What would you say if someone asked you to stand inside a chamber at sub-zero temperatures? Chances are you wouldn’t be interested in freezing your tail off! But for athletes and wellness-conscious individuals across the nation, that’s exactly what they’re doing.
Whole-body cryotherapy is a technique developed in 1978 that has been studied throughout Europe since. It involves stepping into a cryotherapy chamber and allowing the temperature to drop to anywhere between -166 and -222 degrees Fahrenheit through the use of liquid nitrogen, which is a non-toxic, natural gas. Your body’s surface temperature drops to approximately 30 degrees Fahrenheit during a cryotherapy session.
The treatment lasts for two to three minutes, which doesn’t allow enough time for your core body temperature to drop. However, it does cause your surface temperature to drop, and your blood rushes to your vital organs. As you step out of the cryotherapy chamber and back into the heated room, your extremities fill with nutrient-rich and super-oxygenated blood. This has an incredible benefit on your health. Take a look at what happens to your body when you try cryotherapy.
1. Inflammation Decreases
Think about the first thing you do to reduce inflammation when you injure yourself. You put ice on the injury, don’t you? Cryotherapy works in a similar way. When your body is exposed to cold temperatures, the blood vessels constrict. Less blood flow means reduced swelling.
While the cold temperatures allow for short-term inflammation relief, cryotherapy goes beyond that to offer long-term benefits. Whole-body cryotherapy triggers the release of norepinephrine, which stimulates the anti-inflammatory response. This cryotherapy benefit can be useful in treating the pain and inflammation associated with conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia.
2. Pain Eases
Along with anti-inflammatory effects, cryotherapy is said to reduce pain in individuals with chronic conditions like fibromyalgia. The effects differ depending on the person. In some people, pain relief may last a few hours while others may experience relief for days. One study on fibromyalgia patients showed that after 15 consecutive cryotherapy sessions, fibromyalgia patients reported an improved quality of life.
3. Mood Improves
For individuals suffering from mental stress and depression, cryotherapy may be an effective alternative to antidepressants. During a cryotherapy session, endorphins are released into the blood. Endorphins are what are known as “feel-good” hormones. Not only does this assist in reducing pain, but endorphins help boost mood. What’s more, cortisol levels decrease as a result of cryotherapy. Cortisol is the stress hormone, and lower levels of cortisol in the body can help reduce stress and depression symptoms.
4. Sleep Quality Improves
In similar ways to how cryotherapy improves mood, it can also help boost quality of sleep at night. The increase of norepinephrine in the body and the decrease in cortisol that occurs after a cryotherapy session helps support your body’s healthy sleep-wake cycle so you can fall asleep easier.
5. Toxins Decrease
One of the prominent claims of cryotherapy treatment is that it helps flush toxins from your tissues when your blood vessels constrict from the cold. When the nutrient-rich blood returns to the area, it is toxin-free to enrich the tissue with nutrients, oxygen, and healthy enzymes. This contributes to younger-looking, healthier skin, improved healing, and reduced inflammation.
6. Metabolism Increases
Your body uses a lot of energy to heat itself. During a cryotherapy session, you burn approximately 500 to 800 calories. While this sounds great for a single three-minute session, the therapy really packs a punch over the long term. Undergoing repeated cryotherapy sessions can help boost your overall metabolism so you can burn more calories throughout the day. Because of this, cryotherapy may help people who are struggling with weight loss when coupled with a healthy diet and exercise regimen.
7. Joint and Muscle Strength Improve
A popular therapy used by athletes world-wide is ice baths, and cryotherapy works in the same way. Exposure to the cold helps strengthen joints and muscles to assist in athlete recovery. In intense, repetitive exercise, athletes develop micro trauma, or small tears in their skeletal and connective tissue. Cold treatment, such as with cryotherapy, constricts blood vessels to reduce swelling and decrease tissue breakdown.
What’s more, when the nutrient-rich blood returns to these areas following a cryotherapy session, it jump-starts the healing process. The difference is that with ice baths, your muscles need time to recover from the cold. Since cryotherapy only cools your surface temperature and not your internal tissues, you can return to your exercise immediately.
8. Collagen Production Increases
Following cryotherapy, your body produces more collagen. This is a protein responsible for building strong joints, cartilage, hair, and skin. Cryotherapy also slows the enzyme collagenase, which contributes to collagen breakdown. It also inhibits cortisol, known as the stress hormone, which also assists in the breakdown of collagen.
Not only can increased collagen production improve recovery for athletes, but it has many age-defying benefits on the skin. Collagen plays a major role in skin health and can help reduce wrinkles and the appearance of cellulite. Because of cryotherapy’s age-defying effects, it’s sometimes been called the fountain of youth.
9. White Blood Cell Counts Rise
Cryotherapy produces a powerful immune system response. It causes the body to increase production of white blood cells, which not only helps in reducing inflammation but aids in boosting the overall immune system. Cryotherapy is also said to improve leptin levels, which are also connected to the immune system.
With the many positive effects cryotherapy has on the body, it works in multiple ways to promote healing and athlete recovery, improve sleep, reduce pain, boost skin health, assist in weight loss, and more. It’s recommended to book 2-3 sessions per week for optimum results.