By Dr. Theron Hutton MD
Through the likes of Vim Hoff and others, cold exposure, or the act of intentionally exposing the body to cold temperatures, has gained popularity in recent years for its potential health benefits. These benefits are thought to result from the body's physiological response to cold stress, which can include increased blood flow, improved immune function, and decreased inflammation.
It turns out that the increase in popularity may be actually more than a fad - it may be good for us.
One study I found suggested that cold water immersion, a form of cold exposure, can improve cardiovascular function and reduce muscle soreness after exercise (Nielsen et al., 2015). Other research has suggested that cold exposure may have anti-inflammatory effects, as it can reduce the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body (Kawamura et al., 2015).
Cold exposure may also have positive effects on mental health and well-being. A study of soldiers who underwent cold water immersion as part of their training found that the treatment was associated with improved mood and reduced stress (Finch et al., 2014). Similarly, another study found that regular cold water immersion was associated with improved sleep quality and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety (Ellers et al., 2018).
Personally I can attest that jumping in an ice cold pool and staying there for about 5 minutes with a few of my daring friends make me feel good. I sleep better. I laugh a lot and I feel overall great!
It is important to note that cold exposure can also have negative effects on the body, particularly if it is not done safely. It is important to gradually acclimate the body to cold temperatures and to pay attention to any warning signs of hypothermia, such as shivering, numbness, or confusion. It is also important to be aware of any medical conditions that may contraindicate cold exposure, such as Raynaud's disease or cold urticaria. Always go with a buddy.
The Author Last Winter with a couple very good friends (yes that's snow)
Ellers, J., et al. (2018). Cold water immersion and sleep: A randomised controlled trial. Extreme Physiology & Medicine, 7(1). doi:10.1186/s13728-018-0165-5
Finch, J., et al. (2014). Cold water immersion and mood state: A randomized controlled trial. Military Medicine, 179(3), 282-286.
Kawamura, T., et al. (2015). Cold water immersion following exercise reduces inflammation and muscle damage in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology, 118(2), 174-182. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00625.2014
Nielsen, J. J., et al. (2015). Cold water immersion after high-intensity exercise increases muscle perfusion and oxygenation and reduces muscle damage. Acta Physiologica, 213(3), 463-474. doi:10.1111/apha.12409