Physical and Mental Benefits of Cold Therapy

Physical and Mental Benefits of Cold Therapy

Skip to the finish for important take-aways

Resilience Part I:

Cold exposure is a well known practice of body hardening, one which increases tolerance against stressors and diseases. You’re likely to have heard rumors surrounding varying methods of practicing this form of therapy, whether ice-bath immersions, cryotherapy, even cold showers. If you’re confused by these options, or their claims of superior benefits, the good news is that there is no right or wrong. You can rest assured that you won’t need a tub of ice or to spend good money on cryotherapy services, in order to access the shared host of mental and physical benefits. The latest research instead points to simply a few minutes in a cold shower.

Colloquially known as “The Scottish Shower” or the “James Bond Shower,” using cold as a form of resilience building is a centuries-old practice. In fact, the father of medicine, Hippocrates, was known to employ ‘the cold’ in the fight against numerous illnesses. Under the lens of modern medicine, therapeutic results from cold conditioning range from heightened mental clarity, diminished anxiety and depression, and improved cardiovascular function.

How do cold showers work in the body?

As complex as the body may be, the physiological response to cold can be thought of in a few simple ways. On one hand, cold temperatures trigger the body to shiver. This is an autonomous response which influences and regulates our neuroendocrine system to maintain core temperature, and triggers our fight-or-flight response. By exposing the body to a controlled stressor, like a cold shower, positive hormonal changes occur: cortisol begins to decrease, and soon after we become physically relaxed. Interestingly, this cold-response also improves the body’s ability to create, store, and metabolize brown-fat. This healthy type of fat is formulated especially for quick energy, and is at least one indicator of metabolic flexibility.

The man who climbed Everest in shorts and shoes

In recent years, a Dutchman, Wim Hof, has re-invigorated a growing appreciation behind the physiology of the cold. Among his claims to fame — he climbed Mt. Everest with no special clothing or equipment, wearing only shorts and shoes. While at first-glance, his endurance of the cold appears supernatural, or even heroic, he in fact teaches others this self-proclaimed ‘Wim Hof Method.’ Through meditation and this breathing technique, he encourages others to develop similar resilience, to harness the health benefits of the cold

Bear in mind, that physical conditioning and breathing manipulation, like in these cases, greatly require patience, dedicated practice, and a strong personal groundwork to one’s own limitations. As Wim Hof says, “when you are armed with focus and determination, you are ready to explore and eventually master your own body and mind." To him, the practice of cold resilience training is a practical avenue towards health, happiness, and greater personal power. If we didn’t know any better, we’d think he was talking about our Daily Ritual matcha.

How Does Cold Water Make My Brain Stronger?

As seen on Found My Fitness, Dr. Rhonda Patrick talks about “Cold Shocking the Body,” demonstrating that ice baths and cold-showers trigger an increase in norepinephrine released into the blood, a hormone which amongst its many functions, works to calm you down. It also can create positive changes in mood (particularly effective against depression), vigilance, focus, and attention. Through various cold-shock therapies, two other hormones, beta-endorphin and noradrenaline, are also activated in the brain. The latter of which is commonly used in many prescription antidepressants, yet naturally here without any side effects. In addition, researchers at the University of Osaka found that participants who practiced cold-showering had a dramatic reduction in the stress hormone cortisol, a change comparable to that observed in daily matcha drinkers.

The Bottom Line - Feel the Cold.

Those who work to make cold-showers a habit, begin to feel the physiological changes. Some already mentioned, these great benefits include improved cognitive and mental health, weight loss, brown-fat activation, healthy aging, sleep, immunity, and even fertility in men (many of the same benefits are shared by Sauna practice).

So, if you’re ready to include this ancient practice in your day, try it first with the James Bond approach: Start with steaming hot water, and then shift to freezing cold as fast as you can.

Also, don't forget that the L-theanine in matcha encourages the release of GABA (a pain-relieving neurotransmitter) which will help you bear the brunt of those freezing temps.

Grab a bowl before you jump in!