Cold Therapy – Why You Should Be Doing it, and How to Incorporate it
Cold therapy has been used for hundreds of years in many different cultures. I have had a bit of experience with dealing with the cold over the years (think ice baths after sprint training) but since I met Wim Hoff AKA The Ice Man I have incorporated a daily cold shower and a weekly trip to a cold lake.
Cold water immersion activates the body’s natural healing powers that can relieve the symptoms of many medical conditions and promote a sense of health and well-being. And when practiced on a regular basis, cold water immersion can even provide long-lasting changes to your body’s immune, lymphatic, circulatory and digestive systems that enhance the overall quality of your life and best of all its absolutely FREE.
Let’s take a closer look at the most important benefits:
Improves the Lymphatic and Immune Systems
The lymphatic system is a network of vessels that run throughout the body, helping take away waste, bacteria, and microbes from your cells, essentially cleansing your body. your lymphatic system relies on muscle contraction to pump the lymph fluid through the vessels. So if you don’t exercise or your lymphatic system it can become slow or inefficient, the fluid stagnates and toxins build up, manifesting in colds, joint pain, infection and even disease.
Cold water immersion causes your lymph vessels to contract, forcing your lymphatic system to pump lymph fluids throughout your body, flushing the waste out of the area. This then triggers the immune system’s white blood cells to attack and destroy any unwanted substance in the fluid. The cold water effects the lymphatic system, which in turn affects the immune system, which ultimately keeps you feeling happy and healthy.
Improves Your Circulation
Cardiovascular circulation happens to be one of the most critical components of our overall health and well-being. With poor cardiovascular circulation, not only is the blood flow compromised, the heart becomes stressed. And this can ultimately lead to fatigue, headaches, high blood pressure, muscle cramping, or even heart attack and stroke. With improved circulation, on the other hand, we can improve heart health, enhance mental performance, boost the immune system and the metabolism, and simply give ourselves more strength and energy to live our lives.
Exercise and diet are two well-known ways to improve circulation. But cold-water immersion can also stimulate blood flow. When you immerse your body in cold water, the blood rushes to surround your vital organs. Your heart then is forced to pump more efficiently, pushing blood through all your vessels and supplying every part of your body with the oxygen and nutrients it needs. Do this on a routine basis and you can help promote healthy blood circulation, and, ultimately, a healthy body.
It Reduce Muscle Inflammation
Have you ever participated in a high-intensity workout and felt sore for days after? This is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and, for many, it can be so painful that anti-inflammatory medication is used.
Any activity that pushes your muscles beyond the limits they are accustomed to can lead to microscopic tears in the fibres and inflammation of the tissue. But cold-water immersion has been scientifically proven to help counteract these side effects.
Cold water lowers the damaged tissue’s temperature and constricts the blood vessels. This helps reduce the swelling and inflammation and even numbs the nerve endings to bring immediate relief to any pain.
It Can Create a Sense of Wellbeing
Feeling down? Try taking a cold shower. It may seem like a superficial fix, but the benefits of cold water immersion actually run deeper than you think when it comes to boosting your mood.
A 2007 research study found that cold showers can help treat depression symptoms, and if used on a routine basis, may be more beneficial than prescription medications. This is because, cold water triggers a flood of mood-boosting neurotransmitters, which make you feel happy. A separate study that analysed the effects of regular winter swimming on the mood of swimmers showed that after four months of routine cold water swimming, the subjects felt more energetic, active and spritely than the control group.
It Can Facilitate Weight Loss
When practiced routinely, cold water immersion has been shown to boost the metabolism increasing whole body metabolic rate by about 16%.
This voluntary deviation from the body’s ideal temperature causes reactions in the body to maintain the internal temperature; some of these reactions are increased metabolic rate to produce heat, which results in weight loss.
The benefits seen are long-term (adaptive), and thus not likely to occur with one or two isolated cold showers. They are directly proportional (to a degree) to the variance between comfort level temperature and the temperature one partakes in.
It’s important to note, cold water therapy is not a magic pill for fat loss, but when incorporated with proper nutrition, a calorie deficit and an increase in daily activity it could help.
It Can Increase Mental Toughness
Forcing yourself to do something you really do not want to do will make you a stronger person.
There is no better way to get out of your comfort zone than with a cold shower. Getting out of your comfort zone on a regular basis can have a knock-on effect into all areas of your life, and we only truly grow and learn as human beings on the edge of what you are comfortable with. Staying in the comfort zone will lead you to a life of being unfulfilled, never reaching your potential.
It Can Reset your Temperature Regulating System
If you are someone that always feels cold, cold showers can be a great way of resetting your bodies temperature control.
In the modern western world, many of us have lost the ability to keep ourselves warm. We are kept a constant temperate by central heating or warm clothing.
Over time your body can become dependant on external sources of heat, rather than relying on its own heat producing mechanisms.
Cold showers can reset your body to heat itself up. One of the many positive benefits of taking regular cold showers is feeling warm all the time! This can be incredibly beneficial for someone who battles with feeling cold all the time.
Combining Cold Therapy Water Therapy and Intermittent Fasting
The similarities between intermittent fasting and cold water therapy are endless.
They are both 100% free and are natural ways to improve physical and mental health.
They work because they add stress onto the body. Not all stress is bad, in fact, adding controlled physical stress onto the body makes your body more stress resiliant.
Exercise is an example of physical stress on the body. When you exercise, you bring about specific adaptations to become fitter, faster or stronger.
The same can be said for intermittent fasting and cold water therapy. There are specific adaptations which occur when you incorporate them.
Having said that, it’s important not to add too much stress onto the body at any one time. Be mindful of your lifestyle and learn to listen to your body.
Cold Water Therapy and Exercise
As mentioned above, cold water therapy can be a great way to speed up recovery from hard exercise and injury. However, if you are practicing cold water therapy regularly, you need to make sure that you warm your muscles up after.
Muscles perform best when they are warm, it promotes blood flow and muscle activation.
If you start your day with a cold shower, your muscles will be cold after and might take a long time to warm up again. If you exercise later in the day, you might not get the most out of the training.
My advice is to finish off hot. If you can, have a warm shower after your cold water therapy, or even better, jump in a sauna!
Where to start?
At the end of your morning shower turn down the temperate as low as you can handle and stay in for as long as possible – I like to stay in for around 4 minutes.
Focus solely on your breath, take big deep controlled breaths. It will feel horrible for the first 20 seconds or so but you get used to the sensation of your skin being cold quite quickly.
Practice this every day and if you feel brave enough you could attempt an ice bath! Buy a few bags of ice from your local supermarket and fill your bath with them. Add cold water and submerge yourself in the ice. Try and stay in for at least 5 minutes to get the full benefits.
Even better, find your nearest wild swimming spot and/or join a local wild swimming club. There are hundreds up and down the country and can be a great way to join a community of like minded people.
To sum everything up…
Conditioning your brain and your body to accept, endure and embrace cold water immersion may be challenging, but the health benefits in both the short- and long-run are well worth it.
Like with fasting you will be able to activate your body’s natural healing powers to properly support your physiological and mental state of being, and perhaps begin to simply feel healthier and happier.
Even if you begin with a quick, cold shower, lowering your skin temperature only briefly, the results can be dramatic!