Deliberate cold exposure: the act of immersing oneself in icy water that’s typically 10 degrees celsius or colder. You may be familiar with cold exposure from the Wim Hof method, or you’ve likely seen folks plunging into the ocean or alpine streams to tap into the benefits of cold immersion. Cold showers have also become popularized, but nothing beats the act of cold water submersion. While it may sound uncomfortable (spoiler alert: the first 30 seconds will definitely test your resiliency), it can be a transformative and grounding experience that boasts a multitude of benefits for mind, body and spirit. In preparation for TurF’s first cold plunge event, we’re highlighting some of the many benefits of softening and surrendering into a deliberate cold exposure experience.
It builds physical and mental resiliency
Deliberate cold exposure allows us to learn how to command our nervous system. Within the first minute of cold submersion, adrenaline cascades through your body, which causes oxygen-rich blood to flood into your vital organs. We enter a sympathetic, active state by stimulating the vagus nerve. As you sit with sensation and regulate your breath, the body shifts into a parasympathetic state in minute 1-2, slowing the heart rate, blood pressure lowers, and a feeling of calm and peace begins to wash over you. When you enter the 2-4 minute mark, your body starts to reduce inflammatory markers that contribute to anxiety, depression and other physical ailments. The whole experience improves our HRV (Heart Rate Variability), which is indicative of how well we can recover from physical and emotional stress.
Protects against stress & reduces inflammation
Cold exposure releases “Cold Shock” proteins, which appear when the body experiences a sudden decrease in its core temperature. These proteins appear to protect the body from stress. Rodent studies have shown that cold exposure protects nerves from the degeneration associated with Azheimer’s disease. When our veins are exposed to cold, vasoconstriction occurs, or the tightening of blood vessels, which has anti-inflammatory effects on muscles and reduces damage induced from exercise (see study). One study found that participants that used a combination of meditation, deep breathing, and cold water immersion had fewer symptoms when exposed to a bacterial infection, likely because their bodies produced more anti-inflammatory chemicals and fewer pro-inflammatory cytokines in response to the infection.
Elevates your mood
Deliberate cold exposure has been shown to elevate dopamine and epinephrine by 2.5x for up to 4-6 hours post plunge. These are neurotransmitters that evoke a natural high and mood boost. This is why people will often leave a cold plunge session feeling rejuvenated, with more mental focus and clarity.
Upregulates your metabolism
Cold exposure increases the body’s production of brown adipose tissue, or brown fat. Brown fat is rich in mitochondria (our energy-producing powerhouses), and the burning of brown fat for energy via a process called thermogenesis results in calorie expenditure. So, the more brown fat you have, the higher your metabolic rate and the more calories you expend.
It can be really helpful to pair deliberate cold exposure with guided breathwork to help you command your state. Jess, our cold plunge host, will guide you through breathing techniques and physical/mental cues to help you surrender into the experience. Sign up for meta COOLD (meta class followed by a cold plunge) – we can’t wait to dip with you!
We rented our cold tanks from Chris at Coold ~ a Vancouver, BC cold plunge equipment rental service for events and fitness studios.