This summer has brought some of the hottest temperatures on record in the United States and Canada. Due to climate change, this trend is expected to continue.
If you’re in need of cooling off this summer, a cold bath, shower, or even an outdoor dip can refresh you. It can also help prevent complications, like heat stroke.
Here are some tips for keeping cool, plus how to brace for that cold water.
One of the biggest benefits of cold baths is to prevent or treat heat strokes. With unprecedented high temperatures this summer, it’s important to be aware of overheating.
Exercising or working outdoors and a lack of air conditioning in your home can put you at increased risk.
Heat strokes can be life-threatening, and occur when the core body temperature is around 104°F (40°C) or higher.
Symptoms of overheating may include:
- sudden dizziness
- muscle spasms
- cramps in your abdomen, arms, or legs
- swelling in your ankles
Immediate immersion in cold water should be the
Make sure your water temperature stays above 50°F (10°C) to avoid body temperature swings.
General benefits of cold water bathing
People have long been curious about the health benefits of bathing in cold water.
To date, studies have shown that swimming in cold water can lead to:
- fewer upper respiratory tract infections
- reductions in mood disorder symptoms
- improved immunity
- increased red blood cell count
- improved endocrine function
- increased general well-being
There’s no evidence to indicate that a cold bath alone offers the same benefits. Still, if you’ve ever dunked yourself in a cold pool or bathtub, you probably felt refreshed and energized when you did — once you got up the courage to get in, that is.
Chad Walding, DPT, a doctor of physical therapy, holistic health coach, and co-founder of NativePath, is a proponent of cold plunges and cold baths for his clients.
According to Walding, benefits of cold-water bathing include:
- faster metabolism
- improved blood circulation
- boosted mood
- improved sleep quality
- better focus and concentration
- improved immune response
- improved cardiovascular health
- prevention of overheating
Want to reap the benefits of a cold bath? Try the tips below.
Start with a cold shower
Do you want to cool off, but the idea of submerging yourself in a freezing cold bathtub sounds less than fun?
“The easiest place to start is with a cold shower,” Walding says.
This way, less of your body is exposed to the cold water, and it’s easier to step out of the shower if you need a break. You also have better control of the temperature compared with bathing in a tub.
Alternate warm and cold
If you’re still finding it difficult to walk straight into a cold shower, ease yourself in by alternating between warmer and colder temperatures.
This can help build up your tolerance, both physically and mentally, to the cold water.
Walding recommends walking into the shower with the temperature set on warm.
“When you’re ready, move it over to the coldest possible temperature for 20 to 30 seconds,” he says. “Try to relax and breathe as you let the cold water fall all over you. Then, move the temperature back to warm.”
Do this for 3 days in a row to work on building your tolerance to increased time under cold water. Set yourself a goal to work up to 3 minutes. Once you get there, you can set longer goals.
Focus on the hands and feet
Another easy way to start out is to just submerge your hands or feet in cold water. Fill a bucket with cold water from the tap, or add in some ice cubes.
Then, dip your hands or feet in and see how long you can sit there in the water. You may be surprised that, by just immersing your extremities, your whole body and mind still feel refreshed.
This is a convenient option if you’re feeling hot and sweaty, but don’t want to spend the time or energy stripping down or setting up a whole bath.
Add ice bags
If you’re ready to get into the tub for a cold bath, you can start out by filling it up with the water set on the coldest possible temperature.
If you want to go even colder, Walding recommends placing two to three ice bags in the bathtub before filling it with water. You can buy ice bags at most supermarket retailers.
Keep in mind that there are cool baths… and then there are ice baths. Physical therapists and athletic trainers use ice baths to help athletes recover and reduce muscle soreness. This water is *very* cold, as low as 50°F (10°C).
For most people’s purposes, you won’t need your bath to be that cold to feel refreshed on a hot day.
Use a fan and ice cubes
Sometimes, jumping in a cold bath isn’t enough. If your home has poor ventilation, you may still be feeling overheated.
One simple trick that can help is placing a large bowl of ice cubes directly beneath a fan. Then, get in a cool or mid-temperature bath and face the fan toward you.
As the ice cubes melt, the fan will pick up the evaporating cool air and blow it toward you. It’s kind of like DIY air conditioning.
Some people don’t exactly look forward to slipping into a freezing cold shower or bath, despite the benefits.
“Doing breathing exercises beforehand really helps to make the experience easier,” Walding says.
He recommends practicing moderate intensity circular breathing before getting in the water.
“Simply breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth,” he says. “Try not to have a pause on the inhale or exhale.”
He advises 30 repetitions of this, and then relaxing and breathing normally, to prepare your body and mind for the cold water.
Swim in the wild
You don’t need to confine yourself to your home bathtub or shower. Nature has some of the best cold water around.
On a hot day, you might even feel better heading outdoors to a lake, spring, river, or even ocean.
The term “wild swimming” refers to swimming outdoors in natural environments.
Recently, there’s been an uptick in research on wild swimming and the health benefits of activities in “blue space,” or outdoor water environments. It’s thought that wild swimming has mental health benefits, and, when done with others, it can promote psychosocial well-being.
If you choose to go wild swimming, make sure you’re confident in your swimming abilities. Always check the weather and tide forecasts. Take reasonable precautions such as bringing a flotation device if appropriate.
Embrace the discomfort
Finally, get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Whether it’s an ice bath, cold shower, or a cool bath, that first dunk in the water is the hardest. Overcoming your resistance to discomfort can have a powerful effect.
“As you allow yourself to relax and breathe, it builds mental strength and resilience that will have a ripple effect on your everyday life,” Walding says. “Once you understand this and experience the ability to allow yourself to be in the cold water, you’ll see that the same thing applies in real-life situations when stressful things happen.”
A cool bath during a heatwave can feel completely invigorating, but it might not be the right choice for everyone.
Walding warns that cold water immersion can temporarily:
- raise your blood pressure
- spike your heart rate
- trigger the release of glucose from your liver
Over time, bathing in cold water can have many health benefits, but these short-term consequences can be dangerous for some people.
You should talk with your doctor before jumping in a cold bath if you have:
- high blood pressure
- a heart condition
- already high blood sugar levels
Another advocate for cold water immersion is Wim Hof, a motivational speaker and endurance athlete.
Also known as the “Iceman,” Hof has performed physical feats, like swimming below ice for almost 200 feet and immersing himself in ice cubes for 2 hours.
For those who want to dive deeper, Hof and his trainers offer workshops, classes, and events all over the world.
When it’s hot out, all you may need to cool off is some cold water. By training yourself to tolerate the cold, you may also reap some health benefits.
While cold water bathing may lead to improved immunity, circulation, and general well-being, it’s not for everyone. Always talk with your doctor first, especially if you have high blood sugar, high blood pressure, or a heart condition.
Sarah Bence is an occupational therapist (OTR/L) and freelance writer, primarily focusing on health, wellness, and travel topics. Her writing can be seen in Business Insider, Insider, Lonely Planet, Fodor’s Travel, and others. She also writes about gluten-free, celiac-safe travel at EndlessDistances.com.