I tried taking an ice bath every day - here are all the benefits I found after almost a month

Taking an ice bath every day can help relieve soreness, increase motivation, and ease menopause symptoms, as writer Samantha Priestley discovered with this three-week challenge

Samantha Priestley taking an ice bath every day in her back garden
(Image credit: Samantha Priestley)

Made popular by a certain Wim Hof, taking an ice bath every day - or cold water therapy as it's also known - has become a health craze in recent years. But is it a fad for only the most brave or are there tangible benefits to cold water plunging?

It was my partner’s idea to buy a cold-water plunge pod. We’d been on a couple of spa days that included a cold-water plunge pool and he’d really enjoyed the experience. I did too, but I was also aware these plunge pools were positioned right next to a sauna for immediate warming up. Our back garden didn’t have anything quite so luxurious. So when the plunge pod arrived, I was hesitant, to say the least. It wasn’t going to be the same experience we had at the spa, that was for sure, and when my partner suggested we add ice to the cold water in the pod, I started to fully turn against the idea.

Normally, I don't like the cold. I have Reynaud’s phenomenon, which is when some areas of the body become cold, numb, sore, or change colour as a result of over-sensitive blood vessels in the body's extremities. Being cold has always been an issue for me because of this, but since my hot flushes in menopause came about, I’ve had the opposite problem. I seem to swing from hot sweats to numb fingers because of the cold and I’m only comfortable when I find the sweet spot in between. But I've heard so much about the benefits of cold water swimming, I was prepared to give it a go and find out if the hype is real.

My partner decided on a Cold Pod, which is just big enough for one person and is easy to assemble as you just pump it up like a paddling pool. The pod comes with a lid as well, so you can keep the same water for a few days, but it’s important to clean the pod out regularly. With the pod installed in my back garden and going nowhere, I thought it was worth at least trying out, so I took on the challenge to use it as often as I could in one month - here's what I discovered after just three weeks.

Benefits of taking an ice bath every day

1. It can help improve your mental health

Given my scepticism of the tub in general, I was doubtful of the mental health benefits the cold water was supposed to bring about. The thought of getting into the pod filled me with apprehension and I wasn’t convinced I’d feel good while I was in there. But, to my surprise, I did find that taking the plunge every day, sometimes first thing in the morning to get my day started and sometimes after work to de-stress me, had an effect. 

I've been pretty strung out lately and I'm always looking for better ways to deal with stress. The tub gave me a moment to just focus on maintaining my breathing and concentrating on staying in the cold for as long as I could. It also made me feel more positive throughout the day or evening.

It's a benefit that Isaac Robertson, personal trainer and rehabilitation specialist, often sees in those who take up the challenge of having an ice bath every day. "The exposure to cold temperatures triggers the release of endorphins, which are natural mood-enhancers," he says. "Additionally, the sensation of cold immersion can create a sense of mindfulness and focus, promoting relaxation and stress reduction. As a result, ice baths can contribute to improved mental wellbeing and help combat symptoms of anxiety and depression.”

2. Cold water plunging can increase your motivation

My daily ice bath routine gave me something to get up for every morning and I definitely felt a spike in my motivation levels when I took an ice bath before starting work at my desk. Part of this I know was the act of achieving something so early in the day but I also started believing in myself more. If I can plunge myself into freezing water before I've even had my first coffee of the day, I'm ready for anything.  

Robertson says another key reason why an ice bath every day will increase motivation levels is the changes you'll see over time in your fitness - both mental and physical. "Incorporating ice baths in a well-structured fitness regimen can be motivating for individuals seeking new challenges and looking to optimise their performance," he explains. "The enhanced recovery, mental clarity, and reduced inflammation can contribute to an overall improved sense of wellbeing and dedication to one's fitness journey." 

3. It helps relieve some menopause symptoms

As noted, I'm currently experiencing many of the most common menopause symptoms - including hot flashes. I find these so annoying and often distressing, and I hate them as much as the next menopausal woman. I was hopeful that my new daily habit would help combat them. 

I was more convinced of this famous benefit - considering one of the most obvious uses of cold water plunging is to cool the body down - and I was right to be so, as I found the experience more pleasant than I ever expected it to be because of this. Sure, when I wasn't in the water I still found myself dealing with the hot flushes, but I know the ice baths were beneficial at the time as the feeling of cooling down lasted for about half an hour to an hour after getting out of the pod. 

Plus, over time, I can see ice baths having an even greater effect on the aching joints and muscles that come with this phase of life. A study by The Artic University of Norway even suggests as much, with research showing that cold-water swimmers experienced a decrease in aching joints and muscles thanks to the calming effect cold water has on inflammation. 

A combination of these two benefits has got to be a reason why wild swimming and even ice swimming have become so popular among women in their 40s and 50s over the last few years. 

Samantha Priestley settling into an ice bath in her back garden surrounded by towels

It's important to get into an ice bath slowly to avoid shock to the body.

(Image credit: Samantha Priestley)

4. Ice baths relieve muscle soreness

Long before ice baths became popular in the media, athletes were using them to help heal their bodies after intense workouts. If you like to push yourself when exercising and experience soreness in your body, an ice bath can help to relieve these symptoms. 

I'm regularly running and walking for my workouts, and recently I've been doing yoga every day and Pilates workouts, so whilst I haven't been dealing with too much muscle stiffness, I felt so much more relaxed after stepping out of the tub and warming up. 

“One of the primary benefits of ice baths is their ability to aid in muscle recovery and reduce inflammation," explains Robertson. "After intense physical activities or workouts, the body can experience muscle soreness and microtrauma. Immersing oneself in cold water helps constrict blood vessels, which in turn reduces swelling and inflammation in the muscles. This process facilitates the removal of metabolic waste and promotes faster recovery, allowing individuals to bounce back more quickly for their next workout."

5. Ice baths may help your immune system

I've often heard that ice baths can be beneficial for the immune system, that the cold water forces the system into overdrive, helping our body fight off infections better. However, I was quite sceptical about this benefit too. 

Taking ice baths for almost a month probably wasn't long enough for me to find out if there was any truth to the idea - and my partner has been taking them for longer than me but still caught a cold recently - but I'm ready to believe that it's a real benefit to having an ice bath every day. 

As Stewart Parnacott, a certified registered nurse anaesthetist and instructor, says, "Whilst there is limited direct evidence linking ice baths to immune enhancement, some studies do suggest that cold exposure might have positive effects on immune function. More research is needed to draw definitive conclusions in this area though."

However, as much as Robertson agrees with the potential benefits of having an ice bath for mental and physical recovery, he warns it's important to be careful when it comes to relying on them to improve your immune system. "The temporary stress induced by the cold can also activate the body's defence mechanisms and boost the immune system's responsiveness. However, it's crucial to strike a balance and not overexert the body with daily cold-water immersion, as excessive stress can have the opposite effect on the immune system." 

Samantha Priestley standing up of ice bath after bathing

It's also important to get out of an ice bath slowly and not to try and warm up too quickly.

(Image credit: Samantha Priestley)

How long should an ice bath be?

A study by Singapore General Hospital looked into how athletes use ice baths to aid recovery and noted that whilst most athletes were using ice baths after exercise for 5 – 10 minutes, some stayed in for up to 20 minutes. It’s recommended that you don’t stay in longer than this. The most you should stay in cold water is 15 minutes, but it does depend on how cold you have the water and what your own tolerance is like. Much like everything else when it comes to health, it's all personal. 

On my first few attempts, I couldn’t stay in long at all, perhaps a minute in total. It got more comfortable as I went through the days though and by the end of the month, I was able to stay in for five minutes. I do think that with prolonged use 15 minutes would be doable, but I know it's important to be comfortable and not push yourself to stay in longer than you feel you can.

Is it good to have an ice bath every day?

Taking an ice bath every day was certainly a challenge and I felt a sense of accomplishment having achieved it. However, I’m not sure I’d continue this through the winter. I find it hard enough to stay motivated to work out in winter as it is. I did feel a ‘high’ after my ice baths and I do think my symptoms of Raynaud’s were much improved by taking the ice baths – which surprised me - but I think when the temperature drops outside, I won’t be as confident about the benefits outweighing the discomfort.

Pannacott believes daily ice baths are most beneficial to serious athletes. “While some individuals may find daily ice baths beneficial, it is essential to consider individual factors such as overall health, fitness level, and tolerance to cold temperatures," he says. "Daily ice baths might be more suitable for professional athletes or individuals engaged in high-intensity training, where the benefits of accelerated recovery and reduced inflammation may outweigh potential risks." 

But there are still benefits for the average person. "Ice baths a few times a week or once a week can still provide benefits without the risk of overexposure to extreme cold. It is crucial to listen to your body and adjust the frequency of ice baths based on personal comfort and recovery needs.”

Robertson agrees. "It's better to incorporate ice baths a few times a week or even once a week for optimal results. This approach strikes a balance between reaping the benefits of cold-water therapy and allowing the body's natural recovery mechanisms to function optimally," he says. 

What to do after an ice bath

Although I mentioned how nice it was to have the sauna on hand after the cold water plunge at the spa, it’s not recommended to warm up too quickly following an ice bath."Get out of the ice bath slowly and allow your body to warm up naturally. Have a towel on hand and have a hot drink, but don’t rush straight into a hot shower as this can be a shock to the body," says Pannacott.

I found having a towel and robe nearby helped as I could get dry and warm quickly, and my body warmed up naturally after this.

Samantha Priestley

Samantha is a freelance writer from Yorkshire, writing about health and wellbeing for Woman & Home, Reader's Digest, Giddy, and Good Housekeeping. For the past 15 years, she's combined her personal experiences with reporting, to write about menopause, fitness, sleep, and healthy eating. She also writes about travel and food and drink for The Independent, The Good food Guide, Lonely Planet, Frommer's, and more.