Heat expands, inflames and irritates. Cold contracts, soothes and integrates. Heat causes wear and tear. Cold stimulates repair. This is the reason why cold therapy as a treatment has over the years proven to be beneficial not only for physical ailments but also for mental health.
Cold water splashing activates the vagus nerve, which slows down our breathing and heart rate. The effect on the nervous system is calming, soothing, cooling and comforting. This has several health benefits like reduced inflammation and muscle aches, reduced cardiovascular strain, decreased blood flow and reduced tissue metabolism.
Inflammation is often a side effect of exercise and hardcore training and recovery. If feeling sore, achy or in pain, cold therapy helps lessen muscle inflammation and soreness. Exposure to cold constricts blood vessels, reduces blood flow and raises the production of adiponectin in the body, a protein that helps reduce inflammation. This also reduces sensitivity to pain.
Relief from inflammation makes it possible to slow the cycle that creates free radicals. Some inflammation during workouts is healthy because it makes your muscles stronger and more resilient. As a result, if you time your ice bath or other cold therapies to begin just after your workout, you may recover faster. As a general rule of thumb, a 20-minute icing or cold therapy is most effective on immediate local strain to reduce swelling, pain and helps muscles recover faster and become more agile. A 10 to 15 minute cold water immersion or an ice bath, which involves submerging in a tub of cold water, is beneficial when used as a post-intense exercise recovery routine. Thermogenesis, which occurs when you shiver, causes an increase in body temperature, which speeds up your metabolism. Our brown cells, when exposed to cold, can generate heat by burning fat. This can help with healthy weight management too.
Cold therapy gives your mood a boost and brings mental clarity. By altering the chemistry of our body and brain, exposure to cold water promotes the production of neurotransmitters (beta-endorphins, noradrenaline, and dopamine) which are associated with pleasure and mood enhancement. The release of brain chemicals during cold water therapy is, therefore, linked to happier moods.
We all know that taking a bath before going to bed helps you relax. But a cold shower before bed helps to lower the core body temperature, which could be even better for sound sleep. A study in Holland found sleeping with a lower core body temperature doubles the time in deepest restorative sleep. It brings about composure.
Increased exposure to cold is thought to boost adrenaline, which in turn increases the capacity of our immune system. Our body activates white blood cells, which fight illness more quickly when exposed to cold temperatures. The immune system may manufacture additional infection-fighting soldiers, such as T-cells and antibodies, as a result of exposure to cold. Regular and repeated cold immersion techniques also kickstart regenerative processes that destroy dead cells.
One should take care of a few things before starting with cold therapy:
1) Start slow by ending your hot showers with 30 seconds of mildly cold water streaming down. This can have profound health effects.
2) Swimming in very cold water saps the body heat, so arms and legs can get weaker. Don’t jump into cold water —wade in slowly instead and give time for the body temperature to adjust.
Cold therapy may not immediately give you pleasure but it can increase your comfort gradually. It is very tranquilising in nature. It makes for faster recovery when used in conjunction with enough rest, care, good posture and breath work. It is among the best healing therapies.
(Dr Mehta has trained Bollywood superstars Akshay Kumar, Preity Zinta, billionaires, politicians, Miss World/Miss Universe candidates and the Maharashtra Police. A best-selling author, he has been appointed FIT India Movement Champion by the Sports Authority of India)