Cold? Flu? Tummy troubles? I know that I don’t have time to be sick, and I’m sure you don’t either. Luckily I don’t get sick very often anymore, but back in my competitive athlete days, it felt like I was constantly battling one cold, cough, or sinus infection after another.
Not to toot my own horn, but I chalk up my current good health to my Primal lifestyle. I know for sure that there is a marked before and after—before Primal, when I had a medicine cabinet full of OTC remedies, and after, when I rarely take a sick day. On those occasions when I do detect a tickle in my throat or the first signs of sour stomach, my first course of action is to double down on those aspects of my lifestyle that support a robust immune system, particularly nutrient-dense foods, sleep, and time in the sun.
The food piece is what we’re going to talk about today. Everybody has an opinion about what to eat, or not, when you’re under the weather. I’m not claiming that certain foods can cure the flu or prevent you from coming down with that cold even after your sick kid coughs in your face. But once you’re sick, the name of the game is supporting your immune system by providing it with beneficial nutrients and compounds that could aid it in fighting off the viruses or bacteria that are making you sick in the first place. Some foods will also provide welcome comfort, which is nothing to sneeze at, pun intended.
Technically, “cryotherapy” refers to any method of using cold therapeutically. Icing a sprained ankle, freezing off a wart, or sitting in an ice bath after a game of Ultimate Frisbee are all forms of cryotherapy. Today, though, I’m using the term cryotherapy to refer specifically to whole-body and partial-body cryotherapy chambers.
Cryotherapy chambers use electric cooling or liquid nitrogen to expose users to super-chilled air in order to achieve various (supposed) benefits. The technology dates back to the late 1970s, and it used to be pretty niche, reserved mostly for top-level athletes and people with specialized medical needs. Now, cryo centers have popped up all over the place, and you can easily book yourself an appointment for any old reason.
I don’t consider myself a biohacker, but I do intentionally engage in practices that I believe will extend my healthspan and lifespan. Cold plunges are one of them. Cold exposure goes into the bucket along with things like resistance training, intermittent fasting, sun on your skin, and sauna—all stimuli that stress the body and prompt it to become stronger and more resistant to chronic and acute health issues. I’m tempted to say that cold plunges are an easy way to challenge your system, but if you’ve ever stepped up to the edge of an icy stream or cold pool, you know there’s nothing easy about forcing yourself to get in, sink down to your neck, and make the intentional choice to stay there. Veteran cold plungers and winter swimmers will tell you that over time your body acclimates so it becomes easier to tolerate the cold. You’ll even come to eagerly anticipate your next plunge. That’s all true. But there will always be a part of your brain that tells you, “You don’t have to do this. C’mon, stay warm and dry.” Each plunge requires you to overcome that little voice. It’s not easy, but it’s simple in the sense that just about everyone can find a way to harness the power of cold. And everyone should because the benefits of cold exposure are pretty impressive: Reduces inflammation by lowering pro-inflammatory cytokines and increasing anti-inflammatory cytokines Triggers the release of immune cells that can ward off illness Converts white fat into more metabolically active brown or beige fat Ramps up metabolic rate and boosts weight loss Promotes mitochondrial biogenesis Improves insulin sensitivity More than these physical benefits, the fact that it’s not easy is arguably the biggest upside of all. The mental fortitude you build when you intentionally and repeatedly put yourself in uncomfortable situations is undeniable. One of the most profound disconnects between our modern world and the one our ancestors inhabited is just how comfortable we are most of the time. We now have to go out of our way to simulate the physical and mental challenges that for most of history were just a part of everyday life. I’ve been regularly immersing myself in cold water for years now, and I’m convinced that that’s one of the reasons why I still feel as good as ever mentally and physically. Here’s how to get started. How I Cold Plunge Early in the day, I like colder temperature for shorter duration. Generally that means water in the mid to low 40s for a minute or two. (That’s Fahrenheit; 4 to 7 degrees Celsius.) Get out, lightly towel off, dress. Don’t do anything special to warm up. Go about your day energized and refreshed. Later in the day, I like a little less cold (48 to 51 degrees F, 8 to 10 degrees C) but for a longer duration, anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes. If it’s after 6 p.m. and my intention is to prepare myself for a better night’s … Continue reading “Cold Plunges: Benefits and Where to Start”