What is Cold Therapy? Why is it important and why should I read this article?
You’re curious – something about the idea of cold therapy intrigued you! I too was very curious about cold therapy -how could it possibly benefit my health? I seem to always be cold so why would I choose to possibly be colder? I know all too well the pain associated with cold hands, cold feet and the feeling or inability to warm up after being chilled to the bone! For all of these reasons, I was super interested why I should submerge myself to such waters in order to receive these exclaimed benefits of reducing inflammation, increasing circulation, faster recovery, strengthening immunity, increasing mitochondria function, regulating autoimmune disorders, increasing brown fat, improving sleep quality and boosting metabolism. That is a tall order! Really, can a simple cold shower promise such benefits?
I was brave enough to give it a try! I first tested these sacred waters after I completed a long sweaty run – I was tired, hot and my muscles were in much need of some recovery! So, I thought, what better time to test out a few of these myths. The water at first felt very refreshing! However, soon enough the cold set in – how in the world do people withstand such cold temperatures??? I knew I could handle this as I have endured much more challenging obstacles in my life. I began focusing on my breath, especially my exhales – long forceful exhales to increase the heat within my core. As I focused more on my breath, I was able to tolerate the cold much better – not easy but more tolerant. Not surprising, the shower was much shorter than usual and I could not wait to reward myself with steamy hot water! After all I lasted under the icy cold stream much longer than I ever imagined!
Here's what magically happened when I stepped out of the shower: I first felt energized, refreshed, the stiffness and soreness I experienced earlier in my legs seemed to disappear. I felt lighter, awake and surprisingly I felt happier – weird? Maybe there is something to this cold therapy after all? I definitely felt invigorated and was interested to see how it would change my day and more importantly how my legs would feel the following day. The immediate benefits proved to me that there may be more to the cold showers than my original fear of being chilled to the bone without any reprieve. Did I immediately start taking cold showers? Ha! No, it was a gradual adjustment! I am human and I also have the understanding that in order to change a behavior, enjoy the benefits and stay positive I needed to meet these cold waters with the right mental and physical preparation.
What is the science behind cold therapy and cold showers? Cold water submersion has been around for many years and used by many cultures. Scandinavians have longed used cold water therapy as a way to jump-start blood flow, release endorphins and rid the body of toxins. Thomas Jefferson and Hippocrates both believed in the benefits of soaking in cold water.
The shock of being blasted by cold water acts as a stressor to the body, setting off the body’s “fight or flight” response. The vagus nerve is then activated to help calm this response by increasing the levels of our “feel-good” hormones, dopamine and norepinephrine, in our brains resulting in a boost in our mood. The vagus nerve system acts to counterbalance the fight or flight system and can trigger a relaxation response in our body. It is one of the cranial nerves that connect the brain to the body.
Many of us use ice packs to help numb pain from an injury and to help reduce swelling. Taking a cold shower and dipping yourself into an ice bath have very similar benefits because the cold itself initiates constricting of the blood vessels forcing blood flow back to the vital organs in the body. The heart is then forced to work more efficiently, pushing blood throughout the body supplying every square inch with oxygen and key nutrients. It really could be used to treat anything from a sprained ankle to a bee sting. The lymphatic system is also stimulated by the coldness of the water forcing blood through the lymph nodes providing detox benefits. As well as stimulating the production of white blood cells helping to strengthen your immunity and fight off sickness.
So after years of taking cold showers, I wanted to share my experience with you – how I started and the benefits I have gained from these icy waters! Overall, after each and every cold shower I feel energized, lighter, my body feels relieved - reducing my inflammation from my muscles and joints. My hair and skin feel softer, my complexion is clearer, and it always improves my mood. Over the long term, I have noticed better circulation within my body – regulating my Raynaud’s (cold hands and feet), my immunity seems to be more robust, my sleep quality has improved, I have noticed more energy throughout the day as well as faster recoveries from hard training sessions. Is cold therapy for everyone? Maybe not, to each his/her own but I would say – if you suffer from body aches, joint/muscle pain, want to increase your energy or boost your immunity and metabolism give it a try! Start with short sessions and increase them as you adjust to the cold waters. Reach out and let me know your thoughts and experiences with cold therapy.
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