The followers of the ice cream ‘dip’ are growing: it improves the immune system and helps us control stress
Recently, during a visit to Instagram, a video caught my attention: an acquaintance immersed himself in a tub full of ice and held there for several seconds, like someone enjoying a while in a spa. It is true that he was hot, but for that much? Investigating I saw that it was not so exceptional, that there are many publications promoted by Wim Hof that defend these cold water baths to improve health, accompanied by breathing and meditation techniques. Hof, author of ‘The power of cold’ (Obelisco editions), ensures that this way you can control the autonomic nervous system and the immune response of your body.
“Like diet and exercise, occasional exposure to cold can improve our health,” explains Marcos Vázquez, author of the popular Fitness Revolucionario blog, which has won multiple awards for its health outreach work. Following these guidelines, many amateur and elite athletes have incorporated this technique to improve their performance and recover after training. “After intense exercise, 6-8 minutes of immersion in cold water (8º C) has been shown to be effective in accelerating organic recovery processes. Immersion -generally of the lower limbs, up to the waist- entails an acute vasoconstriction response process. Subsequently, upon leaving the cold tank, the body reacts with vasodilation. This temperature contrast favors blood circulation and accelerates the elimination of waste and metabolism derived from the effort. Likewise, there is an inhibition of sensory receptors and an alteration in the transmission of neurotransmitters in the pain or nociceptive circuits, so that it has also been shown to be effective for the recovery of blows or small injuries derived from physical activity”, details the Dr. Elena Isla, from the Sports Medicine Unit of the Sanitas La Moraleja University Hospital.
But what benefits can be cold (even once in a while)? “It improves the quality of sleep and releases endorphins, which improves our mood. In addition, it raises the metabolism and enhances our thermoregulation mechanisms, activating, for example, brown fat. Greater activation of this fat is associated with better glucose control and less risk of metabolic disorders. At the same time, it has an anti-inflammatory effect that is produced through the secretion of stress hormones such as cortisol and also through adiponectin, “says the promoter, based on scientific studies. Some studies find that there is an increase in brain chemicals that regulate mood, such as dopamine, after a cold bath. And there are currently different lines of research open that seek to prove the virtues of this therapy to improve physically and mentally.
Healthy but not for everyone
But, is this cold technique recommended for everyone? “In healthy people, it should be incorporated into our daily lives as a healthy habit. It would not be recommended for pregnant women, children or people with disorders such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or epilepsy”, warns Vázquez, who together with the promoter of the method in Spain, Luke Wills, organizes training workshops for beginners as well as for the most advanced in sports centers . Experts suggest that if you have never tried a very cold bath, you can start with a 30-second shower – less than 18 degrees – at the end of your daily bath. Little by little –they maintain– you will adapt, you will be able to extend the time and tolerate lower temperatures until you reach a bath of ice water with the whole body submerged for a couple of minutes. These two variables are essential. Of course, they warn, if you start to shiver you have to leave because it means that the body has already received the necessary stimulus.
«In the courses we work a lot on the mental part, since concentration is the basis of success. The breathing technique helps to generate a certain body state that activates you, prepares you for exposure to cold, and above all, generates a greater effect on blood circulation and oxygen distribution, “says Wills.
Is there an ideal time or moment for this practice? Experts assure that any time is valid, but “better in the morning and on an empty stomach, since both controlled hyperventilation and cold activate the sympathetic system, which prepares us for our daily work.”
Here are the answers from Dr. Elena Isla, from the Sports Medicine Unit of the Sanitas La Moraleja University Hospital
The use of cold/ice as anti-inflammatory and analgesic therapy has already been applied to your back for many years. Likewise, cryotherapy and hydrotherapy are part of the recovery processes of athletes after performing high-intensity exercises.
Although there is evidence of exposure to situations of external cold by different populations (high level athletes, people who swim at the beach all year round, people who swim in frozen lakes) it is difficult to generalize and extrapolate the results of these people to all kinds of populations. One of the essential aspects of exposure to cold is to carry out a progressive adaptation, so that the person gradually increases their exposure to cold both in minutes and in temperature. These two variables are essential to control when designing a cold exposure program. As for the benefits that are expected to be achieved from exposure are the reduction of inflammation, the improvement of blood circulation, the improvement of the immune system as well as benefits associated with psychological aspects (development of concentration and will, reduction of stress, etc.). In any case, it is necessary to respect that not all people respond the same to this type of situation, so it is essential to respect individuality and follow the recommendations of a qualified doctor with experience in the subject.
Wim Hoff Method:
The Wim Hof method is a technique developed by a Dutch athlete, who practices extreme sports. It combines cold therapy with breathing and concentration exercises.
It can be used to increase sports performance. It is also considered that, thanks to its practice, the person can reduce stress and strengthen their immune system.
It could be useful for people who practice sports at heights such as mountain climbers, but there is not enough evidence to recommend it for the general population. Moreover, it should be taken into account that it could be contraindicated in people with certain underlying conditions or pathologies.
The method at home
Inhale and exhale an amount of air that you can expel easily, holding your breath only for a period of time that allows you to be relaxed. About 30 times. If you overdo it you can get dizzy, in addition to an excessive cardiac acceleration.
Once you have taken a normal shower, switch the tap to the cold position. Soak feet and legs first, or hands and arms. Direct the jet towards the pelvis and abdomen area until your whole body is under the cold water jet.
Both the ultimate control of breathing and exposure to cold require patience and dedication. With both, you will be able to control your body and mind.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.