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  • Writer's pictureKim Smolders

Cold Therapy.



You may have heard of Wim Hof, aka The Ice Man. He is the man that popularised swimming in ice lakes, hiking snow trails in nothing but shorts and popularising deep rapid breathing. His research started around 2011, and in 2014 researchers were able to replicate his results on a larger set of people. This study specifically showed that individuals who were infected with an endotoxin were able to control their sympathetic nervous system and immune response after following the Wim Hof method. In plain English that meant they did not get (as) sick.


Cold exposure is one of the three pillars of the Wim Hof method, the other two being breathing and commitment, and it is one of the most powerful biohacking tools you can introduce into your life.


Cold exposure is a form of hormesis - a short-term intense stress on the body with the aim to strengthen the body & create more resilience. Other hormesis practices include (intermittent) fasting, exercise, sauna and hypoxia.


What is cold therapy?

Cold therapy is just that - exposing your body to extremely low temperatures for therapeutic effects. This can be done in different ways:

  • cryotherapy - this entails going into a chamber with circulating dry air at minus 120 - 150 degrees Celsius for 3 or 4 minutes at a time. This causes a rapid drop in body temperature as well as blood vessel constriction. The blood moves towards your organs in a protective reaction, when the body becomes charged with oxygen and anti-inflammatory proteins. When you step out of the chamber, the blood vessels dilate, allowing the oxygen- & protein-rich blood and endorphins to circulate in the entire body. You go in wearing just underwear or a bikini, and a hat, gloves & furry boots to protect your extremities. It sounds scarier than it is, and is in fact invigorating & addictive! The only downside is the cost - most places charge at least €60 per visit. Talk to your GP before trying this!

  • ice baths - this involves sitting in a tub (some people turn standalone chest freezers into an ice bath in their garden!) filled with ice cold water and ice cubes. Stay in as long as you can tolerate, but start slow, then build up the time as your tolerance builds up. This is a favourite therapy used by many athletes.

  • cold showers - these are the easiest to do. These can be done in the morning due to its energising effect, alternating between hot & cold water for maximum benefit, and finishing off your shower with a couple of minutes of cold water. They are also great right before bed as they cause your body temperature to drop. Turn the tap all the way cold, and let your body be invigorated by the cold water. It is easy, free and self-paced.

  • snow bathing - this is a favourite of mine in winter when it snows. Step outside in your swimwear, and lie down in the snow, or take a walk around the garden for as long as you can tolerate.


The benefits of cold therapy.

No matter which type of cold therapy you do, you will experience benefits. Ideally you practice some sort of cold exposure on a continuous and regular basis to get the real, ongoing benefits*:

  • boosts mitochondrial health - mitochondria are the energy powerhouses in your cells that convert oxygen & nutrients into ATP, also simply known as energy. Cold therapy improves mitochondrial function as it generates mitochondrial biogenesis, essentially producing more of them. More mitochondria generally means more energy.

  • reduces inflammation & pain - cold therapy will reduce inflammation in the body as it causes blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow to injured areas, helping to reduce swelling & inflammation.

  • fire up your lymphatic system - your lymphatic system is essential to your health and optimal elimination of toxins. It does not have its own pump, so it relies on muscle contractions to flow. Cold therapy causes your blood vessels to contract, forcing your lymphatic system into action.

  • stimulates circulation - cold water immersion will cause your blood to rush around your vital organs, forcing your heart to pump more efficiently in getting oxygen & nutrients around the body.

  • improves sleep - taking a cold bath or shower right before bed will help to reduce your core body temperature, making you fall asleep more easily.

  • boosts mood & mental clarity - the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for the feelings of pleasure, motivation and reward, gets stimulated when exposed to cold temperatures.

  • reduces anxiety - cold exposure reduces levels of cortisol, our main stress hormone, thereby reducing feelings of anxiety

  • enhances immune response - cold exposure is a form of hormesis, strengthening the body's defences & heightening resilience.

  • stimulates the vagus nerve - while your body adjusts to the cold, sympathetic activity (fight or flight) declines & parasympathetic activity (your rest & digest) increases.

  • improves metabolism & weight loss - cold therapy activates the brown fat cells, leading to various metabolic changes in the body. Increases in brown fat means an increase in the break down of blood glucose & fat molecule to create heat to help maintain body temperature.

Cold therapy is not for everyone ...

Whilst cold therapy is generally safe and health-boosting, some people will need to be careful when starting this, or consult with their doctor. Those with:

  • underlying health conditions

  • sensory disorders

  • pregnancy

  • cardiovascular or heart disease

  • circulatory problems

Always be sure to consult your GP or specialist doctor before trying something new!


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