Cutting edge neurosurgeons, nutrition researchers, NASA scientists, and business moguls use cold thermogenesis - should we all do it?
Here’s what they have to say….
"At extremes, biochemistry changes in nature for our benefit "- Dr. Jack Kruse (Neurosurgeon)
"short bursts of stress are so good for you, because we have so many amazing genes in our body that are so powerful. The problem is that as we age, they don't become activated as often. We need to find ways to activate them more ..." - Dr. Rhonda Patrick (Nutrition Researcher)
"Sleep, cold therapy, and dietary restriction is the axis we need start with" - Ray Cronise (NASA Scientist)
"I don't do it because I'm a masochist — I do it because there is nothing that can change everything in your system like a radical change in temperature." - Tony Robbins (Business Mogul)
These experts agree that swinging the pendulum towards temperature extremes builds resilience and induces a rapid, positive change in state both mentally and physically.
It’s time to get out of your comfort zone and get cold exposure. The main benefits are that you burn more fat, improve muscle recovery, increase sleep quality, and overall become a more unbreakable human.
1 Cold thermogenesis is a fat burning aid.
When you plunge your body into cold water, you fight for homeostasis - the body wants to stay at 98.6 degrees and fights to maintain it’s core temperature.
In order to do this, metabolic rate increases to produce heat, and this boost in “thermogenesis” is what ramps up calorie burning.
Additionally, cold thermogenesis becomes a fat burning aid by activating the body’s built in stores of brown fat.
White fat is the stuff we want to get rid of - think love handles, metabolic derangement, and diabetes. Brown fat on the other hand is thought to be an evolutionary adaption to keep us lean and healthy, it's highly metabolic active tissue.
Doses of cold exposure not only activates brown fat tissue to burn energy and increase metabolism, but it also increases the body’s production of this tissue for what’s considered a long term benefit for the maintenance of a lean and healthy physique.
Furthermore, cold temps ignite fat burning hormones like epinephrine and norepinephrine to burn more energy and fire up the processes that utilize stored fat for fuel. Paired with a subsequent rise in thyroid hormone, resting metabolism can elevate. The same thing happens when we shiver outside in cold air.
The takeaway: after we’re exposed to cold, the body starts producing heat to keep us warm, thereby providing a metabolic boost. We don’t even need cold water, the same effect is achieved if we go outside with minimal clothing.
2 Cold thermogenesis is a recovery aid.
Regular bursts of cold exposure manages exercise induced inflammation within the body. You want some inflammation, and the micro tears in muscle after a resistance training session are a perfect example. The body responds with it’s natural anti-inflammatory cascade to make the muscles bigger and better.
But excessive inflammation that causes swelling essentially damages the tissues and inhibits the natural recovery process. Cold exposure manages this inflammatory cascade and aids in recovery by reducing swelling, promoting the movement of fluids to transfer water and metabolic waste products out of the system and through increasing circulation.
The takeaway: the first step is to train smart, with effective programming, so there isn’t excessive muscle damage. Although pro football players may look cool in a tub of ice, it’s their job, and they are performing at a level most humans will never encounter, making ice baths a logical tool for their profession.
For the average joe…find some cold spring water to jump into after training! Or a nearby lake or cool river. If you have access to ice tubs, go for it!
3 Cold thermogenesis at night is a sleep aid.
The body get’s it’s most restful sleep cycles in a cold environment. It’s why turning down the a/c at night is effective and why late workouts pose a potential sleep challenge. Workouts cause an increases body temp, and when performed later in the evening or night, the body has a difficult time cooling itself back down before sleep.
Sleeping in upper 60 degree temperatures is the first step in setting up your environment for restorative sleep. But a cold shower at night may provide additional sleep benefits. Exposure to the cold water gives the body a jumpstart on cooling down for bed, especially if you had a late workout.
The cold water exposure from the shower can also help trigger melatonin release and sends the body into it’s natural sleep cascade.
The takeaway: If you train late in the evening, a cold shower before bed is a simple action towards better sleep. Workout timing aside, if sleep is a challenge for you, cold showers before bed is worth testing - even if you’ve checked the other sleep hygiene boxes.
4 Cold thermogenesis is a resiliency aid.
The true gift of cold exposure is intangible - resilience. Cold temperatures, dosed intentionally, is a mild stress to the body that fire’s up our evolutionary survival processes to combat this stressor and make us stronger.
There’s a boost in autophagy, or the cleaning or recycling of dead and damaged cells. We get a boost in immunity from increased antibody production, and improved energy production from more mitochondria. It's better cell health that makes you a more resilient human machine.
The other notable resiliency aid is the discipline and commitment to take action.
A disciplined mind is required to breathe calmly while stepping voluntarily into a freezing tub of ice or 5:00 am cold shower. You must disregard the excuses in your head, change your mindset and proceed to take action.
Anything that takes us out of our comfort zone has the potential to change our lives. A small shift in trajectory can occur with something as simple as a cold shower and send us on a completely different path.
For daily a daily boost in resilience - more energy, a heightened state of awareness or anytime you need to feel awake, a quick cold plunge or shower creates an immediate change in your physiology. Your heart starts pounding, blood is pumping, and you get a rush that can’t be replicated with caffeine.
The takeaway: next time your tired, jump in a cold shower instead of reaching for caffeine or sugar to stay awake. Use cold water at every opportunity to build mental fortitude. Or commit to the 30 day cold shower challenge - it just may change your life.
How to get your dose of cold.
The goal is obviously not to inspire you to buy a cow trough and allocate a monthly ice budget. And of course, only do it if you’re a healthy individual per your doctor’s assessment.
Remember, the greatest effects on fat loss and body composition is going to come from eating whole food, incorporating resistance training regularly and getting adequate sleep. Cold therapy effects will pale in comparison to these fundamental principles - focus here first.
At the end of the day, whether or not you have 10% body fat or 20% isn’t going to be greatly effected by how frequently you jump in a pool of ice.
Reap the benefit with cold showers: get better sleep, create rapid changes in physiology, and train mental fortitude. If you can’t handle the cold at first, start with hot water, oscillate to cold water and maintain this pattern for several minutes. End on cold!
If you live in a cold weather environment, you can head outside with minimal clothing, especially on your head and hands, for about 10 minutes. That’s a good starting point.
…and if you want to go fill a tub with ice, go for it! This method looks the coolest if you’re doing it for the GRAM. Of course, be safe.
What do you think?
I’ve personally committed to 30 days of cold showers this month. I’m constantly looking for little ways to create discomfort and a daily cold shower is just one small way. Want to join in a 30 day Cold Shower challenge of you own?
Let me know! I’d love to hear about your experience. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Brett - Nutrition & Health Coach / Co-Founder of Moontower Matcha
Brett has worked for the last 10 years with thousands of individuals one-on-one to achieve their own health and fitness goals.
His mission is to share healthy habits, real-world solutions, and comprehensive strategies around nutrition, movement, sleep, and stress management to help guide individuals to the results they desire most.