Remember the days when weather-related phrases like El Niño and the polar vortex would rattle our bones? Simpler times. Sigh. Since icy subzero temperatures and debilitating snowfall no longer impart a fear on par with a GOT-style White Walker invasion, "bomb cyclone" was thrown into the mix to make us legitimately fear for our lives. While most of us took this apocalyptic snowstorm as an opportunity to cocoon under a pile of fuzzy blankets (or was that just me?), my trainer and founder of Bando Fitness, Dan Bando, embraced the weather like a version of the ice bucket challenge direct from Mother Nature. Before noon, Bando shared a bone-chilling video of his morning "snowga" session performed directly in the icy slush. And, yes, that's exactly as it sounds — the polar opposite of hot yoga. Why might someone voluntarily subject themselves to the elements like that? The answer lies in the feel-good benefits of cold temperatures.
Cold therapy is hardly a new concept. It's been around since the beginning of civilization, as in 3500 B.C. when it appeared in the ancient Egyptian medical text known as the Edwin Smith Papyrus. I'm sure by now you've also watched at least a dozen friends share every second of their cryotherapy experience on social media. But you don't need a fancy machine to reap the rejuvenating benefits of cold therapy. We spoke to a trio of experts, including Mr. Bando himself, for insight into the reasons you may very well want to consider freezing your butt off, too.
1. Burn Baby Burn
For starters, freezing your butt off can significantly increase fat burn through both shivering and nonshivering thermogenesis (NST). "Cold temperatures activate Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT), a special kind of fat that's more metabolically active and actually burns fat and increases the production of the fat-burning protein adiponectin," says Bando. "Studies have shown the caloric burn from cold exposure to be almost double that at room temperature," he adds. Score!
2. Improve Appearance of Skin
This is especially true in areas with superficial blood vessels, where the veins are close to the surface of the body, as well as areas prone to puffiness, like the delicate skin under your eyes. This explains why spas typically offer cool cucumber slices or washcloths. "Applying them to the eye area causes the superficial blood vessels to constrict temporarily. This decreases puffiness and redness," explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Papri Sarkar. "It can also appear to make dark spots lighten because for many people, the darkness they see around the eyes is due to the superficial veins in that area," she adds. The effects are temporary, but if you've had a rough night or early morning, cold therapy serves as a quick fix.
3. Instant Energy Boost
Aside from the obvious jolt to the system, meditating or a short bout of work in the cold can be instantly invigorating. "There's immediate excitement when prepping yourself to do those short bursts of work. Adrenaline goes on high as you mentally psych yourself up for the work that's about to happen," says Dave Quevedo, Founder of Fit Foundry. "Training in cold weather can also improve cardiovascular efficiency due to the restriction of your lung capacity in the cold weather," he adds.
4. Soothe Muscles
Cold therapy also helps to reduce muscle swelling by decreasing blood flow. "This is achieved through a mechanism by which cold exposure decreases three of the primary cytokines responsible for inflammation," explains Bando. It also serves as a natural anesthetic and will help numb any pain or discomfort that may come from a muscle strain or injury. You should ice after your workout, not before.
5. Calm Inflammation
Generally speaking, cool temperatures help to calm the skin and decrease inflammation. "Hot showers, which many people love, can exacerbate dry skin, disrupt the skin barriers and can generally cause many common inflammatory conditions to flare (acne, rosacea, eczema.)," notes Sarkar. In general, dermatologists recommend showers in tepid water followed by immediate application of lotion or creams. "We'd recommend cold showers, but doing that seems mean," she admitted.
If yoga in the snow seems extreme but you're still itching to reap the feel-good benefits of cold therapy, here are four friendlier and practical DIY techniques that you can try for yourself.
- Frosty mist. "Keep a moisturizer, toner, or a spray bottle of water in your fridge at all times," recommends Sarkar. Spritz the cool water before applying your moisturizer and makeup. "I recommend this for frequent travelers too. You can bring an (empty) spritz bottle and get ice and water before you board on long plane flights. Spritzing and moisturizing throughout the flight really helps you look your best on the other side."
- Cold Rinse. This means adding a 15-second bout of cold to the end of a regular warm shower. "Do this at least five days in a week and increase by an additional 15 seconds in each subsequent week until you've arrived at a full minute of cold in week four," recommends Bando. Challenge accepted?
- Meditate in the snow. Or if that's too extreme, place a cool washcloth on your head, and practice deep breathing for five minutes a day. "It's a combo stress reduction technique plus cold therapy. Stress exacerbates or flares almost every skin condition so, in general, I love this idea!" notes Sarkar.
- Take a shiver walk. "The idea here is to walk in temperatures that'll have you shivering," explains Bando. Protect your extremities with gloves and earmuffs, but generally speaking, it's the less clothing, the better. "Take a walk around the block after dinner in gloves, earmuffs, shorts, and a t-shirt to aid in digestion and burn fat like you've never before experienced," he adds.