Cold therapy is not a new practice; it has been around for centuries. You can find references to this form of treatment in one of the oldest medical texts—the 3500BC’s Edwin Smith Papyrus. However, cold therapy has been unappreciated in modern forms of treatment until the late 1980s. Recent studies have revealed it as one of the most effective methods of improving health. But even so, it’s infinite potential remains largely untapped.
How does it work?
Cold therapy is predicated on the theory that you can consistently build resilience and vitality in your body by exposing it to managed stress. When you regularly expose your body to particular stresses such as intermittent fasting, cold water or intense levels of exercises, your health is bound to improve dramatically. Cold therapy reduces the blood flowing to particular areas thus reducing swelling and alleviating pain. It could be a whole-body cryotherapy, an ice bath or just a simple cold shower.
An ice bath will come in handy especially after a workout. Filling the tub with cold water is the easy part, but you need to learn how ice cubes are made. An ice maker will simplify the job for you.
Although most Americans prefer a hot shower, you could gain a whole range of health benefits by just turning the water dial to cold. Taking a cold shower is simple and straightforward, but it needs some getting used to. Here is a simple routine that can help you adapt:
- Start with a warm shower
- Step away and turn off the hot water
- Gradually step into the cold stream
- Start with your hands on the feet and then the face
- Finally, ease the whole body under the cold stream
- Increase the time under the cold shower progressively
While the traditional ice bath has proven to be effective, staying in a cold environment for too long can lead to a variety of health problems including hypothermia, stiff muscles and tendons and difficulties in gaining back the warmth. A whole-body cryotherapy offers more benefits without the side effects.
Unlike other forms of cold therapy, the method uses “dry” cold—nitrogen gas. The gas, which is usually at -130 degrees Celsius, only needs to touch the skin for three minutes each time. The cold never really penetrates beneath your skin. Blood is, therefore, not pumped away from the lungs leading to less oxygenation like in an ice bath.
Health benefits of cold therapy
The benefits of cold therapy go beyond alleviating pain and healing injuries. Research has shown that exposing your body to variations of temperatures can significantly improve your physical and mental health, an area that remains untapped by most conventional health practitioners.
1. It leads to fat loss
Your body has both brown and white fat. White fat is usually used to store energy and is not readily metabolized. Brown fat is filled with mitochondria that are responsible for breaking down food into energy. Studies have revealed that cold exposures lead to increased calorie expenditure. In one particular study, subjects who were exposed to cold stress recorded an 80% increase in the levels of metabolism compared to warm levels.
2. Increased lifespan
Cold exposure can increase your lifespan. Some researchers suggest that longevity due to cold exposure is as a result of hormesis. This refers to adaptation in animals that makes them more efficient and stronger in the face of environmental stresses. But others point to the “rate of living hypothesis,” a theory that attributes longevity to the decrease in the rate of reaction of the various metabolic processes caused by a decrease in temperature.
3. Strengthening the nervous system
Your sympathetic nervous system regulates the increased fat burning after exposing your body to cold. The autonomous nervous system was in the past believed to be free from conscious control. But thanks to Wim Hoff, popularly known as “ice man,” who underwent various cold exposure and breath work techniques, you can now do the same to control the autonomous nervous system.
4. Regulate blood sugar level
Studies have shown that cold exposure leads to increased production of adiponectin protein in your body. The protein is used in the regulation of blood glucose. Cold exposure can also increase your body’s sensitivity to insulin.
5. Strengthens immune system
Cold exposure leads to an increase in the levels of, activated T and B lymphocytes, CD3, CD4, CD8, and IL-6. It will, therefore, boost your immune system. You can increase the effects of the cold therapy on your immune system by exercising first.
Cryotherapy has become a common trend even among celebrities such as Mandy Moore and Eddie Huang. But before you jump on the bandwagon, it is advisable that you gradually build up your exposure to cold. Start small by turning the central heating down for example. Next, you can try minimally clothed walks before you can graduate to the cold showers. When you finally get comfortable, you can try the cold baths and ice baths.
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