The benefits of cold plunge for fertility

The Benefits of Cold Plunge and How It Affects Fertility

4 min read

Hydrotherapy spas are becoming increasingly popular, but using hot and cold water treatments, A.K.A. cold plunges, as a health treatment isn’t a new concept—hydrotherapy has been used for hundreds of years. But, what do we know about cold plunges, ice baths, and fertility? Learn more about the benefits of cold plunges and what to keep in mind if you’re trying to conceive. 

First, what is a cold plunge?

A cold plunge, ice bath, or cold water immersion involves getting into a cold water bath (or jumping into an ice-cold lake) for anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Though uncomfortable, there are some notable benefits for your body and mind. 

What are the benefits of cold plunge?

When you’re exposed to cold your body needs to regulate temperature and function. The sympathetic nervous system (responsible for fight or flight) is activated and there’s an increase in beta-endorphins and noradrenaline. Your body will work to keep itself warm by increasing heat production by shivering and activating brown adipose (fat) tissue, while reducing heat loss by constricting blood vessels. 

There have been dozens of studies since the 1970s and a 2023 review showed benefits in relation to chronic venous insufficiency, menopausal symptoms, high blood pressure, and mild heart failure. Some benefits were also reported for sleep disturbances, cognition, and emotional functioning. Over time (even just several weeks) with repeated exposure, the body is able to better adapt to the exposure, and these reactions can benefit metabolism and circulation, and decrease inflammation. Even a short (one or two-minute) cold shower may help alleviate depressive symptoms because of the high number of signals sent from the cold receptors in the skin to the brain. 

How does cold water immersion affect inflammation?

2015 study of the Wim Hof Method (WHM) found that daily cold exposure, paired with daily meditation and breathing techniques, could help decrease chronic inflammation, which may be helpful in autoimmune disorders. The thought is that repeated exposure can help with the body’s ability to adapt, and a review article reported that those who adapted to cold water swimming had lower stress and inflammatory responses than non-adapted volunteers.

How long should you cold plunge?

There are lots of different methods when it comes to cold plunge and hydrotherapy. To feel the health benefits, the water temperature should be between 50 to 57.2 degrees Fahrenheit (or 10 and 14 degrees Celcius). You can do your plunge in a circuit (staying in for 30 seconds, taking a break, hopping back in for another 30 seconds) or work your way up to stay in the water for up to 5 minutes. Even taking a cold shower can be beneficial. While we know there are benefits, deciding on the *best* method is still up for debate and seems to depend on a person’s individual tolerance.

How do cold plunges affect fertility?

Unfortunately, we don’t have many studies on cold plunge and fertility. But there still could be some benefit thanks to what we do know about cold plunges in relation to general health. 

How do cold plunges affect fertility for females?

While there's no direct link (yet) between cold plunge and female fertility, cold water immersions could indirectly benefit fertility because of the known benefits of the practice, like decreasing inflammation and stress, and improving circulation. 

To reduce prolonged oxidative stress and tissue damage, keep your cold plunge short—a minute or 2 if you’re static (like sitting in an ice bath) and up to 5 minutes if active (like swimming in a lake). Recovery is also important: Get dry and warm quickly after a session.

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How do cold plunges affect fertility for males?

Sperm are extremely sensitive to overheating and are affected by as little as a 1-degree Celsius increase in temperature. This is one of the reasons the testicles are located outside the body—they need to be cooler than the core body temperature. Heat exposure can come from external sources (like hot tubs or heated car seats) or internal sources (like varicoceles, enlargement of blood vessels in the scrotum that cause blood pooling in scrotal veins). And overheating can cause low sperm counts, low sperm motility, and higher DNA fragmentation

While we don’t know a ton about cold plunge and sperm health, we do have some information on testicular cooling. In one Canadian study of males with primary infertility and abnormal sperm, using testicular cooling devices led to significantly improved sperm motility and vitality (though this is based on local testicular cooling and not full-body cooling that would be experienced in a cold plunge). 

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Are there any side effects of cold plunge?

There are many ways hydrotherapy can go wrong, including drowning and cardiac arrest. The point of a cold plunge isn’t to cause hypothermia or send your system into shock. Skip cold plunging below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), and for periods longer than 2 minutes (unless you’re an experienced winter swimmer or cold-plunger who has worked up to longer stretches). To decrease the risks, always have a buddy or someone to supervise if you’re planning a full immersion, and don’t push your limits. It's also important to avoid hyperventilating during a cold plunge because it can increase the risk of passing out and drowning. The mind should be calm and the breath controlled, allowing air in and out. If you’re just getting started, opt for shorter stints (even just 10 to 15 seconds) and aim for water to be uncomfortably cold, but tolerable. You can work your way up with each subsequent treatment.