They call it a dip of the polar bears, a winter trial or ice bathing. A trend that comes from Northern Europe which consists in diving into the sea, lakes or streams in winter or directly at home, in a tub full of ice cubes. The benefits of cold therapy are universally recognized for muscle relief and recovery after intense physical activity. But thanks to social media it has become a trend even for those who do not play sports, as it is thought to be an effective calorie burner and a panacea for health. But is it really so?
The Norwegian study
The Norwegian researchers from Arctic University and the University Hospital of North Norway have wondered, authors of an important scientific review just published in theInternational Journal of Circumpolar Health, comparing all the results and health effects collected so far on the subject. The good news is that cold water dips are indeed linked to a reduction in “bad” body fat and the risk of chronic ailments such as diabetes.
Alone is not enough
But the analysis of 104 previous studies led to a substantial stalemate: “Many of the long-term benefits recorded so far may not derive directly from swimming in ice water but simply from the lifestyle of swimmers, from training to manage stress and their active social lives “. In short, ice bathing alone is not enough to lose weight and protect us from obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Benefits to be evaluated
“Many studies have shown significant effects of cold water immersion on various physiological and biochemical parameters. But the question of whether or not they are beneficial to health is difficult to assess – explains the heart surgeon. James Mercer, lead author of the study -. Much of the available research involved a small number of participants, often only men, and with differences in water temperature and amounts of salt. It is also unclear whether winter swimmers are healthier or not. Surely those who regularly practice this hobby find a benefit in terms of well-being and health, but these results can be explained by other factors related to a healthy and sporty lifestyle “.
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Ice bathing beyond cold therapy
From frozen showers to home baths in ice cubes, to an increasing number of cold water swimmers without the use of specific clothing, the practice of ice bathing today has gone far beyond the classic cold therapy. A sport not for everyone, so you need the right skills and physical preparation.
The cold, in fact, causes a shock to the metabolism that starts with the sudden increase in heart rate and ends with the consumption of good body fat to maintain body temperature. To burn bad fat, the one that stores energy, the activity must be prolonged. Just like exposure to cold to trigger the production of adiponectin, which plays a key role in countering insulin resistance, diabetes and other diseases. But the effects are temporary, due to the short time you can spend in the water: only repeated dives could actually decrease insulin concentrations in the blood.
Risks around the corner
Before taking a dip in ice-cold water “you need to be aware of the risks you can run, even before the benefits – underlines Mercer -. From our research, the profile of those who practice ice bathing is very different, both for age than experience, and ranges from competitive swimmers, to those who have no affinity for sport. Especially for the latter, it is important to know that there is a very high risk of hypothermia, as well as to trigger directly related heart and lung problems to thermal shock “.
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Meanwhile, the topic continues to be the subject of debate, especially social media, where there are those who boast that diving into ice water loses weight faster, has better mental health and concentration, as well as a more exuberant libido. Beneficial effects without any scientific basis.