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Freeze Shock Therapy

May 12, 2024

Freeze Shock Therapy

The buzzword is longevity. Taking care of what we have as best we can. I’ve been talking about preserving hair these last decades with our LifeSaver Treatments, but whole-body longevity has now become mainstream with more people prepared to spend time and money preserving their health.

It needn’t be obsessive like the silicone valley tycoon Bryan Johnson spending $2million a year for what seems to me to be much less of a life, but science is bringing breakthrough treatments and better understanding of natural traditional therapies that we can all benefit from.

So why did I go to the 100 degree tropics to stand inside a minus -140° C  (-220° F) cubicle? Because cryotherapy is one of the many treatments on offer at RAKxa Thailand, the beautiful MediSpa we visited last week.

Cryotherapy, cold plunges, ice baths - there’s a lot of medical science and traditional wellbeing behind giving the body a short freeze shock.

A cold plunge generally means submerging yourself in cold water at about 50°F (10°C) or less for 30 seconds to a few minutes. That may be diving into an icy lake, sitting in a bath of cold water with or without ice, or being in the latest cryotherapy unit which uses liquid nitrogen to create a sub-zero atmosphere.

 

RAKxa also have the expected cold plunge pool in their comprehensive hydrotherapy area along with herbal steam rooms, infra-red saunas and warm hydromassage pools. 

I went for a 3-minute dip in the hydrotherapy plunge pool, with a submerged one-minute breath-hold just to jolt the brain out of a jet-lagged fug. I found this harder than my minus -220° F of cryotherapy the next day, I guess because the air was dry, but both were very invigorating. I remembered completing the Firewalk with Tony Robbins in the early days of his seminars before Health and Safety halved the distance, too many burnt toes, I guess.  

Importantly, we had to get into a mind state first, and then repeat the mantra ‘cool moss’, while projecting energy out of our bare feet to stop the red-hot coals burning them while we walked the distance, just like the Indian fakirs had done for centuries. In the freezing cold now, I simply reversed that mantra to ‘warm bath’. 😊 Haha, Clever eh!

History

Cold plunges, also known as ice baths, have a history that spans across ancient civilizations and continues to captivate people today. Let’s take a plunge into the icy depths of time:

Egyptian Beginnings: Around 3500 BCE, the Edwin Smith Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian medical document considered one of the earliest surgical treatises, revealed the therapeutic use of cold in applications for skin irritation, hinting at an early understanding of the body’s response to temperature fluctuations.

Ancient Greece: Millennia later, ancient Greeks embraced cold water immersion. From Athens to Sparta, icy dips were part of athletic training and general well-being. Greek athletes believed it enhanced endurance and recovery, while philosophers like Plato praised cold baths for mental clarity and discipline. Hippocrates emphasised a holistic approach to health, advocating cold therapy for a number of ailments and saying that it can help retain strength and vitality.

Roman Developments: Their bathing ritual involved moving through a series of heated rooms culminating in a cold plunge at the end. In modern times, the tradition of the frigidarium has been kept in most saunas and spas around the world.

 

In the Nordics: Ice baths have been popular for centuries. People take them in frozen lakes or specially designed ice-bathing facilities. The tradition is deeply rooted in Nordic culture, where the cold plunge is seen as invigorating and beneficial for overall well-being.

20th and 21st Centuries: Ice baths gained momentum after scientific validation in sports and wellness.

Potential benefits of cold therapy:

  • Improved Heart Health: can boost blood flow, reduce heart rate, and improve overall cardiovascular health.
  • Strengthening the Immune System: ice baths can lead to an increase in white blood cells, which strengthens your immune system leading to fewer sick days.
  • Positive Stress Reaction: cold exposure raises serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain, acting as a natural “vaccine” against stress.
  • Blood Pressure Regulation: if you’re going through a stressful phase, ice baths may help lower your blood pressure.
  • Improved Metabolism: ice baths promote the production of insulating brown fat, which replaces unhealthy white fat.
  • Pain Relief: adrenaline and noradrenaline release during cold exposure can act as natural painkillers.
  • Boosted mood:  a temporary mood boost that may extend to long-term mental health benefits, including reduced anxiety and depression.
  • Reduced Inflammation: cold plunges have been heavily associated with reduced inflammation. Since heightened inflammation is associated with a number of chronic conditions, this could potentially help stave off disease.
  • Improved Insulin Sensitivity: voluntary cold water exposure can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin resistance.
  • Cold water immersion has been shown to improve sprint performance up to 24 hours after an intense bout when tested on athletes engaged in a tournament simulation. Researchers found that cold water immersion improved recovery after 10-meter sprints that accompanied competitors’ training. Athletes also reported better perceived wellness 24 hours later, speedier muscle recovery, boosted energy and less perceived fatigue and soreness.

Some research shows that after two to three minutes immersion, additional benefits taper off. Most of the research has a risk of bias with small sample sizes and potential for placebo effect. Furthermore, scientists note that many people who opt to cold plunge are also people who are more likely to make other healthy lifestyle choices, like regular exercise and eating well.

Potential dangers with cold plunging:

  • Hypothermia or frostbite if you stay too long.
  • Hyperventilation if the shock causes your airways to tighten.
  • Cardiovascular stress for those with heart conditions. My brother Nicky had to have a medical before joining the TV programme 72 Degrees North. One trial involved seeing how far you could swim in icy arctic water. Brrrr! ❄️❄️
  • Muscle cramps or shock which may cause issues controlling movement, disorientation, or muscle cramps.
  • Regular cold-water immersion after bodybuilding can limit long term gains in muscle mass and strength, as it blocks the activation of some proteins in muscle cells.
  • Drowning from any of the above issues is a possibility too.

If you are not sure seek medical advice first. It’s a good idea to start with just 30 seconds in cold water, see how your body reacts and gradually work your way up to a few minutes.  

Michael Van Clarke





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