Cold exposure results in many health benefits. Cold showers and ice swimming affect mood, improve stress tolerance and relieve pain. Especially those suffering from chronic pains benefit from regular cold exposure and many have had help for insomnia. Research results confirm these health benefits.

Ice swimming is a traditional way of improving the body’s defense system. Many Finns are convinced that swimming in icy water can conquer seasonal flu through regular cold exposure. Research results support this idea, although it is impossible to draw conclusions based on these experiences. However, it is true: cold exposure does improve resistance.

More about sauna health benefits in our article series

Hormones released in cold exposure are good for the body

Human sympathetic nervous system activates in the cold and nerve endings release noradrenaline, that has been noticed to have a pain-relieving effect. Cold also affects the brain’s neurotransmitters that have an effect on the mood. The endorphin released from the brain in the cold relieves pain and improves mood. Repeated cold exposure also increases resistance to cold, improves stress tolerance and increases the pain threshold.

Cold exposure should be implemented gradually, each individual at his own pace. On the first try, cold exposure, like a dip in freezing water, can cause an unpleasant reaction where breathing is uneven and heart rate escalates. However, when the cold exposure happens repeatedly, the shock reaction will deteriorate or disappear altogether.

The cold exposure is always requires one getting used to the cold and it may be very individual. Only regular cold treatments have tested health effects, although even one swim in icy water is already a very refreshing experience.

Photo: Hawkhill Resort

First to the sauna, then to the icy water

The Finnish sauna culture includes cooling off in between going into the sauna. Also, many who go ice swimming like to head to the heat of a sauna afterwards. Does cold exposure and sauna bathing together have proven effects on health?

That has not been studied yet, but it’s a very enjoyable habit anyway. Everyone can judge for themselves if the combination of cold and hot is the best for them. I personally recommend that after cold treatment, no more going to sauna, so that the health benefits of the cold would be realized. This also reduces sweating afterwards

,says docent Pirkko Huttunen, who has studied cold exposure.

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