Winter sends most of the population indoors. As the temperature drops, we naturally seek comfort in a warm home. We pack in thick jackets. We gather around the stoves and take a bath with hot water.
Hiding from the cold is not the only option. Confronting it yields some amazing benefits. Not only can you build resilience to cold weather and water, but you can also boost your overall health: A supercharged immune system and reduced stress can be expected from intentional exposure to cold.
This type of treatment takes many forms. Cold plunges, ice baths, cold showers, and cryotherapy are just a few of the options.
how to start
Starting this healthy endeavor isn’t always easy. Immersion in cold water (usually around 50 degrees Fahrenheit for an ice bath) causes a “cold shock response”: an elevated heart rate and intensification of breathing into a frenzy. Overcoming the response is simple. You just have to relax. Reassure yourself that you will be fine (it will) and take long, deep, controlled breaths. Within a few seconds, your heart rate will drop and you’ll be on the other side of shock. This is where the benefits of cold therapy really start to shine through.
Start slowly at first. Thirty seconds to a minute on a cold dive is a good range. The more and more you do it, the easier it will become. Like any kind of training, it takes practice, but your body will adapt.
So what exactly does cold do to us? How does it help?
After strenuous exercise, many experienced delayed onset of muscle soreness. Having sore muscles and joints the next day can make doing more exercise uncomfortable. Athletes have long touted the benefits of ice, and there’s a reason your favorite Olympian ends exercise with a cold dip: Research shows that cryotherapy can reduce muscle cramps and tension by stimulating a positive immune response. As a result, the discomfort can be relieved.
By reducing blood flow, exposure to cold can reduce inflammation and increase the strength of your immune system.
Perhaps the most remarkable benefits can be seen in the effect of cold on the brain, not the body. Cold showers lower your heart rate not only during the shower but for several hours afterward. A lower heart rate means less background pressure for extended periods of time.
Cold forces the body to release a hormone called norepinephrine. Regulates focus, attention, and mood – Low levels of it can lead to depression and ADHD. Anecdotal evidence suggests that cold showers relieve symptoms of depression.