Exploring the Power and Benefits of Cold Exposure
We have been doing a thing called "cold plunges" which is also known as "deliberate cold exposure". We both have jumped into the ocean, done cold showers, and submerged into an ice pod.
There’s actually health benefits to this deliberate cold exposure.
But First, let’s start with a little bit of background information of how deliberate cold exposure/cold water immersion therapy became “a thing.”
Did you know that deliberate cold exposure goes all the way back to 450 BC? The ancient Greek historian Herodotus described the unfortunate expedition of the Persian General Mardonius, noting that ‘…those who could not swim perished from that cause, others from the cold. Also, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, used cold therapy to treat serious illnesses. It wasn’t until December of 1790, Dr James Currie, a physician, stood with a crowd unable to help as the crew of a stranded American sailing ship fell into the 5°C sea and drowned. This experience led Currie to undertake the first recorded experiments on the effects of cold water immersion (CWI) on humans.
Now fast forward to now- you hear more often about cryotherapy, ice baths, cold showers, cold water immersion, or polar plunges. There is current research to support that cold therapy has both psychological and therapeutic benefits. As one of our favorites, Andrew Huberman, says -” Temperature is a powerful stimulus to our nervous system. Cold in particular can improve mental and physical health.”
For the last year, we’ve both implemented deliberate cold exposure into our weekly routine. The “polar plunges” into the ocean were more so just for fun to celebrate our birthdays back in April. We’ve been incorporating cold showers into our regimen. Now, there isn’t a lot of evidence to support that “cold showers” deliver the same therapeutic benefits as a “cold bath” as it may not get as cold to actually affect our body- BUT it can provide benefits to your mental health. Most of the studies were reporting on average the water temperate being ~ 59 degrees F.
With that being said, let’s talk about the psychological benefits, which were pointed out to us when listening to a podcast by Andrew Huberman.
Deliberate Cold exposure improves mental performance- your resilience.
It regulates your mind under scenarios of stress. If you can intentionally submerge yourself in freezing cold water and deliberately make yourself uncomfortable while focusing on your breathing- that shows strength and resilience no questions asked.
Wim Hof, another like minded, smart individual, uses cold water immersion to improve his immune system.
If you want to learn more about the Wim Hof Method, I have included his website. We first learned about Wim Hof with his breathing method, next was cold water immersion! The Wim Hof Method is a way to keep your body and mind in its optimal natural state.
Okay now back to cold water immersion therapy and its connection to our immune system. The immune system benefits from cold water immersion because a cold plunge increases the amount of immune boosting cells. White blood cells are key players in our immune system. These white blood cells fight off bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi.
This can explain why winter swimmers have higher numbers of white blood cells compared to non habitual winter swimmers. They epidemiologically have a 40% decrease in respiratory tract infections incidences, demonstrating their strong immune system.3
Another benefit of Cold water immersion therapy is the recovery following strenuous exercise. It’s been common practice that either cold water immersion and/or an active recovery are beneficial for post exercise recovery treatments. In this study below it talks about Cold water immersion therapy improving recovery!
Impact of Cold-Water Immersion Compared with Passive Recovery Following a Single Bout of Strenuous Exercise on Athletic Performance in Physically Active Participants: A Systematic Review with Meta-analysis and Meta-regression | SpringerLink
So what do you do now if you’re interested in implementing this into your practice?
Huberman gives different protocols you could follow in the podcast I attached previously.
For an example: Ashlyn started off with cold showers at 30 seconds where she focused on diaphragm breathing. She is now up to 2-3 minutes (depending on the day). On average she accumulates 10-12 mins during the week of “deliberate cold exposure.” From her personal experience she reports improvement in restful sleep, an increase in focus during the day with her clients and improvement in her recovery following Muay Thai and Weight lifting.
Honestly, there is a lot of evidenced based research about the different therapeutic benefits for deliberate cold exposure. We could be sitting here typing for days, but we do have to get back to treating our clients at some point! We decided to touch upon just a few areas in this blog. Sounds like there will need to be follow up though to further chat about the other therapeutic benefits.
Hopefully after this blog it has inspired you to join Ashlyn & Sarah in practicing deliberate cold exposure or it just further justifies why you think we are nuts!