My friend and I made our way to the beach on the Connecticut shore soon after waking to our 7 a.m. alarms this morning. After completing a quick boxing and strength workout on the deck, we walked toward the ocean for our early morning plunge in the 65˚F July water (warm by some standards, chilly by mine), silently sharing a nervous look in anticipation of how cold the water would feel. We hoped that, after the immediate discomfort, it would be a bit refreshing. Neither of us was backing down. 

A year ago, my roommates and I created a tradition of early morning cold plunges whenever we were near a place to swim outside New York City. While each plunge was met with some initial ambivalence and a jolt to the system once hitting the water, I never regretted them once I was wrapped in my towel. This one was no different—but it was my first plunge before a work-from-home day, which made the benefits that much greater. 

As I walked into the high-tide Atlantic, my body prickled with goose bumps as the water reached my ankles and then knees. With a “rip the Band-Aid off” mentality, I dove in from there. Submerged in the cold water, my heart rate initially increased and then slowly allowed me to focus on my breath and calm down. I had been groggy and tired, but as I treaded, I could feel the cold water touching every part of my body; it was impossible not to feel awake at that moment. 

I’m far from the only one voluntarily torturing myself, or rather, “seizing the day,” as I would kindly put it now. The icy plunge has become somewhat of a cultural trend, spawned by CEOs and celebrities who swear by the early morning dunk to enhance their “mental clarity.” People report feeling more energized and calmer after their plunge, and have incorporated it into their morning routine in the form of at-home ice baths or cold showers. 

My Chicago-based friends who have joined the Friday polar plunge club—jointly dashing into the frigid waters of Lake Michigan at sunrise—have caught my attention, too. I mean, they aren’t possibly doing this just for fun, right? When I tried it, I felt more focused and alert when I started my day, opened up my laptop, and began working. The immediate shock to the system from the plunge seemed to ironically ease my stress as the morning dragged on.  

It only took me a year of plunging to really understand the benefits. 

The cold water plunge: Effects on the brain and body

Ice baths have long been a staple recovery mechanism for athletes; the icy cold water numbs pain and can soothe muscle and joint tightness. 

“You can almost think of it as a direct anesthetic,” Dr. Dominic King, a sports medicine physician in the department of orthopedic surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, previously told Fortune

Emerging research and anecdotal evidence suggest that the cold plunge can also ward off symptoms of depression because of the adrenaline rush and release of dopamine, known as the brain’s feel-good hormone. Andrew Huberman, professor of neurobiology at the Stanford School of Medicine and host of the Huberman Lab podcast, touts ice baths for bolstering resilience and elevating dopamine levels by allowing for delayed and extended gratification. 

“These neurochemicals make us feel alert and can make us feel agitated and as if we need to move or vocalize during the cold exposure,” according to Huberman’s website. “Cold causes their levels to stay elevated for some time, and their ongoing effect after the exposure is to increase your level of energy and focus, which can be applied to other mental and/or physical activities.” 

Cold water immersion may be associated with a host of benefits, according to the National Institutes of Health, which advocates for controlled studies on how cold water therapy impacts the heart, the immune system, insulin resistance, and mental health. 

I’ll admit, my plunge wasn’t the most frigid compared with routine 27-degree plungers or Chris Hemsworth’s arctic dips. And I was only there for about five minutes. Some studies suggest the optimal cold plunge temperature should be somewhere in the mid-50s, but the mid-60s Atlantic Ocean water was enough to wake me up—ready to start my day as if I were zapped into the present moment the second I submerged. 

So even if the long-term benefits, the temperature required to make a difference, or the optimal duration are up in the air, it doesn’t hurt to give it a try and come away with your conclusion. Experts recommend easing yourself into it, starting with a cold shower for a couple of minutes, and then seeing how you feel. 

However, cold plunges for those with certain underlying conditions like heart disease may pose a risk because of heart rate spikes and heavy breathing. As the American Heart Association cautions, “You’re not a polar bear.” Therefore, check with your doctor about the potential side effects given your medical history before diving in.

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