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A Deep Dive Into Cold Water Exposure

In this article I'm going to share a strategy which I think all you renegades should be utilizing to some degree. In my previous article I explained why you want to do what over >95% of modern humans aren’t doing. If you haven’t read this article, I highly recommend to do so since it will put this video in context.


There are several overarching strategies you can, and perhaps even should explore and engrain into your life that will activate longevity genes, increase overall vitality, health and performance. In this article I dive deeper into one of these strategies, namely cold water exposure.


Cold water exposure gained lots of popularity in the past five years, partly because of the outstanding achievements and work of the iceman Wim Hof. Yet cold and cold exposure isn’t something new. Back in the days our hunter-gatherer relatives were consistently exposed to cold and hot showers were unknown until late in the industrial revolution.


Now I could talk longer about all things evolution in regards to cold but honestly I don’t want you to look at this screen any longer than you have to in order to get from it what you truly need. So let’s dive straight into the benefits and some recommendations based on personal, anecdotal evidence and recent scientific research regarding cold water exposure.


The positive effects cold water exposure has on our Bodymind physiology are profound. But let’s clarify one important aspect first. The temperature of the water. You might have wondered how cold the water has to be. The answer might surprise you. In contrast to what you often see on instagram, it doest have to be a circle sawed in artic ice. To induce the so-called beneficial hypothermic effect, the water needs to be 15C/59F or less.


Now if your primary concern is to build toughness go as cold as you can safely handle. It should be uncomfortable but not so uncomfortable that you can’t stay in. I highly recommend to build up gradually to lower temperatures and ideally, especially when you are new to full cold water immersion, to have other people around. If you are entirely new to the practice, I recommend therefore starting in the shower by finishing your hot shower with 30 seconds of cold water for at least 2 few weeks.

Okay, so now you know how cold, how to progress and how to start . But what about the benefits? Why would you possiblly do this to yourself? What is there to gain. Well the answer on a physiological level is a whole lot!


Firstly, there is the effect cold water has on your metabolism. Exposing yourself to cold will increase the rate of metabolism, or energy utilization, significantly through the activation of what is called brown fat adipose tissue (1). This brown fat tissue is filled with mitochondria. Brown fat has much more of these energy factories than white fat, which use calories in order to produce heat. Besides, there are indications that regular brown fat activation helps with using regular white fat tissue as fuel, improves insulin sensitivity and releases the hunger suppressing hormone leptin into your bloodstream (2). Therefore, cold exposure might be a very beneficial strategy to utilize to shed exsessive weight, reverse metabolic dis-eases and towards true health and vitality.


Secondly, since cold water exposure is an acute stressor, it will results into the release of dopamine and adrenaline in your bodymind. This will not merely energize and motivate you for a few hours, it will simultaneously activate primarily your innate immune system and release anti-inflammatory markers (3). See this a natural energy and immunity booster that you as a renegade want to take regularly. Thirdly, there is quit some subjective evidence that cold-water exposure helps individuals dealing with depression. It is plausible this too is related to elevated dopamine levels responsible for drive and motivation.


Let’s touch on duration next. How long should you expose yourself to cold water to reap those benefits I just named? The same paper I just referred to, stresses that for the metabolic effects 11 minutes seems to be an effective orientation dosage (1). These 11 minutes refer to the total cold immersion time per week. This means you could spread it for instance over 3 weekly sessions in which you aim for a 4 minute immersion per time. Also, for the best metabolic effects, avoid a warm shower, sauna, right after the exposure. You want your body to warm itself up by producing its own heat.


If metabolism is not your primary interest but rather getting more energy and an immunity booster, you can shorten the time. My advice is then to aim for at least 1 minute and go as cold as you safely can handle. It is not about going in and out as fast as you can with this practice. Truly be with the discomfort while trying to keep your mind as calm as possible while the body is under stress. This will prove to beneficial in other, less deliberate, provoked challenging situations you will encounter throughout your life where you want to ensure clarity of mind admits physiological stress.


When to use cold exposure you might wonder, what is the best time of day? Does it matter at all? The answer is yes it matters.


To match your circadian and biorhythms best, cold exposure is ideally done in the first 8 hours after rising. Exposing yourself to an acute stressor like this will for most people, when done say after 5pm, interefering with the optimal state of nervous system arousal required for sleep. If you don’t have the possibility to this in the first part of your time, I highly recommend using a warm bath or shower right after the cold exposure in to compensate for the nervous system sympathetic arousal. Combine this with slow exhales and even humming for the best relaxation response.


For those of you who already engage in some modality of strength training the following might be especially interesting to know. If you’re physical practice is primary aiming to enhance strength and hypertrophy (tissue growth), immersing yourself regularly afterwards in cold water will affect this negatively. The anti-inflammation response induced by cold water is highly beneficial with for instance recovery in between consecutive sport matches or motor skill specific training. Yet this is not the case when doing resistance training. Several studies show that this negatively impacts protein synthesis in muscle tissue (4). My recommendation therefore is to use cold water on rest days or to utilize it approximentally an hour before you resistance training.

So here you go, everything you absolutely need to know in order to start or optimize your cold water immersion practice and reap all the physiological benefits.


But there’s more to this practice. Cold water immersion is one of my absolute favorite ways to truly feel my body. The cold, if you surrender to it, will literally take you out of the overacitvated ‘thinking mind’, straight into the body. Straight into being. And after a while you will perhaps even start enjoying the cold when you seize fighting the sensation. For that to happen you have to overcome the tendency to avoid discomfort at all cost. To avoid difficult emotions. We humans, and men especially, have this urge deeply wired in our system. Suppresing unpleasant feelings might work for a while, but overtime will only result in energy blockages, restlessness and dis-ease throughout your system. Therefore I invite to truly feel the cold. Let it be. Investigate its sensation with curiosity. Investigate your resistance to it. And the sum all this, will prove to be transformative and move you towards true health, vitality and ultimate well-being.


Until Next Time,


Niko



References


1. Soberg S, Lofgren J, & Philipsen F 2021. Altered brown fat thermoregulation and enhanced cold-induced thermogenesis in young, healthy, winter-swimming men. Cell Reports. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.xcrm.2021.100408


2. Hanssen M, Hoeks J, Brands B 2015. Short-term cold acclimation improves insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nature Medicine.


3. Cox M, Eijck L, Zwaag J, 2014. Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans. PNAS Journal. 10.1073/pnas.1322174111


4. Roberts L, Raastaad T, Markworth J 2015. Post-exercise cold water immersion attenuate acute anabolic signaling and long-term adaptations in muscle to strength training. Journal of Physiology. https://doi.org/10.1113/JP270570

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