MIND, WORKOUT 18th April 2016

Cold as Ice: The lesser known benefits of Ice

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Application of ice during the acute stages of an injury is nothing new, everyone knows this (I think). Ice combats inflammation and therefore reduces swelling and pain.  It is also widely used as a post workout recovery protocol, again because of it’s countering effects to your body’s inflammatory response after a hard workout. However, to leave it at that would be a huge disservice to our cool friend.  You see, ice isn’t just a quick fix when your ankle is swollen or your muscles are crying from soreness and lactic acid build up…. Flying under the radar, here are some of the most surprising reasons you need to keep ice on deck:

Fat Loss

If you are unfamiliar with Cold Thermogenesis or Dr Jack Kruse (Neurosurgeon turned extreme bio hacker who lost 100 lbs in less than a year WITHOUT exercise) it’s essentially your body using cold exposure to accelerate fat loss. How? Through a set of physiological reactions that take place when we expose our bodies to the cold. For starters, adrenaline release is triggered (does anyone breathe a sigh of relief when their shower suddenly turns cold?!), which in turn sets off your metabolism. Secondly, the hormone Adiponectin secreted by adipose fat tissue, is prompted to do so under cold conditions. Likewise, Leptin the King of Hormones since it controls all energy metabolism in the body, is released in large doses when exposed to the cold… Large enough to cause your waist line to shrink. Despite it’s relative infancy in the field of nutritional science, cold thermogenesis as a means to accelerate fat loss has gained momentum over the years with an increasing number of studies supporting it’s case. How does ice fit in? Aside from the obvious fact it’s cold, ice when used in conjunction with water has proven to be twenty times more effective for cold thermogenesis versus cold air exposure. However, before you go dumping ice into your tub and running cold water for ‘bath time’ be warned…. an ice bath at 50 °F is not for the faint of heart and anyone attempting to try it should absolutely consult their physician and do any form of cold exposure with water, under supervision.

The Immune System:

If you are still warming up to the benefits of ice (pun intended) this second benefit is sure to reel you in. Most of us at some point in our lives will experience a common cold. When this happens, it means our immune system; the body’s first line of defense against the bacteria and toxins of everyday life has been compromised. Typically we bounce back after some rest, but sometimes the system will gradually deteriorate leading to serious long term implications: diabetes, heart disease and auto immune diseases to name a few. Simply put, our immune system needs to be in tip top condition for us to maintain good health but modern medicine has mostly regarded the immune system as one that cannot be voluntarily controlled …. Enter Wim Hof aka the Ice Man.

Wim Hof is nothing short of astonishing, he holds over twenty world records, they include:

  • Running a marathon above the polar circle at −4 °F on his bare feet
  • Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro wearing just shorts, and
  • Running a marathon on the highest desert plains in the world, the Namib Desert, WITHOUT any water or food

Wim however, would not consider himself super-human, rather, he consider’s himself well-trained in techniques involving ice immersion, breath work and meditation. Combined, these techniques known as the ‘Wim Hof Method’  are proving to scientists that we can in fact control our immune system and consequently fight off disease. So what role does ice play in all of this? What scientists are observing (from initial findings) is that exposing our body to ice increases production of white blood cells. Going back to High School Biology, we know that white blood cells make up our immune system, they fight off infections to stop disease from ever happening. An increase in ice exposure is pointing towards a stronger immune system. 

Chronic Inflammation and Tendonitis: The Pain Dynamic

This is where I get personal…. For the past three months I have been dealing with De Quervains Tenosynovitis aka Wrist Tendonitis.  I’ve blogged about this in previous posts and apologize to those who are reading about it for the Nth time. Needless to say, what I discovered in the past month has fast tracked my recovery and for that reason I feel compelled to share it here. Before I do, let’s step back a minute to understand what causes tendonitis. 

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Tendonitis has set in because the muscles have become tight and until they are relaxed there is no healing of the tendon or an end to your pain.  This may seem obvious, but you will notice it is never considered as part of your rehab plan when you see a physical therapist. The solution most PTs offer involves a few rounds of TENS and Ultrasound (the machines that stimulate blood flow). The problem with this method comes down to its temporary nature. There is no way in the world a few ten minute sessions of Ultrasound therapy can make up for months of tightening muscles. What I needed was something more. After weeks of research I discovered a tendonitis expert online who offered me  a phone consultation and what I learnt is what I believe saved me from months of non-improvement. The protocol was two stages, stage 1: ice dipping the entire fore arm for ten second periods over a total of 1 to 2 hours EVERY DAY.

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This made sure I did nothing for a two week period after I returned home in the evenings. Ice dipping the whole forearm means you target every muscle that is tight, its more bang for your buck. The ice immersion is forcing your muscles to contract such that the irritative waste product as per the diagram is forced out, and new blood flow is allowed in. In between dips, you can apply heat which relaxes the muscle, a process known as Contrast therapy. Stage 2 (and where I currently am) involves ice massaging using a bottle of ice water, targeting specific tight spots on the arm and thumb pad. The massage is breaking down adhesions and the ice penetrates deeper than heat. This methodology is one of the best kept secrets in treating tendonitis, and it’s free! But it will take a lot of patience…. spending week nights dipping your forearm in ice for hours on end is not practical or fun, but as always, it comes back to how much you want something and what you are willing to do for it. I was motivated and can happily report my progress has exponentially improved so much so that I returned to the weight room this week…. watch this space.

Depression

Don’t worry I’m not about to end this post on a low note. I really just wanted to touch on something I came across and found to be quite fascinating. Did you know, when Van Gogh cut his ear off, they sent him to the insane asylum where he was treated by way of two ice baths a day for his duration under care (one year). Anecdotes aside, preliminary findings in research  studies suggest that cold exposure has effects comparable to anti-depressants!

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Conclusion

Whether you’re after accelerated fat loss, a boost to your immune system, a powerful aid in fighting tendonitis, or an uplift in mood, it pays to be cold as ice….so long as you’re willing to sacrifice.

As always, pushing for health x