What Are The Benefits Of Cold Exposure?
What are the advantages of being exposed to cold temperatures?
We lived in caves for thousands of years, and our bodies were well adapted to both cold and hot temperatures. We now live in insulated, double-glazed, centrally heated houses. However, cold exposure in the form of cold showers, ice baths, and open-water swimming has grown in popularity.
One explanation for this is our awareness of a guy named Wim Hof, a Dutchman who has mastered his autonomic nervous system through frequent cold exposure and breath practice. He has world records for swimming under ice and running a full marathon in the Arctic circle while wearing only shorts. Wim Hof’s methods have been so successful that he now has over 30,000 students worldwide.
In addition to Wim Hof’s growing popularity, more research into the benefits of cold exposure is being conducted, with positive results being publicized via blogs, social media, and television. So, what are the advantages of being exposed to frigid temperatures? Cold showers have been shown to improve circulation, alertness, immunity, sleep, pain relief, and aid in weight loss. Ice baths can also help decrease inflammation and speed up workout recovery. Swimming in open water has been linked to better heart health and greater lifespan. Furthermore, studies indicate that cold exposure may be beneficial to mental health. So let’s take a deeper look at these advantages.
Reduces stress and anxiety
When we are exposed to very cold temperatures, such as in a cold shower or ice bath, the blood vessels constrict and narrow, causing the heart to beat faster. This increase in heart rate causes the release of feel-good chemicals known as endorphins. These chemicals boost our feelings of happiness and well-being. Dopamine, another neurotransmitter that benefits mental health by enhancing mood, is also released.
Improves circulation and heart health
Your blood vessels constrict and your blood flow slows when you take a cold shower. However, when your body warms up, your blood vessels dilate, widen, and your blood flow rises. This back-and-forth circulation of blood aids in the health and efficiency of your circulatory system. Furthermore, cold showers can benefit heart health by strengthening the cardiovascular system. When your heart has to work harder to pump blood through constricted vessels, it gradually becomes stronger and more resilient. As a result, regular cold showers can help lower the risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.
You may get a surge of energy after jumping into a cool pool or taking a cold shower. This is because cold water causes the release of norepinephrine, a hormone and neurotransmitter in the central nervous system that increases alertness and reaction time. In fact, studies have revealed that at 14 degrees Celsius, norepinephrine production increases by a whopping 530% when compared to 32 degrees. So, the next time you’re feeling sluggish, try taking a cold shower to boost your energy.
The lymphatic system is a component of the immune system because it aids in the removal of waste, bacteria, and microbes from your cells. Unlike blood, which is pumped via blood vessels by the heart, lymph fluid must be pushed through the lymphatic system by muscular contraction. Without exercise, the lymphatic system becomes sluggish and inefficient, fluid festers, and toxins accumulate. This can result in sickness and disease. Cold showers and ice baths compress lymph vessels in the same manner as cold water immersion does, assisting in the removal of waste. So, if you want to keep your lymphatic system healthy and prevent illness, especially if you don’t get much exercise, take a cold shower or soak in an ice bath.
Our immune system is responsible for keeping us healthy. When we are exposed to cold temperatures, our bodies create an increase in white blood cells known as monocytes. These assist in protecting us from bacteria and viruses by transforming into macrophages, which consume the bacteria or virus. This increase in immunity can help us stay healthy and avoid illness. People who regularly take cold showers or swim in cold open water have been found to be sick much less frequently and to have a more robust immune system. This is due to their regular exposure to frigid temperatures, which strengthens their immunity.
Sleeping in a chilly room is a well-known sleep-improvement tactic, but reducing the temperature can also assist in enhancing your sleep quality, allowing you to fall asleep faster and then transition into deeper, more restorative, slow-wave sleep. However, avoid taking a cold shower within two hours of going to bed because, unlike a warm bath, it will not relax you but will increase your alertness due to the previously described effects of norepinephrine.
Athletes have traditionally utilized cold water after a workout to relieve pain and muscular tightness, and there is now scientific data to back this up. According to research, soaking in cold water for brief periods of time can help reduce muscle soreness later on. According to medical experts, the reason cold water relieves pain is that it causes your blood vessels to constrict. This decreases blood flow to the region, which aids in the reduction of swelling and inflammation.
The effects of cold exposure on boosting immunity and reducing inflammation also contribute to pain relief. This is because when areas of the body are inflamed, they become uncomfortable, sensitive, and painful. Furthermore, when we are unwell owing to lowered immunity, we frequently experience discomfort. So, instead of relying on painkillers or anti-inflammatory drugs, why not try an ice-cold bath or cold shower as a preventative measure? We’ve also shown that cold exposure increases the synthesis of norepinephrine, which is fantastic because this neurotransmitter also helps to reduce pain.
Boosts weight loss
Brown fat is a form of fat present in minute quantities in the human body. Brown fat, instead of white fat, which stores extra energy, burns calories to create heat. Brown fat gets its name from its color, which is caused by a high concentration of mitochondria. These microscopic organs, known as organelles, create energy from body fat and glucose, which helps to keep the body warm when exposed to low temperatures. According to research, continuous exposure to low temperatures might increase the quantity of brown fat in the body. As a result, the metabolism can be boosted, and weight loss can occur. So, if you want to lose a few pounds, consider taking a plunge in ice-cold water!
Improves insulin sensitivity
Regularly swimming in cold water has also been shown to enhance insulin sensitivity. Many overweight persons are insulin-resistant, thus, this helps with weight loss and lowers the risk of diabetes.
Cold water immersion can help decrease inflammation in conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. This is due to the brain and spinal cord being protected from inflammation. Regular exposure to cold water, such as swimming in open water or ice baths, raises cortisol levels of melanocortin adrenocorticotropin. These two hormones work on immune cells to reduce inflammation.
As we’ve seen, exposure to the cold can reduce stress, improve sleep, help you lose weight, and boost your immunity. All of these contribute to increased lifespan by improving your health.
Although having a cold shower or soaking in an ice bath may not seem attractive and is certainly out of many people’s comfort zones, there are several advantages to your mental and physical health. You can do it in just a few minutes a day to reap many benefits and live a longer, healthier life.
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- Norepinephrine (Noradrenaline) https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22610-norepinephrine-noradrenaline
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- How to support “The lymphatic system” https://www.superpharmacy.com.au/blog/how-to-support-the-lymphatic-system
- Monocytes from familial cold autoinflammatory syndrome patients are activated by mild hypothermia https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4322003/
- What Does It Mean If Your Monocyte Levels Are High? https://www.healthline.com/health/monocytes-high
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- Effects of Cold Water Immersion on Muscle Oxygenation During Repeated Bouts of Fatiguing Exercise https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4706272/
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- What is brown fat? How is it different from other body fat? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/expert-answers/brown-fat/faq-20058388
- How brown fat improves metabolism https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-brown-fat-improves-metabolism
- Cold Water Swimming Beneficially Modulates Insulin Sensitivity in Middle-Aged Individuals https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26966319/
- Effects of long-term whole-body cold exposures on plasma concentrations of ACTH, beta-endorphin, cortisol, catecholamines and cytokines in healthy females https://web.archive.org/web/20190222070658id_/http://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/3559/24275c0178ebf419287d87c1f90be68bc589.pdf
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