HEALTHY LIVING

Cold Therapy: Cooler (for Your Body) Than You Can Imagine!

Right now, with the temperatures dropping all over the country, it seems less and less like a good idea to deliberately expose yourself to the cold. Why would you? According to chronic controlled cold therapies, you should consider it.

Why? In short, we’re soft. Over time, we have acclimatized all of our surroundings (homes, cars, work, and even many of our places of leisure such as movie theaters, shopping centers, and so forth) and made them comfortable. In truth, having complete control of the temperature we are exposed to every moment of every day is not quite as beneficial as we would like for it to be.

Though beneficial for keeping us physically comfortable, technological tools (air conditioners, heaters, etc.) on a deeper level actually create what is known as a biological deficit. Translation: the convenience and comfort these environmental-control technologies offer weaken us on a genetic level as our bodies adapt to not having to work internally to offset any extreme temperatures.

Not to be dramatic, but I like to use the term “fatal conveniences.” This is when the convenience of something starts to actually turn against you and your overall health and balance. For example, while it is convenient to control our environment to help us survive, over time, evolutionarily speaking, it actually starts to go the other way and negatively decrease your body’s capabilities to efficiently deal with temperature fluctuations. Environmental control is just one of many “fatal conveniences” our bodies are exposed to every day.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying to get rid of your AC or heater. They serve their purpose. Instead, I’d like to propose another option: expose yourself to cold temperatures in a controlled conscious way as a means to reconnect with a powerful element of nature and keep your body strong. It is not that strange.

You may already have noticed professional sports athletes who get paid millions of dollars sitting in ice-cold-water-filled bathtubs. That’s your first clue that there might be something positive to the idea of exposing your body to cold temperatures (a.k.a. chronic controlled cold exposures).

Ready to hear why I think it is something you should consider?

Why Cold Therapy?

The logic behind chronic controlled cold exposures as a therapeutic means originates from the basic idea that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It certainly was true in the early days of humanity on the planet; exposure to the elements was inevitable so either you adapted or, well, you weren’t around anymore.

Chronic stressors such as those cold water plunges done in a light-hearted, fun manner have the possibility to create changes on a physical, biochemical and genetic level.

When I started to discuss this cold therapy with its advocates, I recalled my days in Colorado spending time with a local branch of Lakota, Native Americans. I was honored to be invited to participate in sweat lodges the traditional way, yet one of the aspects that I found curious was witnessing how, in the middle of their time in the sweat lodge, they would run out in freezing cold weather and either plunge into the cold river or walk around for a few minutes before heading back inside. I witnessed similar practices done in the Amazon where individuals of all ages would take a plunge in the cold river. When I asked why they responded with, “fuerza, vitalidad,” which I took to mean force and vitality.

The logic of cold therapy made sense to a certain degree when I heard about it later in life because we have all heard of this and probably even experienced it.

I remember as a kid growing up in freezing Minnesota with a Scandinavian heritage. I had friends who’s parents had the traditional hot rock, dry sauna at a cabin where we would crank it up then go run out in the snow and freeze in a matter of minutes. We just did that, almost instinctively.

The point is that on some level we know that this is beneficial. Even just from the simple fact that when you get really hot, you need to cool down and your body needs to know how to do that. This is in addition to the countless cultures that use heat and cold in some form of ceremony or therapy. Of course now it has become more “popular” and been studied more. This powerful controlled temperature change, primarily the cold, is more than intriguing. I find it thought provoking, and my kind of stuff.

If you just hang in there past the initial “freak out” stage of an ice bath or cold shower, it most certainly takes you to a place that no drug can. It is POWERFUL for your body.

If you just hang in there past the initial “freak out” stage of an ice bath or cold shower, it most certainly takes you to a place that no drug can. It is POWERFUL for your body. Exposing yourself to the cold can trigger brain, tissue, organ, cellular, and genetic adaptations that ROCK.

I started to practice it with my buddies after our killer workouts in Malibu, and the truth of the matter was that I felt great after plunging into a stainless steel tub full of literally mostly ice with a small amount of ice cold water. There was something very primitive and exhilarating about doing it—like every single cell in my body turned on like Christmas lights. Is it hard to jump in there? And sit in there for 3-5 minutes? Oh, you freakn’ bet it is! Your brain and your body is revolting, screaming, “What the hell are you doing?!!! Get out! Get out! NOW!” But if you just hang in there past the initial “freak out” stage it most certainly takes you to a place that no drug could (ok, maybe some psychedelic from the rainforest like Ayuhasca or something). The point is that it is not just physical. I am telling you this hits you on every level, even, dare I say, a spiritual one as well.

But back to the physical, I felt positive results, but what did science have to say about it? I dug into the research and it turns out that science had plenty to say.

 

  • Studies have shown plants and animals exposed to cold have positive responsive adaptations on a deep cellular and genetic level. In one study a plant “remembered” the cold exposure from the winter before in order to still be able to flower in the spring even after a missed winter (1). In another study a carp exposed to cold stress had more than 200 different genes increase in their response due to the exposure on a cellular and tissue level (2).

 

  • Ok, so cold has some effect on a plant and a fish, nothing to be excited about, right? Not so fast. The Swiss Brain Mind Institute (BMI) in Lausanne, Switzerland, as well as other respected universities around the world, are starting to challenge the old dogma that our brain is fixed, static after a certain age, and only declines with age. We know now that is not true. Let me introduce you to a word you should get accustomed too, neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to change regardless of age. That’s pretty damn awesome. Turns out the cold creates changes in your brain. Recall a time when you were pushed into a pool or drenched with cold water—NOTHING wakes you up as fast. The water’s immediate effect on your brain “waking you up” can also include a longer effect in your mood when you are chronically exposed to cold temperatures. Exposing yourself to the cold can trigger brain, tissue, organ, cellular, and genetic adaptations. One really cool one is the up-regulation of G protein-coupling receptors in your brain; these are the same cell receptors responsible for binding mood-regulating neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitters. Endorphins are also activated, as well as oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone.”

 

  • CART, a neuropeptide, is a protein your body’s neurons use to communicate. Recently, this protein has been found in the blood stream, indicating it serves other purposes besides neuronal ones. When following the path of this curious protein it was discovered that it had greater influence on body functions than previously believed. One such function to the delight of researchers and every human being is the antioxidant functions carried out by CART (antioxidants are molecules that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation of molecules in your body causes diseases). What is very cool is the research carried out on the adaptation of CART to cold exposure. It increases 124% after just 20 days of chronic cold exposure providing even more antioxidant support for your body.

 

  • Further research indicates our bodies adapt to environmental stress (such as cold temperatures) through the increased activation of other antioxidants such as gluthatione, SOD, and catalse. The body is freakin’ amazing when given the right environment and provided with the right mindset and nutrients. Case in point: I once read the accounts of Dr. Weston Price on his travels around the world. His first stop was a village in Switzerland named Lötschental in the 1930s. Here he observed the village’s traditional lifestyle that included children playing in freezing cold water barefoot. This type of practice is also common in Germany and Japan. I thought it was crazy that parents in Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Scandinavia—some of the most advanced industrialized countries on earth—would allow this to happen! But the more I learned about cold therapy, the more I understood that the children’s bodies were healthily adapted to handle the cold exposure.

 

  • It makes sense to befriend the elements. On a biochemical level our bodies need to activate the immune system to be on the lookout for potential dangers. Cold stress is an excellent way to toughen your immunity when done correctly and accompanied by the right lifestyle. Consider the feats of superhuman Dutchman Wim Hof. This man has broken world records by exposing himself to ridiculous extreme cold situations such as being immersed in ice up to his neck for over an hour. Yes, he is an exception, but maybe he is also a representation that we can all achieve new heights of physical achievements and modulate our own bodies beyond our established beliefs.

 

  • One of the most well-studied aspects of chronic cold exposure is the metabolic changes that occur. Cold themogenesis is the term used to describe the body’s conversion of white adipose tissue to beige or brown adipose tissue. Both are forms of fat tissue, but they have two different compositions which leads to the differing color. While white adipose tissue contains only one lipid droplet, while brown contains many. Brown fat also contains many more iron-containing mitochondria, which are what make it brown/beige in coloration. Brown fat occurs in infants and we quickly loose it, but research carried out indicates we can recuperate the brown fat tissue by exposing ourselves to chronic cold exposure. The main thing you need to know is that white fat is not easily used by the body and it sticks around regardless of how much you workout. However, when it converts to brown-fat then the body can easily use this type of fat for energy. Guess what? Cold exposure is one of the best ways to convert white fat to usable brown fat. That is a great thing!

 

  • The problem is that our “fatal convenience” of perfect climate control means we never get as cold as a whole as we used to be, so we have less brown fat than ever before. A review of the science on brown fat and body temperature, published in Obesity Reviews in 2011, reported that our body’s reliance on brown fat as a way to generate heat is reduced by our climate-controlled environments (homes, cars, offices, etc.).

 

The evidence is there for benefits associated with chronic cold exposure, but there is something stronger and more profound than any scientific study and that is to try anything new out for yourself. You have nothing to lose!

As always, when starting anything for the very first time, don’t jump right into it. Instead, work your way into it—start with finishing your morning shower with a splash of cold water. Don’t chicken out on me now, we are working on some deep epigenetic (changes in DNA that are not heritable and are done so by other factors such as chronic controlled cold therapies).

I recommend starting with quick 3- to 5-second sessions in your shower (preferably in the morning) in the warmer months of the year to get started.

Watch this video where I break down cold showers for you. It will be noticeable after just a few days how you can adapt and stay for a longer span with reduction in the initial cold shock.

Now come on, if Japanese kindergarteners and Scandinavian babies can take naps in the freezing winters, what makes you believe a couple seconds in cold water can be dangerous? If a Dutch dude can run up frozen cap mountains in his shorts (though I personally don’t recommend you do that off the bat), I’m sure you can handle incorporating an ice bath, a jump in a cold pool, or a few seconds of cold water in the shower now and then.

The logic is there, the science is there, and now all there is left to do is just turn your shower faucet’s knob to cold and “take the plunge!”

 

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Comments

  1. Gail Thomas

    Hi Darin, we were taught in Massage school to do contrasting therapy, hot, cold, X3. This is a constitutional builder, helping to increase overall immunity and health. Would you recommend just cold or contrasting? Thanks for the great info!

    Reply
  2. Tony Winyard

    That’s a helluva coincidence that you posted this today as for the last few hours i was listening to your audiobook “Superlife, The 5 forces that will make you healthy, fit and eternally awesome” and when you were speaking about oxidisation and the damage that oxygen can do to the body it made me think about Wim Hof and something you might be aware of called the “Wim Hof Method” (WHM) in which he shows you via a video course how to adapt to the cold and doing some breathing exercises which dramatically increase the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream, and I wondered whether doing those breathing exercises meant that it might be a good idea to eat even more foods containing anti-oxidants to offset the increased oxygen?

    Reply
  3. Gregory Oberman

    Breathwork is a vital component of cold exposure and every aspect of health.
    If you do breathing excecises prior to exposure it helps go from enduring it to enjoying it.

    Reply
  4. Why you should take cold showers – Lifesports

    […] Olien, D. January 16, 2015. Olien Web, LLC. Heal, Investigation & Ground Breaking Research, Live Your Superlife. Cold Therapy: Cooler (for Your Body) Than You Can Imagine!  […]

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