is typically between 50 and 70 degrees, and sports medicine and emergency physician Dr. Kristi Colbenson says the plunge usually lasts between five and 10 minutes. She warns that if the water is colder than about 53 degrees, there are risks to skin and tissue.
- While they’re popularity has surged recently, cold plunges have been around for centuries, according to Mike Tipton, a professor of human and applied physiology at the University of Portsmouth. “Going back to Hippocrates, and even Thomas Jefferson, Darwin and Florence Nightingale were all doing cold water immersion,” he says.
- The biggest benefit to cold plunges seems to be improved recovery, with one recent study finding that cold water immersion is an effective recovery tool after high intensity exercise. They may also help reduce inflammation temporarily, according to the experts.
- Some fans of the practice say cold plunges help with immune function and boost mental health, but experts note there hasn’t been enough research to know for sure yet.
- As for risks, cold water increases heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate, Colbenson says, which is probably fine for healthy, young people. But for anyone with a history of heart disease or cardiac problems, it can be dangerous and should be avoided.
- To play it safe, the experts advise checking with your doctor before trying a cold plunge.