“Cold Water” isn’t just a song that Justin Bieber sings — it’s also a wellness practice he swears by.
During an appearance on The Ellen Show Tuesday, the pop star recounted a recent incident in which he’d had to swim in glacier water after both his jet ski and the rescue boat broke down while visiting his native Canada. But the experience didn’t faze Bieber too much, he told host Ellen DeGeneres, since he’s no stranger to icy immersions.
“I do the ice plunge every day regardless because it’s good for your body and your muscles and stuff,” the 26-year-old shared, prompting DeGeneres to cite the Wim Hof Method created by Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof. Hof’s practice — featured on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Netflix show, The Goop Lab, earlier this year — involves exposure to cold water as well as breathing and movement exercises, earning him the nickname “Iceman.”
Bieber said he takes ice baths — similar to the ones athletes often take for muscle recovery — “pretty much” daily, while other cold water enthusiasts swear by bracing blasts in the shower, or, like Danish supermodel Helena Christensen, swimming in frigid temperatures. But are there any actual health benefits?
“The concept of ice bath immersion after physical exercise is that the cold temperature will lead to a rapid-onset anti-inflammatory effect, as well as cause an intravascular fluid shift to reduce muscle swelling,” Dr. Nina Shapiro, professor at UCLA and author of HYPE: A Doctor's Guide to Medical Myths, Exaggerated Claims and Bad Advice: How to Tell What's Real and What's Not, explains to Yahoo Life. “In addition, the goal is to enhance cardiac output and blood flow due to this fluid shift. It also acts to increase the release of adrenaline, which may, in turn, reduce physiologic fatigue.”
In other words, the initial jolt of the cold can essentially wake someone out of an exhausted state — a shock some practitioners may find enjoyable or therapeutic, though Shapiro notes that any mental health benefits are subjective. The cold temperature also slows the body down and lowers heart rate.
Dr. Taz Bhatia, an integrative medicine physician and wellness expert, agrees that ice baths can help athletes and fitness enthusiasts soothe sore muscles and inflammation post-workout. She adds that they can “play a role in training the vagus nerve, which helps to promote parasympathetic stimulation or the relaxation response, which is where healing occurs.”
But those tempted to empty their ice cube trays into their tub should proceed with caution. The shock of that frigid water may pose a health risk to some people, including children, for whom extreme cooling measures could be life-threatening, says Shapiro.
“There are some potential detriments, including muscle cramping, hypothermia and the sudden action of fluid shift intravascularly may not be beneficial to an athlete, whose temporary vasodilation with exercise needs to reverse spontaneously in a more gradual fashion,” she warns. “Sudden change in temperature exposure can also lead to an irregular heartbeat and blood pressure abnormalities. As with any extreme form of intervention, such as ice baths, cryotherapy, high altitude training and marathon running, it's always best to consult with one's doctor first.”
Bhatia, meanwhile, doesn’t recommend the practice for anyone with cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure, as any reduced blood flow could be dangerous.
“Type 1 and 2 diabetics need to be careful as well since they have trouble maintaining their temperature,” she adds.
If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge, turning the shower tap could be a less drastic way of testing the waters — literally.
“There is certainly evidence that cold-temperature showers and swims can have beneficial (and safe) physiologic benefits, and if they are not as extreme temperature-wise as an ice bath, may, indeed be safer,” says Shapiro.
Read more from Yahoo Life:
Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.