Have you ever come in from sledding on a cold day to plop in front of a blaring fire and noticed the feeling of deep relaxation and peace that follows? Have you ever spent a brisk fall evening raking leaves then enjoyed a hot bowl of soup that seemed to melt your soul? What about taking a breath of fresh morning air after the first snow fall of the season?
Now, this secret is not mine. You can share it with whoever you want; in fact, I hope you do! For some reason the powers-that-be in our culture would like us all to believe that staying perfectly comfortable is of the utmost importance. And the secret they keep is that embracing discomfort and even extreme temperatures can be very good for human health. Why this secret is tucked away so tightly is a mystery. Although, it may be due to the large amounts of money spent on air conditioners, and heaters, and even pharmaceuticals every year. But I digress.
The truth is those folks running madly toward frigid waters stripped down to their skivvies every year are actually onto something.
Here's what's to gain:
+Easing Sore Muscles, Aches, & pains
+Strengthening the central nervous system and immune system
+ Build resilience to stress/stressors
+ Improved Mood and mental discipline
The research on cold therapy is usually aimed at professional athletes but don't let this sway you if you aren't running the IronMan or competing in the World Strongest Man competitions. With some additional digging, and we suggest you do, you can easily find that the research points to benefits for every individual. Some folks believe this is because, as humankind developed, we were constantly exposed to changing temperatures without the extensive protection from the elements that we currently enjoy. There is so much information regarding this topic with some prerequisites to these pieces of information as well. But we can cover a summary and hopefully spread the itch to learn more! Here are a few of the things that happen when exposed to extreme cold for short periods of time leading to those benefits: Release of norepinephrine and endorphins, triggers hormesis where the body learns to adjust to stressors and creates a healthy internal balance, reduction of inflammation and improved blood flow that allows the body to actively heal and recover, reduction to cortisol levels, and improved uric acid and glutathione levels in the blood, plus the healing and replacement of damaged synapses in the brain just to name a few. Additionally, successfully sitting through a cold therapy session forces you to learn to control your sympathetic nervous system and gives you one heck of a mental win, without running that marathon.
+Combats effects of Aging
+Improved Cardiovascular Health
+Reduce Blood Pressure
+Improved athletic (physical) ability
+Builds and maintains healthy muscles
The effects of heat therapy on the body are quite similar to cold therapy but research shows they are complimentary. Both hot and cold therapy strengthen the mitochondria in our cells, stimulating cell regeneration and improving our energy production. Heat therapy, however, has been found to help detox heavy metals from the body, increase plasma, red blood cell, and oxygen volume in the blood. Additionally, heat therapy widens blood vessels and increases circulation, reduced muscle breakdown, and increases production of the human growth hormone by 2 to 5 times. Improved plasticity of the brain is influenced by the brain derived neurotropic factor and the immune system is ignited by the heat shock protein and the release of cytokine.
Our discussion here barely brushes on the complexity of this topic but for us, the conclusion is pretty easy. Adding hot and cold therapy to our health regiment is a no brainer. But please remember to consult your doctor if you have any health concerns that may be affected by this type of activity and to use common sense; otherwise, extreme temperatures can be dangerous. For many people, a polar plunge or swimming in frigid sea waters aren't realistically in the card. They sure aren't for us right now. But implementing these things can look like sauna or steam room use, hot tub or hot bath dips, and cold showers, ice baths, or maybe just streaking across your backyard at the height of winter. Whatever works for you!
What do you think? Any ideas to implement these practices into your daily, weekly, or monthly routines?
Wishing you a happier, healthier, and more delicious dip in the ice!
The Stevens Family at Rocking 5 S Farms