Chilling Out: The Top 8 Health Benefits of Cold Recovery
The cold presents a very unique opportunity for our sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, freeze). Physiology is incredible, and an analogy that I heard a while ago pretty much sums up how we teach cold training.
When we watch animals like a Lion hunting an antelope, we really have no way to see any differences physiologically with what's happening to either animal. Even though one is the hunter and one is being hunted. The difference between the lion and the antelope is that the lion wants to be there, the antelope does not.
In the realm of cold training, it’s the same. The cold will always be cold. It’s your choice if you want to experience what it has to offer or not. Be the lion.
The Core Benefits of Cold Exposure Training
Cold exposure benefits are numerous and well-documented, affecting both physical and mental aspects of your body. Some of the most prolific benefits aren’t ones you’ll see, but rather feel. You can’t see the physiological changes to the lion as it stalks it’s antelope prey, but if you’re the one doing the hunting, you’ll definitely feel different! Here’s what you can expect from continued cold exposure therapy:
Boosts Human Growth Hormone
Boosts Immune system (up to 300%)
Increases testosterone in men (up to 490%)
Increases sperm count
Reduces swelling in joints
Burns brown fat (adipose) in body
Norepinephrine increases (up to 200-300%)
Unpleasant, But Effective
Cold exposure training presents a unique situation. Namely, it’s not very pleasant, very quickly. But it feels so incredible when we get done!
Why is that? Well, it turns out there are real mechanisms to cold adaptation—those of the nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine, and muscular systems. In shocking these systems with a frigid ice bath or exposure to cold, we trigger a response that’s usually reserved for our most dire situations. The body’s response is the trifecta of optimization we need to survive:
Increase metabolic rate to keep the core warm (protect what is important), and turn up the furnace internally with the release of free form fatty acids (FFAs) and glucose.
Restrict blood vessels and capillaries in the extremities (leave what’s not important). In this way, the body teaches elasticity beyond just expanding in heat.
When we increase metabolic rate, we’re also asking our body to vasodilate (decrease blood pressure). This allows the systems above to work incredibly well.
Cold Training Takes Persistence
Cold training isn’t a one-stop shop or something that yields lasting effects with a single exposure. It requires time and patience. Likewise, nobody can sit in cold water for extended periods without some form of acclimation to it. Effects and acclimation come with exposure. As the old saying goes, “try, try again!”
Start small, maybe 0:30 – 1:00 for a couple of rounds with warm water or heat (sauna) between. Then, sit longer in water that’s colder, incrementally increasing time and lowering temperature. It won’t be long before you become the master of your cold domain. You’ll become the lion.