Updated: Oct 9, 2018
The idea of a cold shower makes most people recoil in horror. As warm blooded mammals, many of us shudder at the thought of an ice bath, or a crisp ocean swim in winter. The shock of cold is confronting, but also energising, and has immense health building benefits you can tap into. The best part is it’s free!
We have all heard about those crazy ‘polar bear’ swim clubs who splash in the ocean all year long and swear it feels amazing. If you head down to the beach on the weekend you’ll often see a bunch of footy players wading in the water to aid recovery. Ice baths are popular for injury management and recovery, and cryotherapy (extrem cold air exposure) is the latest high tech addition to this growing trend.
I have been enjoying swimming in the sea throughout the colder months for years (that’s a pic of me above the other week in 12 degree water.) It feels amazing and is refreshing in a way that nothing else can compare to. As someone with chronic pain and illness, the cool water is wonderfully soothing and leaves your whole body tingling and thriving.
Cold exposure of all kinds is rapidly gaining popularity in health circles for it’s ability to increase performance and recovery. The likes of Wim Hoff ‘the Iceman’ and many famous biohackers who use cryotherapy for performance enhancement, are helping spread the cold thermogenesis movement.
'The cold uses a “quantum effect” brought about by a heightened receptor binding affinity, which supra-sensitizes all receptors to all hormones levels. It makes us have supra-human abilities. Those abilities are seen in Sherpa’s, Wim Hof, and elite athletes like Michael Phelps and Lance Armstrong. Cold adapted athletes have amazing capabilities.' Dr Jack Kruse
What is Cold Thermogenesis?
Thermogenesis is a process that burns fat and stimulates the release of proteins that burn glycogen from your muscles. When muscles are depleted of glycogen, your body receives a signal to increase growth hormone, and testosterone which creates a cascade of positive health benefits. Cold thermogenesis uses cold as a stimulus to challenge our survival response, and ignite healing mechanisms to boost overall maintenance and recovery.
Exposure to cold causes your body to create heat and shunt blood from your periphery to your vital organs. If your body went into shock every time we were exposed to cold, our survival would be limited! Cold thermogenesis helps increase adaptation and resilience in multiple ways.
Cold Thermogenesis Benefits:
Increased Mitochondrial density, Mitogenesis and ATP production
Increased insulin and leptin sensitivity
Increased cellular autophagy (cellular cleansing)
Increased BDNF (Brain derived neurotrophic factor)
Increased mitochondrial density and mitogenesis
Improved tone of the Vegas Nerve
Earthing and increased negative charge (if swimming in the ocean)
Brown fat is famous because it improves metabolism and increases energy expenditure to create heat. Brown fat is brown, because it contains more mitochondria, than beige or white fat. Given that mitochondria produce all of our energy and cellular function, their importance cannot be rated high enough. Cold exposure has been shown to increase Brown fat.
The Difference Between Icing and Cold Thermogenesis
Icing isn't a great strategy for injury management (read why here.) In short Icing is a topical application of extreme cold that the body senses as a threat, and therefore sends warm blood to the area to prevent frostbite! This means that with icing there is no vasoconstriction of blood vessels to the area, which is the whole point of cold thermogenesis. Unless the constriction of blood vessels occurs, momentarily, the surge of fresh blood flow afterwards doesn't happen. While icing may numb the area, there is potential for damage by freezing the tissue.
In extreme cold thermogeneis, the body reacts differently to typical cold. Cryotherapy, or jumping in a cold pool of water causes a rapid cooling of the body, and severe vasoconstriction as the blood rushes towards the vital organs to maintain heat. Once the cold exposure is removed, blood rushes through the body and increases healthy flow or blood and nutrients
Just try it – it feels great!
Try a 30 second cold water flush at the end of your shower, take a small dip in the ocean, venture out for a 3 minute cryotherapy session, or even just dip your face in a cold water to start off. You can even go walking on a cold morning without being rugged up as a more passive way to flirt with the cold. Becoming cold adapted in a process, and it may take some time before you can withstand colder temperatures for longer periods. The objective is to experience it, and build resilience.
After cold exposure, it’s best not to immediately go and have a hot shower, or to attempt to get super warm straight after. Ideally the warming up process should be more gradual and natural so as to encourage the physiological adaptation. For example if you went from an ice bath to a sauna, your body doesn’t have the time to create the adaptation and learn to overcome the cold response itself.
With so many profound and legitimate benefits, how can you resist a delightful cold shower? Be brave and give it a try, it's character building after all! I'll leave you with this quote from Dr Jack Kruse, Neurosurgeon to help motivate you: