Why the coolest accessory in a heatwave is a £3,000 ice bath: They boost your ‘happy hormone’ and lower your heart rate. And this week they’re an absolute godsend, writes SADIE NICHOLAS
Did you spend last night braiding ice cubes into your hair? Or rubbing onions on your skin? Or perhaps you tried cooling yourself by hanging damp towels over your doorframe to no avail. If so, prepare to be truly envious.
Some women have no need for such DIY methods of beating the heatwave, thanks to their very own ice baths, handily installed right on their patios.
Inspired by celebrities and athletes — Lady Gaga is devoted to hers, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey uses his daily, and Joe Wicks and Andy Murray use them to help with muscle stiffness — an icy tub in the garden has become increasingly popular, partly thanks to cold therapy gurus such as ‘Ice Man’ Wim Hof.
Before this scorching week began, ice baths were for those keen to harness the well-being-enhancing virtues of cold water immersion. Now — well, who wouldn’t want to dive right in to a tank filled with icy water?
Paediatric nurse Polly Hawkins has never been more grateful for her ice bath.
‘It was so very warm in the house on Sunday night, so it was such a great feeling to plunge into the ice tub to cool down yesterday morning,’ says Polly, 45.
‘I have a full 13-hour shift today and I will certainly be plunging straight in after to cool down. We might not have air-con as standard in our homes in this country but the ice bath is definitely our equivalent in this extreme heat.’
Since splashing out on a £3,000 temperature-controlled tub last December, mother-of-two Polly says daily dips at her home in Brecon have been life changing.
First persuaded to the benefits of an icy dip after a friend raved about cold-water swimming, Polly and her partner, Craig, 46, had a go in a waterfall near their home.
Paediatric nurse Polly Hawkins prepares to take a dip in her ice bath. ‘It was so very warm in the house on Sunday night, so it was such a great feeling to plunge into the ice tub to cool down yesterday morning,’ she says
Instantly converted, they invested in the ice bath for the garden of their farmhouse.
‘Yes, £3,000 is a lot of money, but using the tub is now as normal a part of our morning routine as brushing our teeth, and it saves us time because we no longer have to drive to the nearest river,’ says Polly. ‘It also has the most gorgeous view over fields and mountains, which is a boost in itself.
‘The irony is that I hate being cold and usually have the heating blasting in the house, but I love the ice bath.
‘Every morning we get out of bed, switch on some music in the kitchen to warm up — I dance around for ten minutes and Craig does press-ups — before we go outside for a five- to ten-minute ice bath at five degrees.
‘When we get out, we wrap ourselves in towels and sit with a cup of tea to warm up.
‘In seven years of working night shifts, it’s the only thing I’ve found that energises me.’
Polly’s not alone in discovering the physical and mental benefits of an icy dip. The British Medical Journal found regular cold-water swims can be an alternative to antidepressants and an all-round mood-booster, and a study in Prague concluded cold-water immersion can boost dopamine levels — also known as the ‘happy hormone’ — by 530 per cent.
Mum-of-three Claire Petters knows exactly what they mean.
‘The moment I get into the cold water my brain clears,’ says the 46-year-old personal trainer, who lives in Kent with her husband and three children, and bought an ice tub at the end of last year. ‘Everything I do is at high speed, whether it’s running my business, exercising, or being a wife and mum. But inside the tub, I think of nothing other than my breathing.
‘And I’m certainly the envy of all my friends at the moment — even my teenagers keep getting in!
‘Double dipping is a daily occurrence in these temperatures to keep us all cool and sleeping well.’
But as well as helping keep her cool, Claire says the health benefits have been tangible.
Diagnosed with an autoimmune condition four years ago, Claire found that, despite her fitness, she was plagued with symptoms including painful joints. Yet she was determined not to rely only on her prescribed medication and, after some research, discovered cold water therapy could help.
At first, Claire joined the droves of wild swimming enthusiasts.
‘I live near the sea so started swimming every day,’ she says. ‘Incredibly, within two weeks my joint pain had disappeared, I had more energy, slept better and the hot sweats I’d suffered from for years had stopped.’
Mum-of-three Claire Petters says: ‘The moment I get into the cold water my brain clears. Everything I do is at high speed, whether it’s running my business, exercising, or being a wife and mum. But inside the tub, I think of nothing other than my breathing’
However, Claire soon found the seawater felt too warm. After trying cold showers, she made an ice bath out of a wheelie bin (with a stepladder next to it and a stool in it), which she’d fill using a hosepipe and blocks of ice from her freezer.
However, 18 months climbing in and out of a wheelie bin eventually lost its charm, so she ordered a £3,000 temperature-controlled oval tub from The Ice Bath Co. last December. ‘It’s worth every penny for the benefits and, oh, the ease of being able to use it every day without having to mess about with ice blocks,’ she adds.
‘I happily sit and meditate while submerged up to my chin for seven to ten minutes at five degrees. I feel amazing.’
So, even when the temperature drops, should we all be thinking about our own ice baths?
Mike Tipton MBE, Professor of Human and Applied Physiology at the University of Portsmouth, warns caution is key when it comes to cold-water immersion.
‘Immersing the body in cold water causes profound stress, can damage the nerves and blood vessels in the hands and feet and increases the risk of heart attack,’ he explains. ‘However the anecdotal evidence for the benefits is also overwhelming, even if it’s just a placebo effect.’
Achieved in a careful and controlled manner, the physical stress caused by cold-water immersion elicits benefits by triggering a fight-or-flight response within the body — releasing stress hormones serotonin, cortisol and adrenaline.
‘We think these turn on pain-inhibiting pathways in the brain and create a feeling of euphoria,’ says Professor Tipton, ‘which is why devotees speak of feeling alert and awake.
‘We also know short-term immersions can prime the immune system, which explains why many people report no longer suffering colds, for example.
Stephie Bateman’s more old-fashioned ice bath cost just £350 from Dip Tank when she bought it in February. She says: ‘My husband cycles and runs and read up about ice baths being good for muscle soreness and mental well-being, while I do weight-based gym training and had seen Joe Wicks posting about his on Instagram, so we decided to invest for the health benefits’
‘There’s also evidence messages are sent out through the nervous system that put our organs into “rest and digest” mode, lowering heart rate and reducing inflammation. Sufferers of conditions from depression to diabetes with an inflammatory component could therefore potentially benefit.
‘But we still don’t understand exactly what the processes triggered are, so the direct therapeutic connections between ice baths and benefits remain hypothetical.’
To anyone looking to invest in an ice bath, he says: ‘My advice is always to consult your GP, build up gradually and don’t immerse yourself for longer than five or ten minutes. There’s no evidence that longer or colder is better, it’s just more risky. Current thinking is that most benefits result when the water is 12-15 degrees Celsius.’
Claire’s and Polly’s baths are the brainchild of Northamptonshire construction boss Luke Mace, who launched The Ice Bath Co. last July. Timber-clad with spruce, they are lined with polypropylene for easy cleaning (water only needs changing every few months), and an integrated chiller box with a temperature range from two degrees Celsius up to 40 degrees so the tub can be used hot or cold.
Luke, who also designs at-home gym equipment, got into the ice tub business after taking part in a one-month charity ice bath challenge. Quickly hooked on the benefits, the married father-of-two looked into buying a purpose-built tub. Aghast at the price tags, he ended up developing one himself.
‘The ones I came across cost between £10,000 and £14,000,’ he says. ‘So I put my manufacturing head on and spent eight months developing an ice tub that looks great, is made here in the UK, is low-maintenance, highly effective and won’t break the bank.
‘When I launched theicebath.co last July, I assumed most clients would be athletes. But I’ve been blown away by the number of people using ice therapy for their mental well-being.’
But you don’t have to spend thousands to achieve the same effect. Tax consultant Stephie Bateman’s more old-fashioned ice bath cost just £350 from Dip Tank when she bought it in February.
Set atop decking in the garden of the four-bed Surrey home she shares with her husband and two kids, it looks more like a traditional metal bath. Filled using a hosepipe and tubs of ice from a chest freezer, it does require forward planning.
But a handy plug lets water drain away onto the lawn and it also has an inbuilt wood-burning facility so that water can be heated, too.
‘My husband cycles and runs and read up about ice baths being good for muscle soreness and mental well-being, while I do weight-based gym training and had seen Joe Wicks posting about his on Instagram, so we decided to invest for the health benefits,’ says Stephie, 39. ‘I thought it would look quirky in the garden, too.
An icy tub in the garden has become increasingly popular. Mum-of three Kimber-Lee Hicks, 33, has also found getting into her £2,895 ice bath rather joyful this week. ‘It’s such a bonus during this heatwave, being able to take extra short dips to cool off — it’s certainly easier than getting into it during the winter’
‘Immersing yourself in a tub is definitely more shocking than walking into the sea a step at a time. I only stay in for a minute or two and have to control my breathing. I’d like to build up to ten minutes twice a week.
‘It’s been amazing the past few days. We’ve been able to enjoy games in the garden with the kids, then have a quick dip to cool off. We haven’t had the faff of getting the paddling pool out as the ice tub has a filter to keep the water clean.’
Mum-of three Kimber-Lee Hicks, 33, has also found getting into her £2,895 ice bath rather joyful this week. ‘It’s such a bonus during this heatwave, being able to take extra short dips to cool off — it’s certainly easier than getting into it during the winter,’ she says
She admits she normally loathes being cold, and before getting the ice bath much preferred using her hot tub. ‘My husband Graham got the ice bath last year to help with muscle recovery after training and persuaded me to have a go,’ says the professional powerlifter, who lives in Lancaster and has children aged seven, four and two. ‘I’m used to focusing my mind to lift heavy weights, but getting in the ice bath was a different challenge.
‘Now, I use the ice bath four evenings a week for a minute or two at a time, followed by five minutes warming up in the hot tub next to it. I sleep like a baby afterwards. My muscles don’t hurt so much, I don’t have mood swings any more and my stress levels have reduced.
‘Having grown up in the heat of Zimbabwe, I never thought I’d embrace the cold like this, but the benefits have been life-enhancing, so it’s well worth it — especially now!’
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