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Why Immersion in Very Cold or Hot Water Can Be So Healthy

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March 13, 2024 – There’s a good chance you’ve come across this popular 10-second social media narrative:

Hard-bodied individual looks into the camera. Zooms out to show they’re wearing only a beanie and a bathing suit. Hey, I’m about to dunk myself in freezing water. Voluntarily! Because I love-hate-love-hate it! Really! You should too. 

Should you?

Everywhere we look, someone is dunking something somewhere. Hot water. Ice water. Faces. Feet. Full bodies. 

And for good reason: Water – in many forms and in many ways – heals.

More and more research is finding that water immersion can help ease muscle pain, boost relaxation, and improve circulation, among other benefits, said Judy Ho, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist and associate professor at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles.

“It makes sense in so many ways because water is an easy way for people to have a sensory experience to tap into mindfulness,” she said. 

Plus, there are biological underpinnings. Submersing yourself in water influences many body systems – cardiovascular (your heart and blood vessels), respiratory, endocrine (glands that make hormones), and more. “It’s probably the gestalt of all of them that makes [water immersion] helpful, beneficial, and useful,” said Bruce Becker, MD, a clinical professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle who has researched and lectured on aquatic therapy. 

We asked Becker, Ho, and others to explain the science behind five popular methods. Ready? Let’s dive in. 

Cold Plunge

Though research is in its early stages, pilot studies have linked cold-water immersion to improvements in blood pressure, mood, and depression, said Heather Massey, PhD, a senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K. who studies cold-water immersion. A variety of reasons could be involved, including reduction of inflammation and stimulation of the vagus nerve, “which can make the heart rate and body calm down – and provide the spaces to be in the moment as opposed to being a thousand miles an hour,” Massey said. 

Other research has linked cold-water immersion with reduced body fat and improved insulin sensitivity, though most of these studies are small and inconclusive. 

Keep in mind an icy plunge is not without risks. The cold can trigger a shock response, increasing blood pressure, breathing rate, and heart rate in the first 30 seconds before the effect subsides. That can raise the risk of problems with your heart and blood vessels, such as arrhythmias, and the risk of drowning. 

If you have such risks, talk to your doctor before trying a cold plunge. Get in gradually (don’t jump in to get it over with) to reduce the effects of cold shock and so you don’t block an airway underwater if you reflexively gasp, Massey said. 

While there’s no ideal “dose” of cold immersion, “we know that colder and longer are not better; in fact, the shorter immersions may be responsible for lifting mood,” Massey said, adding that lower temps, even if not freezing, can lead to vascular and nerve injuries, especially in the extremities. One good starting point if you’re new to it: About 5 minutes at temps between 50 and 59 F.

If you do not have access to cold-plunge pools, do-it-yourself models can include soaking in a cool or cold bath (add ice if you can tolerate it) or taking cooler showers.

Hot Tub

Besides being, well, a lot more comfortable than cold plunges, heat therapy is also linked to cardiovascular health, said Tom Cullen, PhD, an assistant professor at Coventry University in the U.K. who has studied heat therapy.

“Passive heating” may mimic some effects of exercise on the body, according to Cullen’s review of studies in the Journal of Applied Physiology. “We think a lot of it is due to the increase in blood flow to the skin, which is forcing a large volume of blood through to our arms and legs,” Cullen said. This stresses the heart and blood vessels, strengthening the cardiovascular system in a way similar to exercise. It may also reduce anxiety and lower stress hormones, he said. 

To see the cardiovascular effects, you need about 30 minutes in water heated to 102 F, Cullen said. “You can probably go shorter – 15 minutes – and slightly cooler if you just wanted the improvements in mood, relaxation, and a slight drop in blood pressure.” 

Face Dunking in Ice Water

Touted as a quick way to relieve anxiety, this TikTok hack does have some science behind it: When you’re in fight-or-flight mode, your body temperature, heart rate, and stress hormones increase to prepare your body for the literal or symbolic bear you’re facing. Cold water activates your parasympathetic nervous system – the one linked to rest and relaxation – to trigger a biological response that tells you to calm down, Ho said. 

Why dunk the face? “There are so many nerves in the face, so it’s the quickest way to activate the response,” she said. “And just the proximity to the brain. It’s the idea that we’re just trying to get that message to the brain as quickly as possible.”

Caveat: You shouldn’t ever feel overly uncomfortable or be gasping for breath. Splashing cold water on your face, putting a cold pack on your neck, or just holding an ice cube somewhere on your face can have similar effects, Ho said. 

Foot Bath

A foot soak in warm water doesn’t just feel good but may also help you sleep and manage pain. One possible reason: It affects the thermoregulation systems of the body, which can influence core body temperature. After a warm foot bath, body temp goes down, which can promote quality sleep.

A 2023 study found a warm footbath improved sleep quality in patients who’d just had back surgery. Another study in the Journal of Caring Sciences found that sleep quality in older men improved with nightly 20-minute footbaths (the study lasted 6 weeks). Other research shows similar results in menopausal women and has found that footbaths can ease pain that comes with menstruation.

Swimming

This may be the most obvious one, but there’s a specific reason swimming is an ideal exercise beyond just cardiovascular benefits and low impact on joints. 

Swimming can increase both heart rate and the volume of blood being pumped by the heart (both good things during exercise) better than other forms of activity because of the hydrostatic pressure, Becker said. That’s the force of the water pressing against you, and it helps drive fluid through the body. (One interesting area of emerging research, he said, is the effect on the brain of swimming and vertical-water exercises like underwater running, as increased blood flow may help improve thinking skills as we age.)

As with cold plunging, more people are taking to cold, open-water swimming. Though people swam in cold water before the pandemic, the practice got more popular when people were forced away from doing their normal activities, said Massey, a lifelong cold-water swimmer. “Many have remained a cold-water swimmer or dipper ever since,” she said. 

Again, following precautions is important because it does come with risks, especially for those new to the experience. An article in the British Medical Journal reported a significant increase in lifeguard calls and deaths related to an increase in cold-water swimming.

But when done safely, the activity may have similar health benefits as cold plunging. In addition, a recent study in Post Reproductive Health showed that menopausal women had symptom relief with cold-water swimming. 

Another benefit: It forces us into a state of being uncomfortable. “When we do experience discomfort, that’s how we maintain our health and well-being,” said Massey, adding that exercise (cold-water or not) is a form of discomfort. “Putting ourselves in a position of discomfort helps us adapt and maintain some elements of health.”

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Health

The Truth About Whole-Body Scans

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Take a drive around certain neighborhoods in Los Angeles and you may spot as many signs advertising body scans as burger joints. Or maybe you’ve seen the ads on TV or the internet: “Protect your health! Get a body scan now!” 

Are whole-body CT scans really able to do that – and what are the risks? And are DEXA scans a good way to check on your body composition?

While technologies vary, most of these high-tech checkups use computed tomography (CT) scans to examine your entire body or specific parts, such as the heart and lungs, to try to catch dangerous diseases in earlier, more curable stages.

During the 15- or 20-minute scan, you lie inside a doughnut-shaped machine as an imaging device rotates around you, transmitting radiation. The technique combines multiple X-ray images and, with the aid of a computer, produces cross-sectional views of your body. By examining the views, a doctor can look for early signs of abnormalities.

The scans aren’t cheap – whole-body scans run anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per scan and usually aren’t reimbursed by insurance. And the question of how helpful these scans really are is a matter of debate among medical experts.

Advocates promote scans as a smart part of a routine physical exam. But if you’re healthy, with no worrisome symptoms, a scan is usually not warranted, says Arl Van Moore, MD, a radiologist and clinical assistant professor of radiology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC, who is also a spokesman for the American College of Radiology (ACR).

According to the ACR’s official position, there’s not enough evidence to recommend scans for those with no symptoms or family history suggesting disease. But Van Moore sees a possible exception. “There may be a benefit to people at high risk of lung cancers, such as current smokers or those with a long history of smoking,” he says. 

For healthy people, the scans may cause undue worry – for instance, by finding something that turns out to be benign. Plus, the amount of radiation exposure, especially with frequent scans, is another concern. If scans are done too often, the radiation exposure may actually increase the number of cancer cases over the long term, according to a 2004 report in the journal Radiology.

The American College of Preventive Medicine says that whole-body scans “aren’t very good at finding cancer in people without symptoms” and that the radiation you get from these scans can increase your risk of cancer.

Before scheduling a body scan, talk to your doctor about your overall health risks and how a scan may or may not help you. In particular, ask yourself:

  • What’s your history? Do you have a personal or family history of lung disease, heart disease, or specific cancers?
  • Did you inhale? Are you a longtime smoker?
  • If so, how long? Even if you’ve quit smoking, for how many years were you an active smoker?

 

This is a different type of scan, called DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry). You might have heard of DEXA scans to check on bone density to see if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia. It uses low-level X-rays to check on your body composition, like how much body fat you have and where it is in your body. 

There are various ways to measure your body fat. Experts have told WebMD in the past that DEXA scanning is a “very good technique” and “one of the most accurate methods out there.” And researchers have called it the “gold standard” for checking on body composition – specifically, for bone, fat, and muscle. But it’s not covered by insurance, unless you’re getting a DEXA scan to screen for bone density. The cost of a DEXA scan varies, starting around $75 in some cases.

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5 Family and Community Engagement Strategies to Improve Student Outcomes

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Strong school-family-community partnerships bring exceptional value to children’s education. A recent book by Karen L. Mapp, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and four other co-collaborators synthesizes the available research to explain who benefits from these partnerships and the many advantages of family and community engagement.

Everyone Wins! The Evidence for Family-School Partnerships & Implications for Practice (Scholastic, 2022) cites various research to demonstrate how family-community-school partnerships benefit all stakeholder groups when they’re approached effectively:

  • Students have higher grades, better attendance, deeper engagement in school, greater self-esteem, and higher rates of graduation and college attainment.
  • Educators enjoy better job satisfaction, better success motivating students from different backgrounds, more family support, and an improved mindset about students and their families.
  • Families have stronger relationships with their children and better rapport with educators. They can navigate school policies and advocate for their children more effectively.
  • Schools enjoy a better climate, more support from their community, and improved staff morale—leading to better teacher retention.
  • School districts and communities become better places to live and raise children. They experience fewer disciplinary problems, greater participation in afterschool programs, and more family and student involvement in decision-making.
community members talking and hugging in matching green volunteer t-shirts in front of an outdoor mural

What elements make school-family-community partnerships particularly effective? Here are five tips for how school systems can successfully promote family and community engagement in education and drive better student outcomes.

1. Successful Family Engagement Requires Intentional Leadership

Engaging with families has to be a core activity and not just an afterthought. It requires a total commitment by school and district leaders, and this commitment must include investing in the tools and training needed to help educators effectively engage with families from all backgrounds. It must be a real and intentional focus, and as Mapp says: “It’s real when I see it on your budget sheets.”

2. Teachers and Administrators Must Communicate Clearly and Consistently

To encourage family involvement in their children’s education, educators must interact with families frequently—and in many ways. For instance, teachers and administrators might engage with families in person during school drop-off and pick-up periods, set up a Family Information Board in the school’s lobby, write and distribute regular newsletters or blog posts, and/or send emails or text messages to parents.

Communicating effectively is one of the National PTA’s “National Standards for Family-School Partnerships,” which guides how schools and families should work together to support student success. Teachers and administrators should learn about and meet families’ preferred methods of communication, and families should be able to share and receive information in culturally and linguistically relevant ways.

3. Develop Healthy, Positive Relationships Based on Mutual Trust and Respect

Interactions between educators and families should be positive and reciprocal, with families feeling valued and supported. Educators can establish trust and encourage healthy, two-way communications with families by sharing information about their children’s positive behaviors and accomplishments and which skills may need work. Listen to all parents and provide opportunities for shared decision-making.

4. Be Mindful of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Welcoming all families and fostering a sense of belonging is another National PTA standard. When families engage with your school, do they feel respected, understood, and connected to the school community?

To ensure equity and inclusion, learn about the families you serve and their unique needs and challenges. Use culturally responsive engagement practices. Create opportunities for connection, especially with historically marginalized families and students. Learn about and seek to remove barriers for families to participate fully in their children’s education.

5. Help Families Support and Extend the Learning at Home

Students learn more effectively when they have opportunities at home to practice, reinforce, or extend the skills and lessons they’ve learned in school. Educators can facilitate this process by giving families specific ideas for expanding their children’s learning at home, such as by incorporating core math and literacy concepts into everyday routines.

Schools can also make instructional resources such as take-home packs, activity sets, and other materials available to families to support their children’s education.

How School Specialty® Can Help

School Specialty has more than six decades of experience in providing tools, resources, and strategies that promote successful education both in school and at home. We offer arts and crafts, early childhood, ELA, math, science, STEM/STEAM, physical education, special needs, and social emotional learning resources for families, as well as games, puzzles, and general supplies.

How do you promote family engagement in your classroom and community? Let us know in the comments!



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Health

Preteens and skincare: What parents should know – CHOC

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Published on: April 16, 2024
Last updated: April 9, 2024

Should teens and preteens be using so many skincare products with fancy ingredients? A pediatric dermatologist answers parents’ questions.

Link: https://health.choc.org/preteens-and-skincare-what-parents-should-know/

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