#4 - Cold Exposure & Healing

What has cold exposure got to do with Chiropractic? Well we think quite a bit. Let me explain... As chiropractors, we often see conditions like back pain, sciatica, and migraine to name a few. 

We might ‘treat’ those conditions with things like adjustments, muscle activation techniques, mobilisations and cold laser therapy. And when appropriate, we might also recommend specific lifestyle changes.

In our Adapt-ability Workshop, we discuss the potential benefits of Nine Lifestyle Interventions - Cold Exposure is one of them.

These lifestyle interventions don’t treat your headaches or back pain directly. Rather, they aim to improve the adaptability of your autonomic nervous system (ANS), potentially helping your body heal more effectively.

It gets down to a common underlying thread between the conditions mentions above or even things like fibromyalgia and some forms of arthritis. These conditions can continue over a lifetime because of chronic inflammation. Put another way, chronic inflammation can often be an underlying causal feature in these conditions (1).

Inflammation is a normal process of the body. If our skin is ever cut, specialised cells kick into action to create ‘Inflammation’. This involves defending against any foreign invader that may breach our skin, removing damaged tissues and begin repaire. A scab may appear, then all being well, the skin will look as good as new a few weeks later.

With chronic inflammation however, the process doesn’t resolve, it keeps going. And unlike the cut example, chronic systemic inflammation can affect the whole body.

Chronic inflammation has now been linked to dysfunction of our autonomic nervous system. It appears that certain social, environmental and lifestyle factors can promote systemic chronic inflammation (1).

 

What are the Benefits of Cold Exposure?

There are two fascinating benefits of cold exposure:

1.   Production of 'Brown Fat' & Increased Metabolism

A new study published in the Nature journal found that exposure to cold temperatures may transform the type of fat we form in our bodies – from white to ‘brown fat’  (2). Adults apparently have mostly white fat, which can be problematic as we know. Babies however, have brown fat, and they use this to crank up their metabolism to get warm. They don’t have the muscle capacity to shiver; instead they rely on this metabolic powerhouse know as brown fat.

In one study, subjects who were exposed to cold stress had an 80% increase in their metabolism over “warm” levels (3).

It appears the process of cold exposure may help fat burning.

2.   ANS Adaptability

One of the key reasons I started using cold exposure was to improve my heart rate variability (HRV), which is an important measure of how well our ANS is working.

Because I monitor my own HRV levels, I was interested to see whether cold exposure would have any impact on my result. It helped improve mine significantly!

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Alan's Cold Exposure Journey

One of my friends told me of his success with cold exposure after he had attended an event with Dutchman, Wim Hof (see below for more information).

My friend had a freezer filled with water and salt, and kept the water at 0-1 degrees (celcius). I never imagined I’d end up doing the same.  After seeing Wim Hof in action online adn in documentaries, I finally bought a freezer myself (Westinghouse 290L Chest Freezer). The dimensions are 90cm H, 105.5cm W, 73.5cm D).

It just fits me comfortably. I’m about 183cm tall and 80kg. It's probably better for the water to cover your shoulders but I’m very happy with this size and capacity.

I also purchased this electric temperature controller which you plug the freezer into. The controller automatically switches the freezer off when it gets to the set temperature - I've set mine to 6 degrees celcius. Once the freezer hits the set temperature, it actually uses very little power... It might only be powering for two hours each day.

Personal Benefits of Cold Exposure

  • One of the biggest benefits I have found with cold exposure is the ability to reset your mood. If I'm tired or feeling lethargic, it instantly wakes me up and energises me.
  • It's also fantastic to help with meditation. I jump in the freezer for 2-4 minutes before I meditate at lunch time, and it improves my focus.
  • It's also really interesting that I can sit in the cold water and feel my body switch on and adapt much more efficiently.

It really is remarkable how adaptable our body is!

If you'd like information about setting yourself up with a freezer, don't hesitate to contact me - Alan.

      Who is Wim Hof?

      Dutchman, Wim Hof (born 20 April 1959), also known as The Iceman, is an extreme athlete noted for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures.

      Wim holds several Guinness World Records for swimming under ice and prolonged full-body contact with ice, and still holds the record for a barefoot half-marathon on ice and snow.

      He's also know for his Wim Hof Method (WHM), a combination of frequent cold exposure, breathing techniques and meditation.

      He really is a fascinating person... it's worth having a read of his philosophy about cold exposure. They get people onto a cold shower challenge to start.

      Take a look at his website - https://www.wimhofmethod.com

      You can also join a  Facebook group to find 1000’s of people doing the same thing - https://www.facebook.com/groups/chestfreezercoldplunge/

        Adapt-Ability Workshop

        If you’re interested in learning more about how to improve your adaptability, come to one of our regular Adapt-Ability Workshops (offered online during COVID-19).

        • We look at how to improve the function of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and make it more adaptive to our life.
        • We discuss how our genetic makeup has largely come from generations as a hunter gather. During this period we required a far greater adaptive range to the elements. There is constant exposure, sometime food scarcity, a diverse amount of required movement etc. According to a growing number of research papers, our ANS ‘likes’ certain stressors such as cold exposure to be healthy! (4).
        • We'll show you how to proactively manage your current and future health through simple and measurable strategies, including measuring your heart rate variability (HRV).
        • We’ll help you apply 9 Lifestyle Interventions, including cold exposure, that can be adapted to suit your individual situation.
        • You’ll also learn how to measure the effectiveness of those interventions on your overall wellbeing.

         


        DISCLAIMER: All content is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

        We don’t suggest rapid immersion into cold water. That may cause dangerous, and even fatal changes in the breath and heart rates, known as the cold shock response.

        Cold showers are a great place to start.


        References:

        1. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-019-0675-0?fbclid=IwAR0vgt3XOFvTmN8Yt_idJYY82NewQMkJafuGZBRpXs0HICW2En6JvXXbZJg
        2. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-23267-9
        3. https://www.jci.org/articles/view/60433
        4. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2016/6935123/