Cold water therapy

"We have become alienated from nature, but the cold is capable of bringing us back to what we once had lost."
Wim Hoff
Ice evolution Ice evolution

Ice evolution

It’s called many things. Deliberate cold exposure. Cold water therapy. Cold water immersion. Cold training. Cold thermogenesis. Cold water swimming. Call it what you will, the secret is out and it’s gathering pace. Thanks to the likes of Wim Hof, most have now heard of cold water immersion, but few understand it. Humans evolved in the cold.

Our bodies adapted to winter conditions over thousands of years. We survived and thrived. Yet today, we live in artificially heated environments that our bodies just aren’t optimised for. We’ve lost our biological connection to the cold and all the gifts that came with it.

The Benefits

Improve immune function​

Our immune system is influenced by multiple factors and is highly complex. In isolation, the benefits of cold water immersion are hard to measure. But several studies now link cold exposure to immune boosting benefits such as increased production of ‘killer T cells’ and lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell key to immune function.

Happy moods and minds

Norepinephrine is both a hormone and neurotransmitter. It drives wakefulness, alertness, learning and attention, enhanced memory formation and retrieval. It also supports top-down regulation of pain. So, when we tell you that regular cold exposure increases norepinephrine levels by 200-300%, you know it’s a very good thing. It also increases dopamine by 250% - a natural ‘feel-good’ hit, thrown in for free.

Fat burning

The cold triggers our metabolism, our internal furnace, by releasing free form fatty acids (FFAs) and glucose. It also protects against insulin resistance that can lead to diabetes and atherosclerosis by inhibiting glucose production. The collaborative effects of vasodilation and vasoconstriction work together to switch our metabolism to fat burning mode. 

A natural anti-depressant

When immersed in cold water, the immense strength of the electrical impulses that travel from the nerve endings in the skin to the brain are now thought to have an anti-depressant effect. When coupled with increases in mood-boosting dopamine and norepinephrine (the hormone targeted by pharmaceutical giants to manage depression and ADHD) the benefits need to be felt to be believed.

Cardiovascular conditioning

We each have 70,000 miles of veins, arteries and capillaries moving blood around our bodies. For most, this great vascular tree is de-conditioned through lack of exposure to the big temperature changes it was designed to deal with. When we move between hot and cold, it gives those tiny muscles governing blood-flow a serious workout.

Combats inflamation

Inflammatory diseases are the biggest killer in the modern world. The risks only increase as we age. Cold exposure suppresses the acceleration of disease inflammation and the related pain signals. For those looking to build muscle mass and strength, the cold comes with a warning. Low temperatures will interrupt your natural muscle repair cycle, meaning it’s best to wait several hours after a workout before heading into the ice.

Endurance & energy

Cold therapy increases mitochondrial biogenesis in muscle and fat tissues. This means it encourages the production of mitochondria-making energy (ATP) at a cellular level, using oxygen as fuel more efficiently. Useful for those interested in improving cardiovascular fitness or increasing muscle endurance and performance.

Mindset builder

Facing your fears takes grit. Yes, you were scared. But you went ahead and did it anyway. It feels good, doesn’t it? Taking a dip in the ice, especially when you don’t feel like it, brings an immense sense of power and self-confidence. You’re comfortable being uncomfortable. So, what else could you achieve today?

When we're challenged, we're changed.

Stressors on the human body were key to our evolution as a species. These ‘teacher’ stressors were nothing like the daily grind we associate with modern ‘stress’ today. Known as ‘hormetic stress’, in short bursts, high stressors like fasting, workouts or cold water immersion can bring big benefits to our health.

Controlled, positive stress builds our mental and physical resilience each time we take a dip. Resilience we can use as a tool to push further in sports and fitness, better navigate stress at work and negotiate the tests and trials of modern life.

Lady getting into water
Lady getting into water

Interested in the deeper science?

The larger body of scientific research remains a bit of a mixed and often confusing bag, however, the potential impact of cold exposure on overall wellbeing is unequivocally good. Cold training, like any exercise, doesn’t yield lasting effects with a single exposure. The benefits of adaptation come with repeated exposure, and nobody can sit in cold water for extended periods without some form of adaptation. Check out the science section if you want to dig a little deeper on the inner mechanisms through cold adaptation.

Ice Guide

Multiple sources now prove that a practice of cold water therapy is unequivocally good for us. Here's your free guide why and how to get yours!

Journal

“Well, everything has a tipping point. I see it as “chosen suffering”. The ice is another option to make that moment in your life a little bit more difficult. To callus the mind. To be in a position where we actively choose not to choose the easy route. And there might not be any other motivation other than to maybe toughen up a bit. Because everyone’s aware that life has a tendency to throw you a curve ball every now and again. Sometimes you see people who have had easy lives and they get themselves into a situation where life gets tough.

Laurence Fountain is the owner of Salus London. An exclusive gym that provides elite training, body conditioning, and lifestyle coaching. We met Laurence through Professor Green, who invited him to try the Ice Bath in his back garden. You could say the rest is history, but actually, it was more like the beginning of the future. As the owner of a gym, we asked Lawrence what is the role of cold water immersion in recovery?