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Fitness: Should we pour cold water on the idea of ice baths being a cure-all?

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Life Health Diet & Fitness

Part of the problem in establishing a definitive position on the value of ice baths is that everyone’s response to cold is different.

Wim Hof is a Dutch extreme athlete who extols the virtues of revelling in the cold. Photo: Postmedia files

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Sitting in a tub full of ice water has long been used to aid recovery after a tough workout, often during a stretch of back-to-back games or competitions. It’s the promise of reduced muscular soreness that motivates most elite athletes to immerse their body in a bath cold enough to take their breath away.

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But lately, claims that cold-water immersion is a cure-all for what ails you has made ice baths popular among the not so athletic. Enhanced fat loss, immunity, sleep and mood have all been linked to plunging into an environment we would otherwise avoid at all costs. Celebrities such as Harry Styles and Lizzo have bought into the therapeutic properties of ice baths. So has social media. But it’s the regular Joe and Jill lowering themselves into tubs of ice water that has revitalized a trend that has ebbed and flowed in popularity since the ancient Greeks. Cold plunge tubs can be found on Amazon, starting at about $100, and many a chest freezer has been refurbished to allow couples to plunge together.

Morgan Woodfine, from the Montreal suburb of Carignan, started cold plunging about six months ago. She took her first dip in a Toronto bathhouse that combines sauna, ice baths and breathwork to create a “new form of wellness entertainment.” The experience included 20 minutes in the sauna, a quick rinse and three minutes in an ice tub with a teacher leading the small group in breathwork and meditation.

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“It was a whole vibe,” said Woodfine, who claimed it left her in a “happy place.” 

When she got home, she repurposed a cattle tub as a plunge…


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