Have you ever delighted at the idea of working out in a hot gym or on a sunny, sweltering day because of all the extra calories you can imagine sweating through your pores? Or maybe you’ve sat for long periods of time in a sauna after a workout? Soaked in a hot bath to loosen up the muscles?
We aren’t knocking these methods, as heat exposure promotes blood flow to your skin, which can help with muscle repair and relaxation. But what if we told you cold showers, working out in the snow, and ice baths could be just as useful, if not more-so?
Do we have your attention? Good. Self-experimenter Tim Ferriss and popular personal trainer Ben Greenfield have both delved deep into cold thermogenesis over the past couple year. Each has incorporated various techniques into their regimens. An interesting trivia fact first led Tim Ferriss down the road of cold exposure: at a time, Michael Phelps was known to eat 12,000 calories per day. How was that possible, considering he’d have to swim continuously for 10 hours every single day to burn off that kind of intake? Then it hit him: Michael Phelps spent 3-4 hours a day in the water, which is 24 times more thermally conductive than air. His body was burning all those calories just to stay warm.
If he can, why can’t we?
The science behind it is a little more complicated than that, but the benefits are there for the taking. In this post you’ll find a brief overview of cold thermogenesis mechanics and tips from Tim and Ben on how to incorporate it into your life.
The Benefits of Cold Exposure
As we’ve talked about before, the mitochondria in your cells are like powerhouses: they produce the energy your body needs. When there’s too much energy, it’s stored as fat. Under normal conditions, the body turns food into ATP (the energy currency of the cell). Cold exposure disrupts this. The body wants to keep internal conditions just right, and this includes body temperature. So when you reduce your body temperature, instead of producing energy, your mitochondria begin to produce heat. This increases your metabolism, burns more calories, and reduces the appetite.
Yes, it’s like a miracle drug.
This effect is especially seen in brown adipose tissue, which is sometimes referred to as “fat-burning fat” and is thought to be derived from the same stem cells as muscle tissue. Specifically, cold prompts brown adipose tissue to burn fat and glucose as heat. Studies also suggest that cold itself could lead to increased brown adipose tissue in the body.
Acute cold exposure has also been found to stimulate the immune system.
Who knew how much benefit you could get from a little chill?
Putting It To Good Use
Okay, that all sounds good, but how do you implement it? Are we suggesting you jump in a frozen lake for a few hours a day?
Not quite. The good news is you can get some benefits from cold exposure without going to extremes. Here are some everyday tips from Tim Ferriss and Ben Greenfield:
- Place an ice pack on your upper back and upper chest for 30 minutes per day (you can do this while relaxing in front of the TV, for example).
- Drink about half a liter of ice water each morning.
- Start and end every day with a cold shower. And don’t be afraid to shiver afterwards! Ben Greenfield usually keeps up the calorie-burning by ‘wandering around the house doing chores and making breakfast while wearing as few clothes as possible.’ He assures us that although it will be uncomfortable at first, after a couple weeks the body will adapt to this routine and welcome it!
- If you live in a cold climate, go outside to exercise. Be sure to protect body parts that are cold0sensitive, such as your face, hands, and feet.
- This one seems obvious given how we opened the post, but could be easy to overlook: include water exercise. Ben Greenfield’s article How to Exercise in Water is a good place to get some ideas.
For the advanced . . .
If you really want to get into the thick of things, ice baths are a great way to chill the body. It can be quite uncomfortable, so we suggest implementing the above tips before even touching this one. Don’t say we didn’t warn you:
- Immerse yourself in ice water up to your waist for 10 minutes, three times per week. (Simply fill your tub with cold water and ice cubes). Once that doesn’t give you nightmares anymore, graduate to 15-minute ice baths three days a week. Tim Ferriss says you can multiply the effects even further by using an a2 adrenal receptor antagonist, like yohimbine.
So there you have it! Let us know if you have any questions and we’ll see if we can dig up the answer for you. In the meantime, we’d love to hear how experimenting with the cold goes for you! Before you know it, you’ll be just like this guy:
….or not. One can dream, though, right?
The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.