By guest blogger: Makenzie Musgrove
The cold has always been something for which we have been conditioned to prepare. Living in Michigan means we are no strangers to these plunging temperatures, but still the cold has often been something most people dread, just like any other ‘bad’ weather. However, despite our quarrels with the cold, being exposed to frigid environments can and will do some amazing things for our bodies. By learning to use the cold, and overcoming the mental conditioning that cold is bad, we are able to change our relationship with cold temperatures. It has been proven that exposure to certain lower temperatures may actually increase productivity in our cardiovascular and endocrine systems (which directly influence our hormone levels), as well as help facilitate faster recovery following intense workouts. If we can enact change in our behaviors and mentality about the cold, we can directly improve our overall health and well-being.
If you have ever jumped into a cold pool before, you most likely know that deep gasp of air you take when you touch the cold water. This is called a cold water gasp, or a gasp reflex and only happens when skin comes in contact with cold water (under 70 degrees Fahrenheit). This initial shock causes the body to send signals to the brain indicating that you are submerged in water. It is a direct autonomic survival response making sure your body has enough air and energy to save it from drowning. These signals improve alertness, mental clarity and energy levels. Endorphins are also released which are also known as ‘feel good hormones’. In clinical trials it has been shown that taking a cold shower, even for just a few minutes a week, can help alleviate depressive symptoms as a result of this endorphin release. The skin has a high
concentration of cold receptors which stimulate the peripheral nerve endings in the brain which create anti-depressive effects. Because of this short adrenaline and endorphin burst, taking cold showers can even help you sleep better at night.
Not only can cold exposure improve your nervous system, it can improve your physicality, as well. The use of cold therapies with athletes for muscle recovery has become a lot more prevalent over the past few years. Studies have shown that the use of cold therapy, such as ice baths, cryotherapy chambers, and even just cold showers often reduce a lot of negative side effects of post physical performance. The cold can act as a mild analgesic (pain reducer) on muscles post workout. The cold reduces inflammation and improves the cardiovascular system within your muscles, both of which are directly related to the rate of muscle recovery. The Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies conducted a study in 2019 which showed that over time those who used cold therapy as part of their exercise recovery program increased their physical performance exponentially faster than those in the control who were not exposed to intentional cold therapy. Another study published in The Journal of Athletic Therapy and Training details cold’s effect on delayed onset muscle soreness. Cold exposure after an intense workout helps ease the perceived pain from that delayed onset muscle soreness, which is muscle pain you feel after working out. The feeling usually occurs 24-48 hours post workout and with cold treatment the perceived pain decreased by over half.
Overall, by pushing ourselves to overcome our mental aversion to cold and by embracing the cold as something that can help heal not only your body, but your mind as well, you can make a positive impact on your overall well being. The few things mentioned here only scratch the surface of what the cold can do for you. So next time you take a shower (if you are brave enough to try), set a timer for a minute, count to three, turn the temperature gauge as cold as it will go and focus on slow, deep, and full breathing. Pay attention to how you feel right after that shower and throughout your day. Embrace the cold!
Hof, W. (2020). The Wim Hof method: Activate your full human potential. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.
Doeringer, J. R., Colas, M., Peacock, C., Gatens, D. R. 2018. The effects of postexercise cooling on muscle performance and soreness perception. International Journal of Athletic Therapy and Training, 23(2), 73-76.
Didehdar, D., Sobhani, S. 2019. The effect of cold-water immersion on physical performance, Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 23(2), 258-26
Nicholas Garman, LMT NSCA-CPT
|Kalamazoo Athletic Wellness||
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