I’ve been practicing Cold Thermogenesis for a while now. I actually got the idea to write this while listening to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s new book “Skin In the Game.” Which is exactly the mindset you need to have when you want the many benefits of Cold Thermogenesis.

Let’s Look at the Power of Cold Thermogenesis (CT)

If you are a human in winter today, take solace in the knowledge that being outside burns calories. Cold provides a healthy and sustainable alternative strategy for increasing energy expenditure. On one extreme, shivering can increase your metabolic rate is much fivefold. Whereas mild cold exposure, around 60°F, can induce a process called non-shivering cold thermogenesis, or CT for short. This can significantly improve your calorie-in to calorie-burned ratio. And even if you eat more to compensate, most people will not eat enough to undo the extra expenditure. CT increases your metabolic rate and the effects can last for a very long time.

Consider again that running a marathon burns about 2500 calories. A three hour CT session can burn around 3800 calories. The effect of CT on weight loss is great, but what may even be more important is considering the effect of long term exercise. Everyone can benefit from cold thermogenesis exercises, especially those with chronic disease like obesity, diabetes, and the arthritis type diseases.  CT works by manipulating your fat cells and increasing sensitivity to a hormone called leptin. Leptin is a hormone that regulates your satiety and your fat stores, thus how much food you’re going to eat. CT does not only increase your metabolic rate; it actually changes your DNA by regulating your genes. This is how CT can improve insulin sensitivity. Cold actually causes the body to preferentially use fatty acids and ketone bodies, thus being one way it helps in diabetes.

Melatonin

Cold is not just a fat loss tool, it benefits many physiologic systems. CT also offers affects a hormone called melatonin. The function of melatonin in your body is to direct your hypothalamus to decrease your brain temperature by about a half of a degree Celsius so you can go to sleep. Cold exposure increases your production of melatonin. It can slow down the rate of disease progression, especially in arthritis.

How it All Starts

One of the first things you should consider doing is to apply cold to your body. This is about having skin in the game! Some guidelines you should consider before starting a CT regimen is that mild cold stress begins at 80 degrees Fahrenheit in water and at 60 degrees F in air. Prolonged periods of cold exposure less than 32 degrees in air (and less than 50 degrees F in water) can put you in danger of hypothermia. It is important to cover your ears, fingers, and nose.  Remember the phrase, “gloves before sweaters.”

Ice Water

Cold adaptation begins with how you want to do it. It is important to think of CT as an exercise. Most start with water and ice. The easiest way to start is by drinking ice cold water. Drink 2 to 3 glasses at one time. Ice water is 40 degrees Fahrenheit, while your body rests at 98 degrees F, more than double that of ice water.

Ice Baths / River Soaks

Ice baths work by transferring the heat from your body to the water. The heat is actually transferred to the water via those tiny blood vessels called capillaries. Capillaries push and pull blood to the skin surface. This is one reason frost bite does not happen on your head. Even your head loses a lot of heat, mostly because it is not well insulated by fat. Wearing a head cap, gloves, and socks during ice baths will help you tolerate the experience much easier. The temperature of the water should be about 40 degrees F, but starting at a higher temperature may be more tolerable. Start by only immersing yourself up to your torso and see how that goes. It may take weeks to adapt to 40 degrees but start slowly. Even if you start with only 5 minutes, it will get better. If you find that ice baths are just not tolerable then go back to head dunks.

How Long to Stay In

Many people can tolerate 30 to 45 minutes in an ice bath per CT session. Start with one to two times per week depending on what your goals are. Think of CT sessions as exercising, because it really is. The important thing in CT is to start slowly and have patience. Once you are used to the ice baths, consider other means of CT like soaking in the lake and submersing yourself up to your neck, wearing light clothing during cold days. Other methods of CT include wrapping ice bags on your body. A compression shirt may be useful for this purpose.  be sure to double wrap the ice bags to prevent leakage. There is a product called the Cool Fat Burner Vest. It is basically a vest with ice packets in it.

What Not to Do

Some of the dangers of performing CT is getting your skin too cold. This is called skin urticaria. The end point of urticaria is frost bite. If you have any type of nerve problem like neuropathy or the like, check with a qualified health care provider before performing CT. Some people can even get a rash from cold exposure, and this is an actual allergy where the body produces an immune response to the cold.

If you ever want to read about some of the limits of CT just look up Wim Hof (aka the Iceman) He holds the world record for staying in an ice bath at 1 hour and 52 minutes. Or read one of Jack Kruse M.D.’s blogs about CT.

Pro cyclist Svein Tuft going for a cold soak near his home in Andorra.