Take the Plunge with Cold Exposure Therapy
In a world where cozy blankets and warm cups of tea reign supreme, the idea of intentionally braving the cold may sound scary — but cold exposure therapy is a popular practice among athletes, scientists, and health enthusiasts alike.
Cold exposure therapy uses cold temperatures (from freezing temps to 50 degrees Fahrenheit) to cool the body’s tissues and provide therapeutic benefits. And it’s not just another fitness fad: cold exposure therapy has been practiced for centuries, from the icy waters of Scandinavia to modern-day American labs.
Cold exposure therapy can be done anywhere, but it’s usually practiced in:
In this blog, we’ll unpack the science, safety, and benefits of cold exposure therapy so you can consider adding it to your routine. Are you ready to take the plunge?
Cold exposure may seem simple, but the science behind it is much more complex.
When your body is exposed to cold, your blood vessels narrow (in a process called vasoconstriction) and decrease inflammation around the muscular tissue.
In the process, your muscles can relax and fight off soreness — hence why you see professional athletes taking ice baths after a big game.
In addition to relaxing the muscles, cold exposure therapy can also aid in fat loss.
Your body is made up of a type of fat called brown adipose tissue (brown fat). When exposed to cold temperatures, brown fat activates thermogenesis.
Thermogenesis is a chemical process that keeps the body warm by burning excess energy and sugar — which means burning fat.
In simpler terms, when you take a dip in an ice bath, you make your body work harder to warm up, and you lose excess fat in the process.
But it isn’t just about muscles and fat: cold exposure therapy offers many more benefits.
Per UCLA Health, cold exposure therapy can:
While cold exposure therapy has many benefits, it isn’t without its risks. Some of these risks include:
With these risks in mind, it’s crucial to approach cold exposure therapy with caution, especially for individuals with existing health conditions.
Consulting a healthcare professional — like a doctor, physical therapist, or even your local pharmacist — before beginning any cold exposure regimen can minimize your risks.
Don’t have a pharmacy, or looking for a new one? Check out our Pharmacy Finder to find one in your area.
If you decide to take the plunge into cold exposure therapy, there are a few things you should know first.
As mentioned previously, the three most common ways to practice cold exposure therapy are
1. to sit in an ice bath
2. to take a cold shower
3. to visit a cryotherapy chamber.
For most people, cold showers are the most accessible option.
Most people won’t have access to a thermometer when taking cold showers or ice baths, so getting an exact temperature isn’t necessarily the best measure here.
Instead, experts like Dr. Andrew Huberman — Stanford University scientist and host of the Huberman Lab Podcast — recommend submerging yourself in water that is “uncomfortably cold yet safe to stay in for a few minutes.”
Use your own discretion to find a temperature that challenges you but doesn’t put you in danger.
Dr. Huberman recommends practicing cold exposure therapy for 11 minutes every week — not 11 minutes per session, but rather, 2-4 sessions lasting 1-5 mins each across the week.
To enhance the effectiveness of cold exposure therapy, Dr. Huberman also recommends letting your body reheat on its own. In other words, when you jump out of the shower, try drying off on your own instead of using a towel.
By taking these steps, you can achieve maximum benefits from cold exposure therapy.
Research shows that the best time to take the plunge is in the mornings. In a recent study, exposure to cold in the morning is more effective at activating brown fat heat production (thermogenesis) than any other time of day.
Plus, an early morning plunge can fire off neurotransmitters that improve your mood for the rest of the day. So before you head out to the office, take some time for a quick dip into the shower. Your body (and mind) will thank you for it.
Cold exposure therapy is an easy and effective way to enhance your fitness routine. While it may be uncomfortable at first, braving the cold can improve your mood, encourage fat loss, and decrease inflammation in your body.
Make sure you follow the right guidelines when trying cold exposure therapy – no more than 11 minutes per week in a safe, controlled environment, and never colder than you can tolerate.
By taking these steps, you can keep yourself safe and see the benefits of cold exposure therapy firsthand.
What are you waiting for? Your ice bath awaits you.