Healing & Optimizing Thru Cold Exposure

A man looking out of an ice hole while having an ice bath in a frozen lake

Immersed under the frigid water of an ice bath, I felt a wave of euphoric bliss- an intensely comforting experience for someone who had been battling anxiety and depression.

I felt a sense of feeling I hadn’t sensed in months. 

I wasn’t cold, in fact, I was quite warm. 

I was in an infinite state of stillness and wholeness.

I lost my perception of time.

As I emerged and dried off, all I could think was, wow, that was a profound experience.

But all I did was expose myself to the cold?

How could this simple but discomfortable ritual bring such an experience?

I invite you to read along to learn more about this phenomenon…

Why Cold Therapy?

In the modern-day, many of us live in controlled environments. We have HVAC systems in our homes and offices. We wear insulated clothing to stay comfortable and guard ourselves against the natural elements- while this is an excellent luxury of our time, many believe it has come with a great cost to our health as a collective society.

Our ancestors slept outside and naturally, battled the cold and heat without fans, HVAC, and specialty clothing. Through this exposure to the elements, although it sounds harsh, they evolved to live despite the conditions.

I’m not saying we should just throw all these comfortable devices away and go live outdoors year-round, I just hope to bring attention to what benefits cold exposure could bring through naturally stimulating and exercising your physiology, neurology, and psychology.

Potential Benefits from Cold Exposure

  • Reduced risk of cancer and dementia*
  • Boosted immune system*
  • Weight loss*
  • Increase longevity*
  • Increase energy and alertness*
  • Increase oxygen intake*
  • Relieves muscle soreness & helps with a faster recovery from injury*
  • Fights depression and anxiety*
    • Activates sympathetic nervous system
    • Sends an overwhelming number of signals to peripheral nerve endings in the brain
  • Activates your brains “blue spot” that produces more adrenaline*
  • Improves mood thru a boost “Bliss” chemicals like norepinephrine, dopamine, and oxytocin*

* This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. This information is meant to supplement current health care practices. It is advised to consult with your primary care physician before making any serious changes in your daily regimen.

Me in my deep freeze cold plunge

How can I use this?

There are many different methods, but at the root, cold therapy is actively choosing to expose yourself to the stimulation of frigid water for a specific duration of time to reap its plethora of benefits. 

Wim Hof, “The Ice Man” (the man who got me into cold exposure in the first place), states we have lost connection to the depth of our physiology due to the un-stimulating environments we spend most of our time in.

Our ancestors were actively adapting to hot and cold climates, and they didn’t have abundant mental health issues or all the lifestyle diseases we have today- is there a trend here?

I think it’s time we take a play out of our ancestor’s playbook and see what this cold exposure is all about! We can all tap into the Autonomic Nervous System through cold exposure and re-connect to the depths of our physiology- the way nature intended it to be.

Through this reintegration of our inner power- we can not only heal but thrive in the modern age with increased immunity, vitality, and longevity! Who doesn’t want that?

Cold exposure allows you to hack your adaptation response through a state called hormesis, in which the body thrives by adapting to adversity. The adversity is the cold water, and the adaptation is your body and mind’s positive response over time to the stimulation. (Anyone who has ever experienced cold therapy has felt this positive response)

When your body is startled by the temperature change, it responds by unleashing a ton of biochemical tricks it must deal with the sudden change- instantly improving your mood and well-being and revitalizing your energy (without that cup of coffee or energy drink).

Another fantastic thing that cold exposure helps us with is stress and anxiety. According to Gallup’s 2019 data on emotional states, over half of the American population experience stress during the day. This is 20% higher than the world average of 35%. Cold exposure does this by stimulating the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the “fight-or-flight” state, our natural stress mechanism rooted in the amygdala that helped our ancestors run away from sabertooth tigers. Now we have no sabertooth tigers, but the amygdala sends us into a fight or flight response whenever we are triggered by something in our personal or professional lives. It is working against us. Keeping us stressed out all the time, posing a danger to our health as modern statistics reveal that stress is at the root of almost all diseases.

So how does cold therapy help with stress and anxiety?

Cold therapy promotes a moderate state of stress that is beneficial to the experiencer called eustress if done correctly. When you actively choose to bring stress onto yourself- like jumping into a cold tub under 40 degrees, it agitates your body- your body is forced to adapt, level up, fire gene programs, and cellular recovery to fight back.

The cold builds your natural stress adaptation- so the next time you encounter a stressful situation, you will react differently, generally much more calm and relaxed- things that once triggered you will lose their influence over you! 

Let’s talk about some different methods…

  1. Cold shower
  2. Ice Bath
    1. Use ice in any form of tub, pool or barrel
    1. Build a DIY ice bath by retrofitting a deep freezer (the possibilities are endless if you are a DIYer looking to create your own ice bath).
    1. There are many consumer ice bath products out there on the market, but they are generally expensive, so be prepared to spend some coin to get one that works really well. I.e Morozoko Forge
  3. Cold Plunge
    1. Immersing yourself into a frigid pool, lake or body of water. I love doing this in the winter time!
  4. Cryotherapy Chamber
    1. An extremely cold room or chamber you step into for a few minutes.
Prepping an ice bath with water & ice in a kiddie pool

Which method should you start with?

I recommend starting with cold showers to anyone new to cold therapy. It’s super easy, quick, and will build your cold tolerance. The bad news is you’ll have to cut that warm water off at the end of the shower; the good news is you only need to start with about 15-30 seconds of cold-water exposure!

Try to do this every morning (Some people do it at night too-and it is known to aid in sleep) but just get in the habit of adding this short spurt of cold to your morning routine. It may be uncomfortable the first few times, but believe me, you will start to love the benefits it brings, and soon enough, a cold shower will be a crucial part of your day.

For those ready to bump it up a notch- start shooting for 1-3 minutes of cold water. When you first start out, one of the biggest things you will notice is you feel out of breath, and your breathing is sporadic.

You will quickly learn the power of breath control to calm the nervous system. It is apparent to me that the more your breath is calm and collective, the less cold the water becomes and the easier you can handle the intensity of the cold.

Wim Hof also recommends breathing exercises before cold exposure sessions to put you in a prime state, and help yield optimal benefits. You can find his exclusive breathing technique on YouTube, Spotify, or your preferred streaming platform.

The breath-work is very powerful, and I recommend trying it before taking the plunge!

Additional benefits worth mentioning

  • A feeling pure silence from within and out
  • Decreases levels of glutathione
  • Shiner hair and flawless skin
  • A feeling of power inside
  • Stimulation of your mind and body
  • A deep sense of feeling in your being
  • Strengthens the lymphatic systems and circulation
  • Builds your stress adaptation response
  • Strengthens your breath control
  • Builds mental toughness
  • Increases your capacity to shift your state
  • Increases your metabolic rate
  • Increases fertility
  • Helps the environment and costs less