This past summer I moved my family from sunny Southern California to Wisconsin. Rest assured there were no shortage of comments from our friends and family when we broke the news. “Its cold there!”, “I hope you survive the winter!”, and “You better like snow!” While we might have had our reasons for moving, choosing a colder climate wasn’t necessarily high on our list of priorities. However, after nearly two months of sub-50 degree weather and the threat of still colder winter months ahead of us, I can safely say that I have embraced the cold in ways that have far surpassed my own expectations. I have learned to not only tolerate the cold, but dare I say it, to love the cold!
Fear the Cold?
We’ve all either had or known parents (heck, maybe you are that parent?!) who have irrationally bundled up their children with heavy coats, hats, and scarves to avoid catching a cold. But the truth is that having a weaker vascular system might have ironically made us and our children weak and susceptible to illness. We cover up in warm clothes, but the clothes have desensitize our vascular system (that beautifully intricate system delivering rich oxygenated blood throughout your body). When the vascular system is performing at optimal levels the tissues will expand and contract, enhancing the muscle tone of your veins and arteries.1
What Is Hormesis?
Hormesis is a fancy Greek word for that old saying “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” Not all stress is bad. In fact, we need stress. But for stress to have a beneficial effect you have to control the timing and dose of stress.
Our bodies were created to strengthen up with hormeses (e.g.: heat, sunlight, cold, physical activity, and even famine). These things can harm you at high intensity or for prolonged durations, but in small doses, they make you stronger by stimulating an adaptive response and rejuvenating cellular processes. Remember how the Princess Bride’s Wesley developed a tolerance to the deadly Iocane powder that eventually became the demise of foolish Vizzini?! Hormeses is kinda like that - small doses, over time, can potentially make you stronger, even immune.
This hermetic phenomenon not only exists in fiction. Research suggests that these responses help you live longer, reduce oxidative stress, improve your immune system, and boost your mood. These are fantastic biohacking techniques to make us more resilient. The best news is that you can do them for free and even while at home under lockdown.
Cold therapy is just one type of hormesis that reduces inflammation and increases cellular antioxidants.2 Although many people associate being cold with getting sick, repeated but brief cold exposure strengthens your immune system in the long run.
The medical community is increasingly driven by pharmaceutical solutions and few would recommend this method. But it’s simple, it works, and it’s free!
Once you’ve trained yourself with cold exposure you can freely move about outdoors in nothing more than a t-shirt and shorts (scaring your neighbors, and even your own family no doubt!). Within a few minutes, you won’t feel as cold which is an indication that your vascular system has adapted.3
Healing With Cold?
Once you become cold-adapted, cold therapy actually invigorates your mood, cognitive function,4,5 activates the vagus nerve, boosting your relaxation response and strengthening the nervous system against stress.6
Cold exposure may decrease arthritic inflammation, activate brown adipose tissue (which improves mitochondrial functioning, increases metabolism and thermoregulation), increases glutathione (a major liver antioxidant), and stimulates the immune system.7 Cold exposure also improves insulin sensitivity8 which helps with weight loss and overall health.
If you’re not unfamiliar with Wim How (AKA the Iceman) you should look him up. He has astonishingly shown how he has used cold (and breathing) to completely stop immune system inflammation, even when he intentionally injected himself with a bacterial toxin!
If you are new to cold therapy, it is important to gradually build up to it rather than jumping into an ice bath for the first time. Immersing yourself in ice cold water or exposing your body to below zero temperatures in a whole body cryotherapy chamber might sound like torture. And it is! But it also works! Taking a cold shower is an easy, safe and effective way to introduce yourself to cold exposure in the comfort of your own home.
Here are just a few benefits from a cold shower:
- Strengthen immunity
- Boost your energy
- Improve circulation
- No cold hands and feet
- Increase metabolism
- Increase mental resilience
- Better physical performance
- Faster recovery
The immediate impact of cold water on our bodies can be uncomfortable, if not painful. So it is completely understandable why some of you might be hesitant or flat out reluctant to subject yourselves to that discomfort. It is quite unpleasant at first, but with repeated exposure to cold your body will adjust. Initially the cold water may solicit a cold shock response, or a gasp reflex, which is completely natural reaction.9
How To Take A Cold Shower
- Initially it can be very challenging voluntarily stand beneath cold water. Nearly everyone feels shocked the first time. So it helps if you're prepared.
- Begin with a soothing hot shower. Allow the warm water to cascade over your neck and shoulders opening up your veins and gradually increasing your blood flow.
- Relax your shoulders and breathe slowly. Consciously become aware of your body and how the water feels flowing over you.
- Turn off the hot water, and turn on the cold.
- Begin with your feet, then move on to your hands, wrists, arms, face and so on. Breathe consciously as you introduce each new body part and focus on a slow exhale. Gently massage and rub your body as the cold water washes over you. Try to wash your entire body in the cold water and enjoy the tingly feeling.
- Start slowly. Begin with fifteen seconds of cold at the end of your warm shower and then gradually work towards extending that time to 30 seconds, one minute, and even for a few minutes.
WARNING: Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that since some cold can be good, that colder and longer must be better. Keep your cold exposures brief. Over-exposure to cold for long periods of time could potentially increase your risk of respiratory infection.10 So be careful. And have fun!