We’ve covered heat exposure previously and I’d be remised if I didn’t post on the benefits of cold exposure as well. After all, cold showers have had a larger impact for me personally. I began cold showers in my late teens after hearing it makes you tougher but I realized I loved the feeling but somewhere along the line I fell off the wagon until my early twenties when I was introduced to Wim “Iceman” Hof. He influenced my approach to sub-zero baths and I’ve been pushing my boundaries ever since.
Wim “The Iceman” Hof is an extreme athlete who holds 26 world records. He’s truly the King of Cold holding records for longest ice bath as well as longest distance swam under water in freezing temperatures (beneath ice)! If that’s not enough, he’s the only man to have ran a full marathon above the arctic circle (in Finland) and in the Namib Desert without water.
He’s an eccentric man with outrageous (but supported) claims. He claims, through cold therapy, he has developed an ability to control and override his body’s natural responses to a variety of conditions. Basically, an ability to control your internal functions, such as cell response and body temperature, as if they are your arm or leg. This sounds like nonsense and it did to universities around the globe, so they tested Mr. Hofs claims.
They injected a copy cat Flu virus into him and monitored his response.
What you feel when you get a flu is not the flu itself, it’s your bodies reaction to the virus that causes you to feel like shit. The researchers injected a copy cat flu virus that mocks a flu, so a normal body would respond, resulting in flu like symptoms. Except Hof not only controlled his bodies response (and didn’t get any symptoms), he then was able to teach 12 volunteers to do the same in one day. This was tested and confirmed by many universities (including Harvard).
The reason I’m beginning this post with the story of Wim Hof is first, because you should check him out for yourself. He’s a fascinating individual.
But second, it’s to offer an intention behind your experience with cold therapy. With intention, we have direction, so progress is faster. The intention is that cold therapy can become a daily exercise for you to control your breath, focus your mind and overcome adversity with in yourself. Wim Hof applies the same practice during cold therapy as he does for his inner control. The benefits it can offer you with this intention in mind are farther reaching and more practical than avoiding the common cold. This type of control helps immensely in “mind over matter”. It will spill into your life and add exponential benefits all around.
We’ll come back to the details of your approach later, for now lets get into the types of therapy.
There are 3 primary ways to experience cold therapy each with its own level of effectiveness. The most effective is ice baths followed by Cryotherapy and cold
showers. A typical ice bath ranges in temperature from 44 to 60 Degrees Fahrenheit (8 to 15 Celsius) and should last 6 – 8 minutes.
Studies have been conducted on 15 minute sessions but that should be built up to as it can be painful. I mean look at the guy >>
The second most effective is cryotherapy  which is also much more expensive (Price per session ranges $40 - $80 CDN). In cryotherapy, you walk into a full body chamber (sometimes the head remains outside) which then exposes you to a dry -145 to -290 degrees Fahrenheit (-98 to -179 Celsius) for around 3 minutes. Disclaimer: I’ve never tried this but damn that guys smile makes me want to.
The least effective (still very effective) and easiest is a cold shower. This is my personal favorite as it’s easy to complete and feels great even if less effective. It also should be noted, most of Wim Hof’s routine is conducted in a cold shower. No matter the range of benefit, the shower is a great spot to start your journey in cold therapy. If you have no experience with cold exposure, start with 15 – 30 seconds under the water and work up to 5 – 10 minutes.
Now you’re aware of all approaches to cold therapy, I will be speaking almost exclusively about cold showers as they are the base in effectiveness and accessibility to most people. The benefits will uphold in any approach you choose.
When you begin cold therapy, more than likely, you will start hyper ventilating. Remain calm and breath. Breathing is a technique largely forgotten to us today but it’s
development helps us in every aspect of our life. What are you told to do if you start getting anxious and nervous about an upcoming presentation? What adds to proper technique of lifting heavy weights or running? Breathing. Controlling your body and mind starts with controlling the breath. It’s the foundation for Wim Hof’s abilities.
So when you feel the cold jolt against your body use your breathing to calm yourself. Take heavy, deep, and calm breaths in and out. If you want to practice variations of breath work look into Wim Hof to start. Laird Hamilton is also an expert in breath work, here's a great article he wrote.
I believe strongly in cold exposure as a way to develop control over your body and it’s a great intention to have while enduring the cold. Aim to develop this mind over matter and let the other benefits be an outcome. Mental Fortitude, or mind over matter, is a skill that can be developed like any other by pushing into discomfort and staying there for as long as possible. This skill is a pre-requisite for enhancing many other skills that add to our life such as discipline, endurance and mental toughness. View each cold exposure session as a rep in development of your mental fortitude.
Your intention in cold therapy is important because an entirely new world of benefits is added just by paying attention to what happens to your body and then attempting to control it a little more each session. It also gives something to think about aside from the freezing pain! Now let’s talk about what brought you here.
Similar to any positive stress on your body, it’s your body’s natural reaction to cold therapy that results in all it’s benefits. When you enter into cold exposure, your body can’t tell the difference between a 3 – 10 minute routine and a life or death situation. It begins a process to protect itself against hyperthermia releasing hormones, circulating blood, burning fat and generating cold shock proteins that happen to be great for you if you’re not in danger of freezing to death. Here’s 8 benefits of cold therapy:
1. Promotes fat loss – There are two ways you lose weight via cold exposure. The first is as your body warms back up it needs to burn calories to produce the heat (energy). Studies show this process increases your metabolic rate which burns white fat (regular fat) and also activates brown fat (good for fat loss). The second is through shivering, which is a minor workout for your muscles. Both of these changes are small but accumulated 5 times per week voer a year they add up!
2. Improved Circulation - Cold exposure triggers a profound biological response by our body to conserve energy and re-allocate resources. This re-allocation transfers beneficial nutrients, fresh blood and more around the body. Including a class of protein called cold shock proteins which have been proven to shield the brain from degenerative damage. Which takes us to #3.
3. Increased Brain Function - There was a study released that cold exposure (cold water) for an entire hour at 57 Fahrenheit (14 Celsius) increased norepinephrine by 530% and dopamine by 250%. Norepinephrine is responsible for increased blood flow to the brain as well as other cognitive and mood improvements. You don’t have to sit in the cold for an hour to start to see these benefits. Other studies have shown potent effects after just 20 seconds in a cold bath at 40 F (4.4C) over consistent long-term use (3 times a week) increasing norepinephrine by 2 – 3 fold.
4. Increased muscle recovery – When your body goes into protective mode, your blood retreats to your heart to protect the most important asset. As the blood circulates through the heart it gets replenished and then returns to all your muscle groups full of oxygen. This process reduces inflammation of your muscles and supports recovery. An important key to this is timing. Studies have shown that post workout inflammation is integral for building muscle mass and strength so a cold shower immediately after a workout has actually resulted in decreased muscle mass but this inflammatory period peaks at around 1 hour after your workout and it then becomes safe to shower.
Bonus: A powerful routine to maximize muscle growth and recovery after workouts is pairing cold therapy and heat exposure. I was introduced to this concept by Dr. Rhonda Patrick. She advises to hit the sauna immediately after a workout and then use cold therapy to help the recovery process. Along with experiencing all the benefits in one this just feels incredible. You should try it!
5. Boosts Immune system – Remember those cold shock proteins that were released? They have an added benefit of improving your immune response. Wim Hof believes the regular activation of these proteins are what allows him to better manipulate his immune system. Cold also increases white blood cell count (the cells that fight for you).
6. Reduces inflammation – This one, I’ll admit, results in reduced muscle soreness and increased recovery so same as number #4 BUT it reduces inflammation in more than just muscles. Inflammation surrounds joints, tendons and even nerves which all cause discomfort and pain. This inflammation can be due to many things (including your diet) and cold therapy reduces the swollen areas relieving the pain accompanying them.
7. Reduces Depression – I wouldn’t include a statement like this lightly. It's included because scholarly studies have proven real benefits in individuals’ experiencing depression. The actual cause is heavily debated among scientists but a strong argument is believed to be that cold showers increase Glutathione in your bloodstream naturally. This is a hormone that controls the amount of stress you feel. Other arguments are for the norepinephrine and dopamine releases.
8. Mental Fortitude, alertness and energy – I know, I know, I said this one already under intentions but it's what you’ll realize immediately! Have a cold shower to start your day and tell me you don’t feel like a million dollars afterward. You’re completely awake and empowered because you conquered a challenge first thing. Or end off your day with a freezing shower and enjoy a deep slumber. It’s perfect for hot summer nights.
One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite comedians and show hosts is from Joe Rogan. We all have an inner bitch that begs us to stop running, not do one more push-up, to eat that extra donut, sleep in, sleep late and watch TV instead of working. The more times we can face off and beat down this inner resistance on our terms the better we'll be to handle it not on our terms and the more battles we win against it the better off we’ll be in life.
Cold therapy is a fantastic way to face off with your inner bitch on your terms and with the right intention open a world of meditative, stress relieving, inner control that will have a profound impact on your life. Start ending your showers off the cool way and experience it for yourself.
Thanks for reading!
Much of this research came from Dr. Rhonda Patrick of Found my Fitness. Her website is a fantastic source for health information so please support and give it a visit!
 The comparable benefits of cryotherapy vs. ice baths are widely debated but I’ve heard more athletes and scholastic studies in favor of ice baths. This evidence is mostly anecdotal but it’s from a large pool of support across many disciplines.
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