I present to you the ice bath, the cold shower, and the cold plunge tank. All three equally horrible in their methods of bone-chillingly cold delivery.
But, what if I told you, depending on the dose, it could fight depression better than many popular prescription drugs? What if i told you it could calm an overactive immune system? How about shorten post-workout fatigue? Deliver a cognitive boost and mental acuity equal to that of name brand 'smart' drugs? Well, if you had suggested this in college, I would have opted for a sharp stick in the eye in lieu of such torture. Let’s get one thing straight…I love a HOT shower. I love the warmth, the security, and I love to sweat in the radiance of the most consistent of morning rituals. In fact, I was the one in my family notorious for emptying the water heater during my extended shower routine. I can tolerate the water so hot, my skin is usually red and puckered from the volcanic-like temperatures….but 2016 had other plans for my epidermis.
As I’m always bringing in new techniques to promote mental acuteness and clarity into my paradigm of health, this should come as no surprise that I am as excited about cold therapy as anything to date. Giving credit where credit is due, this particular inspiration comes from Wim Hoff (spelled just like it sounds). The Dutch daredevil known as the “Iceman” holds over 20 world records for exposure to extreme cold. He uses meditation and a hyperventilation breath technique, which combine to allow extraordinary physical and mental benefits. Under these circumstances, his body can increase adrenaline and increase his heart rate allowing a rise in his own body temperature. Not only can Wim withstand the cold for an unbelievable amount of time, but he can also control reactions within his body’s immune system modulation and sympathetic nervous system.
In fact, in a controlled study, Wim and six other individuals trained under his technique, activated their sympathetic nervous systems (the side of the nervous system thought to not be controllable) and altered their bodies responses to intravenous administration of bacterial endotoxin.
Wim Hoff told his immune system not to get sick, and it worked. When he told is body not to develop a fever, it listened. Is Hoff just a freak of nature? No. He’s a pioneer of a method that within 10 days of a study, all six untrained participants also reigned successful over the endotoxin.
The implications of Hoff’s study are incredible. The concept of a “cold therapy remedy” or using the results to compliment medical treatment in autoimmune conditions such Crones, cancer, even HIV… why is this not a headline?!
I’LL TELL YOU WHY.
Because it’s a game changer. Something like this gives us the ability to unplug from the medical matrix and control our own destiny. “THE MAN” needs you fat, sick, and sedated with your creamy mac and cheese and sugar-infested soda. THE MAN wants you so comfortable and lethargic that you ride through life on your COUCH.
But I digress…
I’m here to preach about cold therapy.
As mentioned earlier, I implore you to do your own research and make an educated decision on the knowledge YOU discover. Don’t simply take my word for it: it’s the same as simply listening to General Mills telling you that a bowl of cereal is the ideal way to start your morning (which it isn’t). Statements are not necessarily facts. Get out and do some reading on your own. Below I have listed some research that I’ve gathered while exploring cold therapy.
COLD SHOWERS BURN FAT.
I know this sounds like a clever ploy to pull you onto the cold shower train, but keep in mind, there are two kinds of fat in the human body:
White fat swells over the crest of your jeans and expands its acreage from drinking excessive beer, eating cheddar-covered popcorn, and swallowing whole candy bars. It’s also the fat that clings to the breasts of sedentary men known as the “moob.” This fat sucks. It’s a health risk when it’s packed around our visceral organs and adds excess weight to our body mass index, increasing the gravitational force on all joints. It’s not my friend and it’s not your friend.
Brown fat is good fat. We LOVE this fat. Brown adipose tissue IS our friend. It acts as an organic “Snuggie” and helps keep us warm. It burns calories and creates heat when activated by extreme cold temperatures (*AHEM* cold showers and ice baths). Brown fats’ thermo-regulative properties are not only desirable, but a great asset to your functional meat suit. This fat decreases as we age, but even a few ounces makes a huge difference in potential fat-burning properties.
In a large Scandinavian study, researchers found that exposure to chilly temps caused a 15-fold increase in the metabolic rate of brown fat in their healthy adult volunteers. Ideally, activating the typical person’s storage of brown fat would burn off at least NINE pounds of white fat per year (the fat that's NOT our friend). This is NINE pounds per year with no additional exercise, no additional sweat, no additional change in diet… just turning that knob from red to blue.
THE TAKE AWAY.
-We like friendly, brown fat.
-Brown fat’s superior metabolic properties are activated by cold temperatures.
COLD THERAPY BATTLES DEPRESSION.
This is a big one for me.
What I noticed within the first session of plunging into an ice cold bath (besides the initial shock of how cold my body was) is that after each dip, my happiness barometer was increased by 25-30%. Even before I had researched the hormonal effects of cold therapy I FELT it’s truth. But why?
Getting all sciencey on you: the cold temperature causes our surface vessels to undergo a process of vasoconstriction (tightening) making blood move from the surface of your body to the core, as a means to conserve heat. This reflex literally bathes the brain and vital organs in fresh blood. The nutrients and rich oxygen floods the brain and gently detoxes your organs. Exposure to cold also activates the sympathetic nervous system while increasing the blood level of beta-endorphins and noradrenaline. *Noradrenaline (since you asked) increases arousal and alertness, promotes vigilance, enhances formation and retrieval of memory, focuses attention, decreases restlessness, and eases anxiety.
Um… #winning #score #norawho?
Lastly, due to the high density of cold receptors in the skin, a cold shower is expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which results in an anti-depressive effect.
SIDE NOTE: cold showers are non-habit forming and carry little risk of side effects. Did I mention it’s free? and highly cost effective?
COLD SHOWERS FOR BETTER SKIN.
As we age, our skin becomes more prone to becoming dry and cracked. Think crocodile. Crocodiles are awesome, but you don’t want to look like one. This effect is due to the loss of collagen and age-related depletion of natural oils. Cold showers promote the tightening of the cuticles and pores over the surface of skin. Benefits? You become less prone to pore-clogging and infection (pimples). The skin is the body's largest organ. We need to preserve it's essential oils.
When I cold shower, I don’t need to moisturize. My skin has learned to retain it’s own moisture. Try it for yourself.
A FASTER RECOVERY.
While this topic goes up for debate in many circles, I find the evidence for cold showers or cold-water immersion to be very strong. To provide support for my belief, I turn to the race horses and elite performers. Translation: it’s no coincidence that Lebron James, Tom Brady and Tiger Woods all do ice baths post competitive sporting events. Even the Federer does the ice bath. Cold therapy helps combat microtrauma (small tears in muscle fibers) and the resultant soreness caused by intense and/or repetitive exercise.
As you can see below…ALL the heavy hitters are on board.
I’LL LEAVE YOU WITH THIS.
The unspoken truth for me? We are losing something very special in our modern lifestyle, comfort and convenience. We enjoy being well fed and well taken care of. We like cozy living rooms, cushy down comforters, and that damn couch. However, we aren’t genetically designed for “Netflix-and-Chill.” At the base of our DNA, is an animal instinct to rise at dawn and work to find our meals. Yet, we pull our breakfast out of a fast food bag at 10AM on a Sunday. We are organically designed to withstand the cold with exponential amounts of cold receptors in our skin. Mother nature birthed you this way, and you are missing out on life without exposure to some of her most shocking elements.
My six-week romance with cold showers and ice baths has been eye opening and exhilarating. I feel more alert and awake.I'm an overall happier person. I know that if I can sit in an ice bath for 12 minutes, nothing else in my day is going to be as difficult.
After my morning plunge, it’s an easy downhill coast. Bring it, universe.
SLOW AND STEADY.
Like any change in regimen, I recommend going slow. Start with alternating 20-30 seconds of cold water blasts then returning to warm in your daily shower. Remember to end with cold as part of the therapy. Your body will self-regulate back to its normal temperature.
Turn that knob from red to blue and get ready to hold the world by the balls. Or *ball, in this testicular cancer survivor’s case. A five-minute shower will open you to new levels of awareness.
The highest euphoria I have experienced from cold therapy is the ice bath:
-Grab two bags of ice from the deli.
-Fill your tub with coldest water it can produce.
-The goal is 12 minutes. The first 3 will be the worst.
-Place your hands in last. Your mitts have a huge amount of cold receptors and you’ll feel the cold more intensely with both hands submerged. I usually save these for the final 3-4 minutes.
Remember: in a world of chaos, your brothers and sisters need you at your strongest.
Until next time, stay happy, healthy, and be the change you want to see in the world.
There are opportunities around every corner to elevate someone’s life. Open your eyes and extend a hand.