Cold water therapy has always been popular in the athletic world, with ice packs and ice plunges being vital to help treat injuries and post-workout recovery. One study shows that spending just 10 minutes submerged in an ice bath can improve circulation and reduce swelling after vigorous exercise. There are also theories suggesting that cold water therapy’s greatest benefits are to feel energised and strengthen the immune system. Anyone who watched Channel 4’s Freeze the Fear, which focuses on the Wim Hof Method, will see that cold therapy can help to keep the body and mind in its optimal natural state. The goal of the cold shock is to reduce heat loss and increase heat production inside the body. In controlled doses of cold water therapy, a certain amount of stress in the body is activated. This helps the body adapt to become stronger and more resilient, as recent studies have revealed, where daily exposure to cold water has been seen to boost antitumor immunity or even reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
We look at some of the best cold water therapies that the health and wellness world are encouraging their guests to experience, including healing icy spring water pools, cold blasting hydro jets, ice baths and Kneipp paths…
Ice Bathing Helps Strengthen the Immune System
What it is: An ice bath is when someone submerges their whole body in a bath of ice or cold water approximately 10–15° Celsius for a limited duration.
The Benefits: Ice bathing offers not only an adrenaline kick, but real health-promoting effects. The sudden exposure to cold plunges releases many responses including endorphins and anti-inflammatory corticoids, causing blood vessels to constrict abruptly and then dilate again as soon as the body warms up. This exposure to cold and warm stimuli in quick succession stimulates all parts of the circulatory system. These effects result in a lasting strengthening of the immune system.
Where: Carlton Hotel St. Moritz, Switzerland is the only hotel in St. Moritz to offer ice bathing on the lake in front of the property. General Manager Stephanie Lehnort introduced ice bathing as part of their new wellness Moving Mountains initiative. Stephanie explains that ‘once the body overcomes the physical shock, you forget everything around you. You concentrate only on your breathing, on your movements, on the sensation of your skin. It’s a pastime that clears the mind.’ Experts are on hand to help guide guests through the ice bath which has been carved out in the lake.
Wild Swimming Releases ‘Happy Hormones’
What it is: Wild swimming is swimming outdoors in natural spaces, such as rivers, lakes or the sea.
The Benefits: The effects of wild swimming on the psyche make it an activity everyone should be trying out. The release of endorphins – also known as ‘happiness hormones’ – has been scientifically proven to reduce stress. Regular wild swimming can help alleviate anxiety and prevent panic attacks as well as improving sleep over time.
Where: At the majestic Bovey Castle, set within 275 acres of beautiful Dartmoor National Park countryside, nature lovers are spoilt for choice with many magical local locations to experience wild swimming. Sharrah Pool, located on the River Dart at New Bridge near Holne is hard to beat, surrounded by rock walls, cascades, and dense forest, this natural pool is as big as an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Mel Pool, situated just up the river from Sharrah Pool, offers stretches of calm water and the East Dart River waterfall is a secluded spot framed by a dramatic waterfall. Long before the term wellness was invented, the Bavarians recognised the healing powers of nature and whilst staying at Schloss Elmau, guests can re-energise in the mountains through wild swimming. Schloss Elmau is perfectly situated for guests to experience authentic wild swimming experiences, with a dip in either the rushing Ferchenbach stream, the picturesque Geroldsee lake or even the icy Loisach River.
Circle Round a Kneipp Path to Help Improve Circulation
What it is: The Kneipp Path takes its name from the German Doctor Sebastian Kneipp who claimed daily immersions in the Danube River had therapeutic or healing effects. It consists of walking alternatively through two water basins paths with water raised to just below the knee or sometimes higher and are filled with either a layer of pebbles or have hydro jets at the bottom. The cold water ranges from 18-20°C and the hot water is generally at a temperature between 30-34°C. The journey begins and ends always with the hot water path and should last around 30 minutes.
The Benefits: Kniepp Paths are perfect for soothing aches and pains as well as helping to lower stress levels. The alternation between walking through the hot path and the cold path creates a thermal shock that induces a stimulation of the circulatory and immune system. The stones or the jets at the bottom of the basins exert a natural massage on the pressure points on the feet and help with swelling and heaviness of the lower limbs. Many reflexologists suggest that massaging different points of the feet help to sooth other parts throughout the body.
Where: Kneipp Paths are often found in mountain hotel spas and hotels that offer lots of sporting activities. This is because they are perfect to soothe the legs after a long day in the mountains skiing, hiking or exercising in general. Forte Village’s Acquaforte Thalasso & Spa has long been renowned as a pioneer of thalassotherapy, a term used to describe spa treatments that incorporate the use of seawater at different temperatures. The temperatures of the hot and cold water in the Kneipp path at Forte Village vary from a toasty 40°C and an icy 10°C. Palazzo di Varignana, a 4-star luxury resort located in the Bolognese hills, features Varsana Spa, complete with its own Kneipp path. This large pool is located next to the main indoor pool and is an impressive 9m long. The iconic Das Central, located in the Austrian Alps, also has a Kneipp path with stones at the bottom perfect for aiding circulation after a long day skiing.
Hydro Jets to Kick Start the Lymphatic System
What it is: Hydro jets are a type of water massage that use water jets directed onto the body.
The Benefits: This type of massage increases blood circulation and delivers more oxygen and nutrients to the soft tissues. The lymphatic system is also activated giving a generous boost to the immune system and massage on cellulite-prone areas helps to break down the fatty deposits and lessen its appearance.
Where: The glamorous five-star Palace Merano, a spa hotel set in a large private park in Merano, offers hydro-mud therapy in their signature programme, The Revital Method: Detox for Longevity. Palace Merano uses water as one of the main means to help clients regain their health and guests have daily hydro-aromatherapy, phyto-mudtherapy and hydro-jet sessions.
Words by Millie Midgley