Published on September 17, 2012
As I write today's post, I have just finished my usual 5 minute morning cold shower, followed by 10 minutes of morning yoga in my chilly backyard – and I'm currently wearing a cool fat burner vest.
I may be no Wim Hof (the “Iceman”, who is pictured above and featured in videos like this), but this type of cold exposure has become a morning ritual for me, and I typically do it in a fasted state – trying to accumulate at least 45-60 minutes of “goose bumps” in the AM.
Compared to doing a rigorous morning workout in a fasted state, this kind of cold thermogenesis achieves a similar fat burning effect, but is less stressful on my body and joints than exercise – and let's face it: I can't exactly write this article while I'm riding a bike, but I certainly can while wearing an ice-packed vest.
And lately, my chilly adventures don't stop with morning cold exposure…
Later today, following my afternoon workout, I'll go shut down post-workout inflammation and rapidly cool my core by jumping in the nearby 56 degree Spokane river for a 15-20 minute soak while I catch up on my daily dose of NPR's “Science Friday” podcast.
So why do I expose my body to this kind of treatment, and what are the benefits? You're about to find out, see 3 things I've been using to enhance cold thermogenesis, and also get a glimpse into why the argument that “icing doesn't work” is complete bunk.
If you listened to my interview with Jack Kruse about cold thermogenesis, then you know that we discussed a host of benefits from frequent cold exposure done the right way, such as:
- Lowering body fat
- Increasing hormone levels
- Improving sexual performance and fertility
- Lowering blood sugar
- Cutting food cravings
- Improving adrenal function
- Fixing thyroid issues
- Enhancing immune function
- Improving deep sleep quality
- Increasing pain tolerance
- Reducing inflammation
So why does cold exposure achieve some of these benefits? Here how (and for you science nerds, I'm going to include a list of studies at the end of this post):
Some Benefits of Cold Exposure
Brown adipose tissue, or BAT, is primarily found around your collar bones, sternum, neck, and upper back. It is a unique kind of fat that can generate heat by burning the regular white fat (adipose tissue) found on a your stomach, butt, hips, and legs.
In most cases, you'd need to exercise or engage in caloric restriction to first burn glucose (blood sugar) and then move on to glycogen (stored liver and muscle sugar) before finally beginning to utilize fat as fuel source. But BAT can immediately and directly burn white fat.
Although BAT is found in all mammals, babies or individuals exposed to frequent bouts of cold temperature tend to have higher levels of brown fat to generate heat and help to keep them warm. And while exercise and fasting can also both increase BAT, they don't hold a candle to cold.
Before we move on from BAT, there's two important thing you should know:
1) via a process called “mitochondrial uncoupling”, cold exposure can also cause an metabolic upregulation and production of heat in not just fat, but also skeletal muscle…
2) just recently the journal Nature Medicine discovered that a protein called sarcolipin, that, similar to BAT, can burn storage fat to maintain temperature. But research on this protein is limited…
To get started with getting your BAT churning away storage fat, you can use something like the Cool Fat Burner vest (see right) to keep your primary BAT areas activated.
Adinopectin is a hormone released during cold exposure that breaks down fat and shuttles glucose into muscles (which can lower blood sugar). This not only has an anabolic, muscle repair effect, but can also enhance recovery. Interestingly, low adiponectin levels have been associated with obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Adinopectin chalks one point up for getting exposed to some cold post-workout (more on that later).
Enhanced Immune System
Cold therapy has been proven to enhance the immune system, primarily by increase levels of immune system cells that help fight disease and infection.
Specifically, cold exposure – likely due to it's ability to stimulate norepinephrine release – can induce leukocytosis and granulocytosis, an increase in natural killer cell count and activity, and a rise in circulating levels of interleukin-6, all of which can massively improve your immune system integrity.
Increased Cell Longevity
mTOR is a protein found in humans. Perhaps you've heard that worms, fruit flies and mice live longer when exposed to caloric restriction, and it is hypothesized that this is caused by downregulation of the mTOR pathway. Inhibition of the mTOR pathway can bring about cell autophagy, which is basically how your body cleans out metabolic “junk” within the cells – and this is the method via which cells may live longer and healthier lives.
Cold exposure has an effect on cellular longevity by similar mTOR pathways as caloric restriction and intermittent fasting. Basically, you can think of it as a combination of simultaneously increasing your cell's hardiness and health.
Higher Metabolism & Lower Blood Sugar
Cold exposure can cause blood glucose to be burned rapidly as fuel to assist in heating the body or stored in muscles to enhance recovery or performance – before that blood sugar can potentially be converted to fat via the liver. So while I'm not trying to give you an excuse to cheat on your diet and then use cold thermogenesis, it can come in handy should you slip up and eat too much ice cream.
When the metabolism of human BAT is studied using a combination of positron emission tomography (PET) combined with computed tomography (CT), glucose uptake has been observed to increase 12-fold in BAT by exposure to cold temperatures, along with a significant increase in metabolism and energy expenditure.
Getting the idea that cold exposure might be helpful? The benefits don't stop with what I've listed above, but I thought I'd at least give you a taste of just a few of the upsides to cold exposure.
So Should You Ice After A Workout?
In the meantime, however, despite all the benefits of cold exposure, when it comes to using cold or icing post-workout, there seems to be a sudden doubting of icing’s efficacy across the internet and in several magazines.
The argument goes something like this: when an injury occurs, your body creates inflammation as a healing response. So if inflammation is the body’s natural way to heal an injury, why would you want to block this inflammatory process with ice?
Although I have a more comprehensive response to this argument against ice, forthcoming in Lava Magazine, I'll give you 4 good reasons why, in addition to the cold thermogenesis benefits listed above, you actually should ice after a long or especially hard workout (and why I wear my tight, stretchy geeky pants post hard run or bike ride, filled with ice):
1. Ice does not completely reduce inflammation based swelling. But ice can prevent excessive swelling from occurring for a long period of time after the initial injury occurs. While some swelling certainly does important healing components such as white blood cells and other chemicals involved in the healing process to migrate into damaged tissues through increased vascular permeability, and also physically protects an injured area through decreasing it’s potential range of motion, there is no physiological reason to allow swelling to freely progress for hours or days after an injury occurs, especially if you're smart enough to have ice around.
In fact, prevention of excessive swelling is important because fluid that has escaped into the tissues from excessive swelling can create a low oxygen (hypoxic) environment that can lead to additional tissue damage and delay healing. In addition, swelling can cause distention in joint capsules and other tissues, and excitation of nervous system components called mechanoreceptors – which can increase pain. Ice simply reduces this effect by causing vasoconstriction (shrinks blood vessels) around the vasculature surrounding an injury.
2. The cold temperature of ice can slow down nerve conduction velocity and shut down the activation of your muscle spindles, making it a highly effective pain reliever and muscle relaxant. If a muscle is in less pain and is more relaxed, then mobilization and movement become a reality, and a return to functional training status can occur much more quickly, which can limit muscle atrophy or loss of fitness.
3. Ice also reduces metabolic activity in the tissues that you ice, making them better able to resist the damaging effects of the impending loss of oxygen from inflammatory swelling pressure. In other words, lower tissue temperatures from icing means less oxygen is required by your muscles to sustain their integrity.
4. Finally, as you learned in point 1, ice causes vasoconstriction, or shrinking of blood vessels. But unless you’re in extreme conditions where you must shuttle blood to your brain and vital organs to survive, your body will avoid tissue death by not allowing the body part you’re icing to cool excessively. Through a process called “reactive vasodilation” (also known as the Hunting reflex or Lewis reflex), your vessels, while being exposed to cold, create a negative pressure in the capillary system, which causes a pumping of inflammatory and metabolic byproducts out of an injured area, while allowing additional healing components such as macrophages and white blood cells to mobilize into the area. When combined with pressure and elevation, this “pumping” action of ice can be an extremely effective rehabilitation tool (and you can observe this in nature by simply jumping into a cold lake for about 20 minutes and watching your skin slowly turn red as reactive vasodilation occurs).
How You Can Learn More About Cold Exposure & Other Tricks
The fact is, sitting around on my computer while wearing a cool fat burner vest, wearing stretchy pants that combine pressure and ice, or keeping quick wraps in my freezer, are just a very few of the little things I do to enhance physical or mental performance.
So in my next live BenGreenfieldFitness Inner Circle webinar video, which is coming up in just 1.5 weeks, I'm literally going to whip out my camera and walk you through my office, kitchen, bedroom and garage – revealing every little thing I have lying around to help me bounce back faster, keep me mentally sharp or give me a shortcut to enhancing fitness – and answer your questions live along the way.
Here's a video that tells you about that cool opportunity (and by the way, getting into my Inner Circle costs one buck when you click here):
OK, so enough of that prancing around half-naked in my bicycle helmet. If you want into the Inner Circle for a buck, click here (and yes, I'm serious, inside the Inner Circle I am literally giving you my entire diet and personal workout program if you simply want to do my workouts and eat what I eat).
And finally, as promised, here's a list of studies for you to peruse if you'd like to study up more on the benefits of cold thermogenesis.
- Cold exposure increases adiponectin levels
- Adiponectin burns fat
- Cold exposure increases powerful anti-oxidant glutathione
- Adiponectin, obesity, insulin resistance, and fat-burning
- Adiponectin resistance in obesity
- Intermittent fasting likely produces new BAT
- BAT and food digestion
- Women and BAT levels
- Capsinoids increases BAT activity
- Sleep, light-cycles, melatonin and BAT in humans
- Cold exposure, blood glucose, and BAT in rats
- Glucose utilization, BAT, and intermittent fasting in rats
- Carb and fat burning ratios vary during shivering
- Cold exposure and longevity in mice
- Cold exposure boosts the immune system
- Low adiponectin related to inflammatory heart disease
- BAT burns glucose and boosts metabolism in humans
- BAT therapy to combat obesity
- BAT burns fat in the blood stream
- BAT, glucose, insulin, and cold stimulus
- BAT activity in humans inversely correlate to obesity
- BAT-disabled mice become obese
- Rising environmental temperatures linked to obesity?
- Brown Fat (BAT) detected in subjects after cold exposure
- Age, gender, insulin sensitivity, and other factors in BAT activity
- Exercise in humans and mice can create new BAT (backup)
- BAT in various age groups
- Exercise increases adiponectin levels in obese men
- Cold therapy, but not ephedrine, activate BAT
- BAT, thermogenesis, and bone density
- The sympathetic nervous system and fat-burning during cold exposure
- Skeletal muscle uncoupling after thermal loading
- Adiponectin as a treatment for obesity and heart disease
- Adiponectin, fasting, and circadian rhythms
If you have questions, comments or feedback on burning more fat with cold thermogenesis, or anything else, just leave them below this post.
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Also published on Medium.