Soaking in cold water improves mental health: here’s what happens to the brain

Article by SoLongevity Research
Five minutes of immersion in water at 20°C can cause a marked improvement in mood, and underlying these effects appear to be changes in functional connections between different brain areas

What this article is about

  • Several studies report a link between deliberate exposure to cold and possible positive effects on mental health
  • Recent research shows that five minutes of immersion in water at 20°C can lead to a marked improvement in mood
  • Underlying these effects appear to be changes in functional connections between different areas of the brain


Five minutes of immersion in relatively cold water (20°C) seems to be correlated with increased positive feelings and decreased negative feelings. This is what emerges from the analysis of a group of researchers led by Ala Yankouskaya, a professor in the department of psychology at Bournemouth University (UK), who wanted to investigate in detail what the mechanisms behind the phenomenon might be. Indeed, there is significant evidence that points to a possible correlation between deliberate exposure to cold and positive effects from a mental health perspective.

New connections

The research results were published in Biology, and indicate that a single five-minute immersion in water at 20°C is sufficient to promote the appearance of new neuronal connections between different brain areas. The appearance of positive feelings, in particular, appears to be due to the formation of new connections between brain areas involved in affective processes, emotion control, and attention.

How were these results obtained?

A total of 33 people between the ages of 20 and 45, with no previous medical conditions and who had not undergone cold-water immersion treatment in the 12 months prior to the start of the study, participated in the study.

To assess their emotional state, participants were asked to fill out questionnaires regarding their feelings before and after the dive. As for the analysis of brain connections, again examined before and after the dive, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques-a test that allows the brain mass to be scanned noninvasively.

Limitations and future prospects

“The results,” the article states, “indicate that immersion in cold water of the whole body [excluding the head, ed.] for short times can have integrative effects on brain functioning, contributing to improved mood. Interesting and never before described observations, although, the authors themselves point out, these are findings that need to be confirmed by further studies, perhaps involving a larger number of participants. Not least because, they conclude, it cannot currently be ruled out that other factors related to immersion may have had an effect: “For example, courage to face the challenge or other intrinsic motivations might facilitate positive feelings.”


Short-Term Head-Out Whole-Body Cold-Water Immersion Facilitates Positive Affect and Increases Interaction between Large-Scale Brain Networks, Biology 2023 (https://doi.org/10.3390/biology12020211)

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