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  • Writer's pictureDr. Nick

Why You Should Expose Yourself To Cold Temperatures

Many people hate the cold, and for good reason, it’s stressful! In primitive-man times, cold exposure could often mean death by hypothermia. No wonder we learned to avoid the cold! But most of us are no longer threatened by cold to the extent we once were. We have adequate shelter, clothing, access to fire and warm water, and in extreme cases, hospital intervention.

Many people are unaware of the term “eustress,” which literally means “good stress.” This is the body’s response to something that, in small or controlled amounts, is beneficial. Exercise is a form of good stress. Fasting and cold exposure are other forms of good stress, providing increased health benefits through the body’s response system. Let’s investigate cold exposure benefits, from an article reference by Dr. Rhonda Patrick, and how to attain them.

Cold Exposure Benefits:

1. Cold exposure increases the release of norepinephrine into the bloodstream, “anywhere from 2 to 5- fold,” meaning 200 to 500 percent! “[Norepinephrine] is involved in vigilance, focus, attention, and mood,” as Dr. Patrick explains. She goes on further to say “norepinephrine also has other profound effects on pain, metabolism, and inflammation.” Additionally, “decreased norepinephrine…is associated with inattention, decreased focus and cognitive ability, low energy, and poor mood.” We can see that this one hormone/neurotransmitter has some powerful effects!

2. “Cold exposure improves mood [and] may be used to prevent and treat depression.”

3. Increases a group of genes knows as ‘cold shock proteins’ (CSP). Also increases RBM3, a CSP found in the brain which is associated with neuronal re-generation and preventing brain degeneration, which means it can influence memory, attention, and learning.

4. Can improve lipid metabolism and fat burning.

5. Has immune boosting properties. “Long-term cold-water immersion (3 times a week for 6 weeks) in healthy males was shown to increase lymphocyte numbers.”

6. Antioxidant properties. “Activates very potent genetic antioxidant systems which are exponentially more powerful than supplemental antioxidants.”

How do we attain some of these proposed benefits?

Start getting exposed to cold temperatures. The easiest (or at least most convenient) way is to take a cold shower or bath. The colder the water or air, the less time you need to spend in it. The article gives some evidence on desired temperature and time:

“[C]old­water immersion at 68°F (20°C) for 1 hour does not appear to activate norepinephrine release whereas 1 hour at 57°F (14°C) increased it by 530% and also increased dopamine by 250%.”

“Cold water at 40°F (4.4°C) for 20 seconds…3 times a week for 12 weeks” can increase norepinephrine by 200 to 300 percent.

Nobody said it would be easy! But that’s the far end of the spectrum. Instead of boosting norepinephrine levels by 300 percent, even a 50 percent increase can yield benefits. This is more manageable, and can possibly be achieved by taking a cool-cold shower for as little as 2 to 4 minutes just a few times a week.

One method I’ve found that works well when planning to take a cold shower, is to start with cool/mildly warm water and drop the temperature gradually. This allows the body time to acclimate and is not quite as shocking. Eventually you reach the coldest setting and try to stay in for 1 to 2 minutes. Don’t forget to put your head under. It feels amazing when finished, as if almost instantly norepinephrine is rushing through the blood and neurons are being regenerated in the brain! Give it a shot! If you don’t reach the recommended temperature or time intervals to gain these proposed benefits (that have been scientifically proven), well that’s okay, as long as your trying to challeng and stress your body in a good way.

Summary of Benefits (when reaching the appropriate temperature and time):

- Improved attention, focus, and mood

- Decreased pain and inflammation

- Improved metabolism and fat burning activity

- Improved immune system

**If you want to read more in depth about #coldwaterimmersion, check out the full article:

Dr. Nick specializes in human movement and performance, helping individuals live more active, pain-free lifestyles!


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