I have been practicing cold therapy for a few years now and continue to be amazed by the benefits. My friends and family can attest to the praises Im often singing of the cold. Its an extremely beneficial health practice this time of year especially when temperatures drop and the nights are longer.
I often think about the native people that lived in colder parts of the planet and doubt they would step out into the cold with as much vitriol as we moderns, scurrying between warm places. There is a reason jumping in freezing lakes, rolling around in the snow and ice baths are a time tested practice around the globe. We innately know the benefits of this contrast in temperature. The cold is a reality of our environment and when we totally insulate ourselves from it we lose connection to our place in the world and develop physical and emotional aberrations. Here I outlined 5 main benefits I have seen from consistent cold therapy.
1. Improved Immune Function
Cold exposure jump starts the immune system and electrifies the body with pure energy. When exposed to cold water the capilaries in our skin will open and then close and blood is forced to our vital organs and glands. Participants in prolonged cold-therapy studies have shown increased plasma concentration and white blood cells. Cold exposure also causes increased lymphatic movement which helps pump waste out of the body. For the past three or four years I have been able to remain untouched during cold and flu seasons which I largely attribute to consistent cold exposure.
2. Weight Loss
Weight loss is triggered by cold exposure because it stimulates the metabolism and forces the body to burn calories at a faster rate to maintain our core body temperature. I have heard of many instances where cold-showers, winter evening walks, and even sleeping naked have helped people loose significant weight. Sure this can be taken to extremes but when cold showers are combined with a better diet and a bit more activity, that stubborn excess weight can literally fall off.
3. Improved Sleep
Its somewhat counter intuitive but taking cold showers at night can help you fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality. Most people sleep better with a slight drop in temperature and taking the plunge when winding down at night usually knocks me out until I wake up feeling thoroughly rested in the morning. Essentially when our bodies are more comfortable this results in sounder sleep thus allowing us to achieve deeper REM states and also produce more melatonin which is responsible for a host of important biological functions.
4. Increased Testosterone in Men
Studies have shown correlations between cold baths and higher testosterone levels which makes sense knowing that higher temperatures are proven to lower sperm count and inhibit DNA synthesis in men. When the family jewels are kept cooler this helps produce testosterone which is essential for libido and naturally increases energy levels. At the very least taking a good cold plunge will make you feel a whole lot tougher!
5. Combat Depression, Get Happy
Anyone that has jumped in cold water or doused themselves with a garden hose knows that it kind of feels like you are being electrocuted. This is because of the tremendous about of cold receptors in the skin, and when exposed to extreme cold an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses are sent to peripheral nerve endings in the brain. This can result in an anti depressive effect. Personally I know that regardless of what is exactly going on in my biology, after a cold shower I always feel so awake, energized, and ready to conquer the day.
Now for the application. While I’ve been known to make a few snow angels in my skivvies and jump in the ocean in October I usually get my cold exposure in daily cold showers. While this probably sounds unbearable to most people theres a way to get all of these benefits without feeling like your torturing yourself. First I start by taking a normal hot shower while doing the whole cleanliness routine. I do this while begging to work with my breath which is really the most important aspect of cold therapy at the core.
The breathing allows you to increase oxygen levels in the body which naturally raises core body temp and leaves you feeling warmer. The best way to breath is to think about taking in more air then you let out, starting by emptying the lungs and pulling in the diaphram then take in a long deep breath followed by a shorter release. Continue with long inhales and short releases of breath and you will begin to feel warmer. At this point I turn the hot water off about 50% of the way for about 30 seconds to acclimate a bit then turn the hot water all the way off, all the while continuing with the breath.
Even if you get 30 seconds of cold exposure your getting a lot of the circulation benefits and you will gradually be able to increase your tolerance over time. Additionally, the contrast from hot to cold water helps produce the benefits above by causing blood vessels to expand then contract, increasing circulation and oxygenation. I suggest people start by playing with the temperature and duration and see how you can increase your exposure to the cold and enjoy greater benefits. At this point I like to do 2-5 minutes of total cold exposure which I feel like delivers me all the benefits I could want out of the practice.
So there you have it. No need for frozen lakes or expensive cryotherapy spas. With a few minutes of this practice each morning you can jump start your day feeling refreshed and alive then run circles around your friends and coworkers who are dragging their feet complaining about another cold.
By Jake Mabanta, Co-Founder