WHAT IS COLD EXPOSURE THERAPY ALL ABOUT?
The question I get the most often is “why do you like cold so much,” or “is that good for you?” when people see me running without a shirt in -20 degrees, or diving into a fresh pile of snow for a snow bath.
To the second question, YES! Cold exposure is extremely good for the body, both physically and mentally. But that’s not why I like the cold.
The Physical Benefits of Cold
Before I get into the reasons why I like cold so much, let me outline some of the physical benefits that cold exposure can offer.
Routine exposure to cold has been studied to provide the following benefits:
Decreased inflammation. This makes sense in the intuitive sense that essentially you're giving your body an ice pack for a certain period of time. However, the decrease in inflammation over the long term of consistent cold exposure is likely due to some of the other physical effects, such as increasing circulation, and modulating metabolism.
Increased circulation. Exposing the body to cold promotes a lot of activity within the vascular system, as it pushes blood to the surface of the skin to warm itself. There is more to this, but increased circulation means tissues receive more blood, which means more nutrients/oxygen.
Increased lung function. Cold is known to increased oxygenation of the blood as well as increase the depth of breathing.
Increased metabolism. Exposing the body to cold increases the body’s ability to burn fat.
Regulates blood sugar. Exposure to cold can help regulate the body’s blood sugar over time.
Tones the nervous system. It is thought that exposing the body to cold helps tone the nervous system. This may be due to the increased likelihood of deep breathing during cold exposure, but likely is related to the amount of awareness which a person has to the experience of the cold, and the sensation of cold within the body.
Improves immune function. Cold exposure increases white blood cell count, as well as lymphatic flow.
The Mental Benefits of Cold
Closer to the reason why I love cold so much are it’s mental and emotional benefits.
Exposure to cold is known to elevate mood. It excites the nervous system, much like working out, but it also is thought to increase dopamine in the brain. So, taking a cold shower, or shoveling the snow in shorts tends to leave one feeling invigorated and alive.
NOTE: There is a huge assumption that must be understood, and that is we’re talking about being exposed to cold, NOT GETTING COLD. There is a big, BIG difference. You should never become chilled when using cold as a therapy, or attempting to reap health benefits from cold exposure.
All of the physical benefits listed above, also play their role in increasing mental clarity, especially as circulation is increased to the brain. As blood sugar is regulated better, energy levels normalize, and increased metabolism also leaves us feeling healthier and more energized.
In addition to these mental benefits, cold exposure also has the tendency to increase will power and discipline. This makes sense, as most of us will find it difficult to decide and commit to the discomfort of cold when we’re comfortable in our warm houses most of the time. As discipline is increased in one area of our lives it's more likely we will find discipline in other areas as well.
And this leads into WHY I LOVE COLD.
What Cold Exposure REALLY is All About
The cold is one of our most basic and primal teachers, and learning how to listen to it gives us keen insight to our physical and mental state, as well as our relationship with discomfort. This relationship with cold is one of the primary elements of the warrior archetype, and there is absolutely no better way to build vitality, and inner chi than to practice cold exposure.
In a world that exists in a perpetual state of comfort, and has the inclination to feel sorry for itself whenever this comfort comes into question, cold exposure offers a real solution for those of us who are trying to build discipline, strength of character, and a sense of healthy masculinity (and this goes for women as well).
The great thing about cold exposure is that it is an individual experience that has nothing to do with aggression or violence, yet it absolutely allows us to touch those primal aspects of being human.
I don't think that there is anything better for a man's health than hard manual labor, outside, in the cold weather (it’s great for a woman’s health too, I just won’t say it’s the “best” thing). The opportunity to be physically active, and overcome the primal elements of cold weather is something that ignites the masculine flame within us. There is an element of discipline, and fortitude that is built into these circumstances which is difficult to learn, or teach, without direct exposure to discomfort and the need to persevere through something.
These are merely words. The benefit of cold exists in your own experience with it, your own awareness of how your body responds to it, and your ability to control your own impulses to run from discomfort, and instead sit, and learn, perhaps even enjoy. This is one of the most important lessons that we have to learn as humans, who have lost their warrior spirit.