A healthy body and a healthy mind allow us to live an easier and more joyful life. We, at Touring Monkeys, have the vision of a healthy world, loving living and experiencing life, and believe cold exposure plays an important part in that life.
The practice of using cold for treatment, physical and physiological betterment has been around for some time now and has picked up popularity in the past decades.
In this article, we’ll share with you what we know about cold exposure, its benefits, methods, precautions, and see if it is something that will suit you.
What is Cold Therapy?
Cold Exposure or Cold Therapy is the frequent exposure to cold that is usually outside of one’s natural cold tolerance. This can be done in several ways like cold water immersion, cold showers, outdoor swims, ice baths, or the use of cold chambers. This is often referred to as cryotherapy, cold hydrotherapy, or the Wim Hof method.
10 Benefits Of Cold Exposure/Therapy
The practice of cold exposure has proven to benefit the body and brain in many ways, now with scientific backing too. Such as:
- Speeds up metabolism
- Reduces inflammation, swelling, and sore muscles
- Improves sleep quality
- Improves immune response
- Helps achieve more focus and concentration
- Gives more energy
- Increase sports performance
- Faster workout recovery
- Improve mental health
- Helps in losing fat
Cold therapy in the 20th century has almost become synonymous with the Wim Hof Method. Wim Hof is a Dutch extreme athlete and nicknamed ‘The Iceman’ by breaking a number of records related to cold exposure. “Using “cold, hard nature” as his teacher, his extensive training has enabled him to learn to control his breathing, heart rate, and blood circulation and to withstand extreme temperatures (www.wimhofmethod.com).”
Cold therapy combined with Breathing and Commitment makes up the three pillars of the Wim Hof Method. The Iceman claims that by implementing this method, we can take control of our bodies and lead happier, healthier, and stronger lives.
Cryotherapy is one of the oldest forms of natural treatments that were recorded and referred to throughout history:
- There were several references about cold therapy in the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, the oldest surviving medical texts created in 1600 BC.
- Hippocrates was the first to document the health benefits of hydrotherapy.
Ancient Egypt, the Chinese, the Roman Empire, and Greece have used the medicinal uses of hydrotherapy.
- There are many texts referring to Mark Twain and how he can remember when the “cold water cure” was first talked about (1844). He was nine years old at the time. The “cold water cure” involved throwing buckets of cold water repeatedly over one’s head and then wrapping them in a sheet wet with ice water.
- Some significant people who contributed to the world of cryotherapy:
- Sebastian Kneipp who introduced the Kneipp cure that involves the application of water in various methods, temperatures, and pressures for therapy and healing.
- VincenzPriessnitz, known as the founder of modern hydrotherapy
- Temple Fay, pioneered ‘human refrigeration for treatment of malignancies and head injuries
- Irving Cooper who developed the first closed cryoprobe system ushering in the modern era of cryogenic surgery.
- Dr. Toshima Yamauchi developed the Whole Body Cryotherapy for the treatment of arthritis. It is now used in many parts of the world as a treatment for pain management, athletic recovery, and inflammation.
Some Science Behind It
- Wim Hof has been subjected to numerous studies. These were meant to explain the scientifically impossible feats that he underwent throughout his life. These include climbing the highest mountains in the world in shorts, running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot, and standing in a container while covered with ice cubes for more than 112 minutes.
Studies proved that through the Wim Hof Method, we could voluntarily influence our sympathetic nervous system and immune system. This video illustrates how this method has a huge role in combating chronic inflammation and auto-immune diseases. Studies such as this were not just done with Wim Hof but to a group of people who follow his methods.
- Daily cold exposure over a period of time has suggested to boost antitumor immunity.
- This case study shows a young woman successfully treated from depression through open cold water swimming.
- Dr. Rhonda Patrick, an expert in nutrition, metabolism, and aging has conducted intensive research on the beneficial effects of cold exposure.
She concluded that “ Cryotherapy allows the controlled elicitation of the body’s natural cell repairing, pain & inflammation-reducing, and metabolic processes. Do understand that many of the studies detailed in Dr. Rhonda’s report include extended, regular exposure of cryotherapy, and cold exposure. The use of coldness as a ‘good stressor’ on the body can help to trigger several beneficial responses within the human body”. Here, you can read more information about her research.
Simple ways of cold water exposure
Start with the easiest one. Every day, once you’ve had your nice warm shower, you can slowly turn the knob to make the water colder and colder. Alternating between hot and cold water is actually a great way to improve your circulation.
Once you are used to ending your shower with cold water, try to start it cold. It might sound crazy to suggest doing it first thing in the morning, but starting the day with a cold shower is a great boost to your body and mind. In addition to that, your body temperature being warm from the night, a quick cold shower will be long enough to not make it drop, so you should still feel warm after the shower.
If you live near lakes, rivers, or a sea in which you can swim, make the most of it! The best way to get used to open water swimming in cold waters is to start swimming regularly in the summer and to carry on as the temperatures get colder and colder. This way, your body will adapt automatically to the temperature change and you will barely realize that you end up swimming in really cold waters in the winter months!
Once your body is comfortable with cold temperatures, you can take your practice a step further by taking ice baths. Do not stay too long at the beginning!
The most important with cold exposure is to breathe slowly, tell yourself that you can do it, and not panic. The more energy you spend on panicking and ventilating, the less energy you have to deal calmly with the cold water!
Is cold therapy for you?
Cold exposure or cryotherapy is not for everyone! It is very important to talk to your doctor first to see if you are fit and healthy to undergo this practice. Cold exposure affects heart rate, blood circulation, and blood pressure so if you have relative conditions that can possibly be triggered or aggravated, then this is not for you. This also includes those who are pregnant, allergic to cold, have a history of blood clots, with open sores, Raynaud’s Syndrome, uncontrolled seizures, and nerve pains.
It is important to note that cold therapy is a practice done gradually. Exposure to cold especially cold water immersion triggers a physiological reaction known as cold shock response. This response includes elevated heart rate, vasoconstriction, and elevated blood pressure, respiratory rate, and stress hormones. The gradual and repeated exposure to cold is a physiological conditioning process that reduces this cold shock response. If done suddenly and precipitously, it might lead to hypothermia and death.
Research, understand, practice, but better be safe than sorry
The purpose of this article is to share and introduce you to this amazing practice. But, we cannot stress enough that this is NOT for everyone. Do your own research, check with your doctor or health practitioner, and ask others. After doing so and have decided/advised that you can try this, follow these safety precautions:
- Have company. Especially in the initial stages or if you’re intending to swim in cold open water, it is best to have someone with you. Joining groups with proven regimens or going to licensed cryotherapy saunas is recommended as you will be guided and advised throughout and after the session.
- Warm-up after the exposure. You might experience an ‘afterdrop’ after cold exposure. To counter this, it is advised to warm up after getting out. Dry off and get off from your wet clothes, dress in warm layers, drink a warm beverage, find a warm place to sit or walk around. Do not, however, take a hot shower as you might pass out because of the sudden change in blood flow. Find out more on this here
- Keep it short. Coldwater immersion and other cold exposures do not need to be longer than a few minutes.
Start practicing with the official Wim Hof mobile app. This app will teach you the breathing technique and introduce you to the cold shower exercises with instructional videos. You will also be able to view your progress thanks to the various tracking systems.
Know what you’re doing and be aware of your limits. Your body and how it reacts is different from everyone else. You know your body best.