Cold Water Dip Eases More Than Hot Flashes

Women report reduced anxiety, symptoms of menstruation and menopause with cold plunges
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 28, 2024 5:00 PM CST
Cold Water Dip Eases More Than Hot Flashes
Revelers enter the cold water during the annual Polar Bear Plunge on New Year's Day, Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in New York.   (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

Cold plunges are all the rage. Groups dedicated to the practice have sprung up around the world, while a seemingly endless number of companies offer portable ice baths for just such a use. These organizations tout the potential health benefits, including reduced inflammation and anxiety. But as experts tell NPR, the research behind these claims is generally thin to nonexistent. Now, a new study is adding to the research that does exist, at least when it comes to perceived benefits. Researchers at University College London surveyed 1,114 women who regularly engage in cold water swims and found "an overall health improvement" in those experiencing symptoms of menstruation and menopause, per the Guardian.

Across all participants, 711 reported having menstrual symptoms, while 795 reported symptoms of menopause. (During perimenopause, a woman may experience menopause symptoms while still having a menstrual cycle.) Participants with menstrual symptoms reported improvements in anxiety (47%), mood swings (38%), and irritability (38%), while participants experiencing symptoms of menopause reported improvements in anxiety (47%), mood swings (35%), low mood (31%), and hot flashes (30%), according to a release. In the latter group, 63% reported engaging in cold water immersion for the very reason that their symptoms were improved, per the study published Thursday in Post Reproductive Health.

Another benefit is that cold water swimming "gets people exercising in nature, and often with friends, which can build a great community," says lead study author Joyce Harper, a professor of reproductive science. She notes the longer the immersion and the colder the water, the better the perceived benefits—but also warns of risks, including hypothermia. Other research suggests cold exposure can trigger the release of anti-inflammatory markers; help to manage blood sugar, especially when the body shivers; and boost metabolic rate, just like exercise, NPR reports. As physiologist Denis Blondin tells the outlet, "some of the improvements in insulin sensitivity appear to be even better than what you'd see with exercise." (More menopause stories.)

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