mbg Associate Food & Health Editor
mbg Associate Food & Health Editor
Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career.
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July 15, 2022
Unless you’re a cold shower person, it’s unlikely you regularly and willingly subject yourself to an excess of freezing water to rejuvenate your body. But aside from being a shock to the system on a hot summer day, experts say cold plunge tubs can actually provide a range of mental and physical benefits, and the science of cold water only continues to grow.
Looking to buy a cold tub for yourself? We rounded up our top picks, as well as the most compelling evidence that soaking in cold water may actually be beneficial to your overall health.
What is a cold plunge tub?
Although you could create a makeshift cold tub in your bathroom with a bath full of ice, a proper cold plunge tub is exactly as it sounds: specifically designed to support colder temperatures of water that will shock the system and offer your body a range of benefits.
“Used as a recovery method, the water should probably be under 10˚C,” suggests cold therapy expert Mark Harper, M.D., Ph.D. “But just to get the cold buzz without quite so much discomfort, temperatures of over 10˚C (and even up to 20˚C) will have most of the effect with much less pain,” he adds. Note: 10˚C is 50˚F.
Benefits of a cold plunge tub.
If you’re skeptical about subjecting your body to freezing temperatures in the name of wellness, know there’s actually some compelling evidence in its favor. “In simple terms, regular use will reduce inflammation and the body’s reaction to stress. Putting your face, it doesn’t even have to be the whole head, in will have an almost immediate effect,” explains Harper.
On the topic of stress, intentional cold exposure (as in a plunge pool) is a form of hormetic stressor. In layman’s terms, this is the good kind of stress that actually help your body to adapt and stay fit and healthy. When you spend a short burst of time each day with an acute stressor like cold water, your body is taken out of homeostasis and your cells are activated to promote stress resilience, repair cellular damage (through processes like autophagy), repair DNA, reduce inflammation, and more.
In fact, some experts believe that missing out on hormetic stressors can actually hold you back. “Biologically, the lack of acute stressors prevents the intermittent episodes of cellular ‘housecleaning’ activities that slow aging,” Elissa Epel, Ph.D., director of the University of California–San Francisco Aging, Metabolism and Emotion Center wrote in a 2020 research review.
Additionally, shocking your body with a switch between hot and cold extremes can also improve your health, as longevity expert and Harvard geneticist David Sinclair, Ph.D. explains on the mbg podcast. “Sauna protects you against heart disease if you do it regularly, and cold plunges are increasingly thought to be helpful. What [they do] is activate the production of brown fat which exists mostly in your back. Brown fat puts out signals that increase your metabolism,” he explains.
One in vitro study published in Scientific Reports revealed that stem cells subjected to cold temperatures formed brown fat that can increase calorie burn, although more research is still needed on the topic.
As for the mental benefits, Jono James, cold-water immersion expert and CEO of Odin Ice Baths shared that voluntarily placing yourself in uncomfortably cold temperatures can help build fortitude. “You’re purposely putting yourself in quite a bit of pain because the ice bath is not a pleasant experience, but because you’re choosing to do it, it gives you a sense of empowerment. Since it’s a choice, it also means you’re more resilient to things that are out of your control because you’re choosing to put yourself in this uncomfortable position,” he shares.
How we picked.
Investing in a cold plunge tub is no small decision, so we selected our top six choices from affordable to more luxurious, to offer your body a range of benefits regardless of price point. Crafted with high-quality material, all garnering glowing customer reviews, and fit for a range of home sizes and environments, you can trust you’re spending your money wisely with any of the below plunge tubs.
Our cold plunge tub picks.
- Safe for indoor and outdoor
- Circular filtration
- Cools to 39 degrees F
- Must be near an outlet
First seen on Shark Tank, the Plunge tub combines cooling, filtration, and sanitation for an indoor or outdoor ice bath that reaches temperatures as low as 39F. With complete control of your temperature, this tub is well suited for people who plan on using their tub daily for recovery or a rejuvenating boost.
- Programmable thermostat
- Indoor or outdoor use
- Multiple color and wood options
- Doesn’t come with a cover
If you’re looking to invest in yourself and get a tub that’s going to last, Renu Therapy’s Cold Stoic tub is the way to go. Fitted with a thermostat to easily control the temperature, as well as a sleek design for use both indoors and outdoors, this tub is highly customizable to fit your aesthetic taste.
- Slim design
- Cannot control temperature
This option is great if you’re looking for a tub that takes up minimal space but is both durable and portable. While you don’t have control over the temperature of your tub, simply fill it with ice and water—no electricity needed. It even holds 105 gallons of water.
- Insulated bottom
- No cover included
- May be difficult to get into
For soaking on a budget and taking your tub with you wherever you go, this lightweight option from WEY&FLY offers an insulated bottom to maintain water temperature and is easily folded up for when you’re on the move. You’ll likely need a step stool to help you get in, but after that you’ll be ready to take the plunge.
- Sleek cedar design
- As cold as 32 degrees F
- Automated filtration and sanitization
- Must be near an outlet
The Odin Ice Bath is not for the faint of heart and gets as cold as 32F, so get ready to freeze. Built with cedar wood and created with a fully automated filtration and sanitation system, this cold plunge tub is built to last. Plus, it requires little electricity to use and minimal maintenance.
- Made of high strength PVC material
- Must add your own ice
This portable tub easily fits into any space you may have for a cooling experience without breaking the bank. It’s easily inflated before use and is made from high strength PVC material so you don’t have to worry about it popping if you’re using it outside. Just fill it up with ice and water from the hose and you’ll be ready to soak.
Frequently asked questions:
Is there any risk associated with cold plunge tubs?
Of course you should be aware that cold temperatures can be jarring to the body, but on the whole if you’re listening to your body and being smart about how long you’re staying in the tub, experts say it should not pose a risk to your health.
“It’s important to get the body used to the temperature (a minute or two) before putting your face in,” suggests Harper. “And there is nothing to be gained and all to be lost by staying in so long as to become hypothermic. This is dependent on temperature: under 10˚C, three minutes is sufficient. But even at 20˚C, no more than 10 minutes is necessary.”
Who could benefit from a cold plunge tub?
Even if you’re not an intense athlete, anyone could benefit from the use of a cold plunge tub. That said, they are a great means for physical recovery after working out. “The reduction in inflammation and the attenuation of the stress response are universally positive,” says Harper.
For metabolic, energy, and mental health benefits, regularly soaking in a cold plunge tub can be an excellent way to invigorate the system and support overall well-being. While it’s not for the faint of heart, a cold plunge can help with inflammation and act as a great start to the day or help you recover from a particularly strenuous workout. If you’re in the market to invest in your health, consider adding a cold plunge tub to your routine.
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