By definition, cryotherapy refers to the use of exposing a part of the body to cold temperatures in order to improve performance. However it is whole body cryotherapy (WBC) that people are beginning to talk about because of its use to boost metabolism, increase endurance, and even help reverse depression. WBC uses short term exposure to extreme like temperatures in what is called cryochamber - a human sized tank filled with liquid-nitrogen cooled air. The procedure lasts about 2-3 minutes in temperatures that can reach -130 degrees C (-266 degrees F)! A simpler method would be to just take an ice bath for around an hour which many athletes are commonly seen doing. By exposing inflammation in our bodies to very cold temperatures, the cold constricts blood vessels and reduces blood flow to the area, and pain, swelling, helping our injuries to heal quicker. The idea of using arctic like temperatures to help reduce inflammation has been around for a long time, but researchers are now discovering that it has a lot more to offer than just that.
Muscle Soreness and Recovery:
After exercising, the immediate inflammation that you experience is actually a positive response. It means that your body is in tissue-repair mode, making them stronger than they were prior. Your muscles become filled in blood and and pro-inflammatory response rushes to the area and anti-inflammatory cytokines arrive to keep your immune system in check. The series of inflammation, tissue-repair, and anti-inflammatory mediators is the reason behind our growth and healing in our muscles. This brings up the debate on when to begin icing after exercise. Many people tend to think that icing immediately after exercise is the proper way to deal with soreness. However, it is believed that if you ice too quickly after exercise that it can actually hinder performance and reduce the benefits that you would have gotten out of the workout. Instead of icing right away, you should wait an hour to give the muscles some time to relax on their own.
Increased Fat Burning:
The idea behind this one is pretty simple. When the body is exposed to cold temperatures, your metabolism begins to increase in order to warm your body. During this process, body fat is being burned in a process called cold thermogenesis. This process can speed up your metabolic rate by 350%! Long-term mild cold exposure can also increase brown adipose tissue (BAT), which is a type of fat that is beneficial to our bodies. Unlike other types of fat, BAT actually increases metabolism and burns energy and glucose in order to create heat. In a study, people who slept in rooms of around 66 degrees F, showed the highest rates of BAT. This means by cooling your room at night you can actually help speed up your metabolism and burn off some calories as you sleep!
Better Mood and a Better Night’s Sleep:
Exposing the body to cold temperatures can produce feel-good endorphins and increase production of norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a hormone and neurotransmitter that is involved in our sleep-wake cycle. It has been shown that it has a big impact on energy, focus, mood and sleep patterns. Cold water immersion at 57 degrees F (14 degrees C) for 1 hour increased norepinephrine 530% and dopamine, another feel-good neurotransmitter, by 250%. It’s remarkable that by simply exposing the body to cold temperatures, so many profound effects can be seen.