Every day, people are sharing social media posts about jumping into cold water, and Google Trends shows that the term “cold plunge” has surged in popularity since 2020.
Cold water has been used to promote health for hundreds of years but Dutch fitness influencer, Wim “The Iceman” Hof, can largely be credited with popularizing cold water bathing since he came to public attention more than a decade ago. Thanks to Hof, who invented his own method using breathwork, meditation, and cold exposure, which he says are the secret to physical and mental health, the cold plunge has been on the wellness trend radar for a few years now. And in the last year or so it appears to have tipped into mainstream popularity.
It feels like every day, people are sharing social media posts about jumping (or stepping gingerly) into cold water, and Google Trends shows that the term “cold plunge” has surged in popularity since 2020.
The Wim Hof method typically involves soaking in an ice bath or a cold shower, but some people have adopted a more active version. The New York Times reported in February 2022 that Mental Health Swims, a nonprofit that organizes cold-water swimming throughout the UK, had grown from one meet-up group to more than 80 over three years.
Proponents of the benefits of a cold plunge reportedly say it leaves them feeling invigorated, clear-headed and better able to cope with stress, and some say that it has helped them with anxiety, grief, depression, and other mental health challenges. Also according to the NYT, research findings suggest that cold-water swimming can improve mood and wellbeing, and might help treat some mental illnesses. The reasons are unclear but there’s the idea that cold exposure may trigger the release of endorphins and stress hormones, and some suggestion of an increase in mood-regulating brain chemicals and activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes your body after stress or danger and may calm inflammation. Studies have also found positive links between cold water swimming and brown adipose tissue, the “good” cold-activated body fat.
Research is inconclusive, as many studies are small or present challenges, like an obvious inability to compare against a placebo effect, but it has been called promising.
Cryotherapy is another well-known way of immersing oneself in the cold, also popularized by athletes and influencers. And another option is contrast bath therapy, which involves alternating hot and cold water treatments. Switching between cold and hot water is said to cause alternating vasoconstriction and vasodilation and changes in heart rate, which may aid healing from injury, reduce inflammation, and decrease fatigue.
Some examples of destinations offering wellness experiences that involved cold therapy, cold plunges, or contrast therapy include:
Mohonk Mountain House (New Paltz, New York)
The Lakeside Immersion experience in Lake Mohonk promises “the benefits of cold therapy, providing endorphin release, blood flow stimulation, joint and muscle pain relief, and an immediate energy boost.” The cold plunge is followed by hot cider or tea, guided yoga stretches, and a warm ginger inhalation therapy in a lightly heated Spa Motion Room.
Remedy Place (Los Angeles, New York City)
Among the wellness offerings at Remedy Place are Ice Bath Classes, in which students experience “the ultimate adaptation training with 10 minutes of guided holotropic breathwork followed by up to 6 minutes submerged in 38° F water.” More options include a cryo chamber and a private contrast suite with a private group infrared sauna and double ice baths.
Unbounded Well (Ontario, Canada)
Unbounded hosts Cold Camps in “the heart of Ontario’s frozen wilderness” two hours outside of Toronto. The camps feature frozen lake plunge pools, cold exposure classes, breathwork journeys, hot/cold sessions, and meditation and movement classes. The experience and lifestyle brand is also opening an outdoor wellness playground in downtown Toronto from November 2022 to April 2023.
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