The body has adapted for thousands of years to overcome physical adversities and weather extreme circumstances – escaping a predator, going a length of time without food, and migrating to climates suitable for survival. Humans have also evolved to experience drastic shifts in temperature, reacting physiologically to heat and cold by either sweating to cool off or constricting to keep warm. Over time, these adaptive reactions have primed the body at a cellular level to thrive after adversity when survival is at stake. More recently, the benefits of exposing the body to stressful situations have become clearer.
One popular therapy, cold therapy has become a primary strategy to improve health and longevity among biohackers and those interested in alternative approaches to health and wellness. Cold exposure, including cold water therapy, ice baths, and cryotherapy, has emerged onto the health and wellness scene, boasting numerous health benefits, with the scientific backing to support it. Is cold water therapy worth including in your routine?
What is cold water therapy?
Cold water therapy is a technique that has been used for centuries to promote health and longevity. Cold water therapy can help improve circulation, reduce inflammation, enhance immune function, improve mental health, and is a significant factor in extending longevity. Many factors contribute to longevity, such as genetics, lifestyle, diet, and environmental factors. Cold water therapy is one factor that has been shown to promote longevity by putting the body through a process called hormesis. Hormesis is the process where the body is exposed to a short burst of stress and triggers a response that can enhance health, slow aging, and help the body become more resilient to future stress. Hormesis has been shown to increase the release of antioxidants, help DNA repair, and reduce oxidative stress. Stressors that trigger hormesis include intermittent fasting, high-intensity interval training, and extreme temperature exposure, among others. In the case of cold exposure, exposing the body to extremely cold temperatures activates various physiological responses that can help improve health.
The benefits of cold water therapy
One of the primary benefits of cold water therapy is improved circulation. When your body is exposed to cold water, your blood vessels constrict, which helps improve blood flow. This increased circulation can help improve the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your organs and tissues. Cold water therapy has also been shown to reduce inflammation. Inflammation is a natural response of the immune system to injury or infection. Cold water therapy can help reduce inflammation by activating the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response. In addition to improving circulation and reducing inflammation, cold water therapy has also been shown to enhance immune function. Exposure to cold water can help activate the body’s natural defense mechanisms, including increasing the production of white blood cells, which can help improve immune function and prevent illness. Finally, cold water therapy has been shown to have a positive effect on mental health. Exposure to cold water can help reduce stress and improve mood, which can help improve overall mental health and well-being. Ice plunging specifically has also been shown to reduce stress and anxiety by triggering the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.
How to incorporate cold therapy into your routine
Incorporating cold water therapy into your daily routine has been linked to improved health markers and can help extend longevity when done correctly. An easy way to expose the body to cold temperatures daily is by taking cold showers or submerging in an at-home ice bath. Ideally, the temperature of a cold water bath would be under 59o F and submersion would last for no more than a few minutes. Cryotherapy has also become a popular way to reap the benefits of cold exposure. This process involves stepping into a full-body chamber that emits subfreezing air to quickly drop the body’s temperature for typically no more than 2-3 minutes. Most people experience benefits like better sleep, more energy, and a lessening of joint pain after repeated sessions (1-2 per week) in a cryotherapy chamber.
Regardless of the approach, cold exposure can be a beneficial and natural alternative strategy for improving health if done safely and consistently. If you are curious about other natural and science-backed approaches to better health, connect with our team to learn from our highly trained providers more about our functional medicine approach to care. Schedule a Meet & Greet today to get started.