By: Dr. Shauna K. Young
If you watch television at all, spend any time on the internet, or follow sports you probably by now have heard some rumblings about Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) and its many reported benefits. Whether it was the heavily watched episode of Shark Tank where renown businesswoman and investor Barbara Corcoran jumped on the technology like… well… a shark, the NCIS: Los Angeles episode where LL Cool J’s character “Sam” said he felt like he could “jump over a bus” after having WBC, the Housewives of Beverly Hills discussing the beauty aspects of WBC, or motivational superstar Tony Robbins talking it up, it all sounds pretty dang cool (pun intended).
Add to that the fact that it is being used for pain and muscle recovery by everyone from major sports teams (like the Denver Broncos, New York Knicks, and Cleveland Cavaliers) to celebrities like Demi Moore, Floyd Mayweather, Daniel Craig, Jennifer Aniston, and the participants of Dancing With The Stars, and you now have some pretty cold hard evidence for giving it a go (again, pun intended… sorry).
Now that WBC has your interest, let’s look at some facts. In a nutshell, Whole Body Cryotherapy is brief exposure to subzero temperatures. The extreme cold stimulates skin sensors, activating a Central Nervous System response. This causes the release of endorphins; the body’s natural pain inhibitors and mood elevators, while the enhanced activity in blood circulation decreases inflammation by clearing toxins and metabolic waste with a supply of oxygen and nutrient enriched blood to stimulate faster healing and a much increased muscle and injury recovery time.
Originally developed in Japan in the 1970’s for use with arthritis pain and muscle recovery, whole body cryotherapy was rapidly adapted in Europe and has been in use since 2006 in the United States for the daily management of pain, inflammation, energy, and stress related conditions. It is now even becoming known for the beauty benefits of softer skin, decreasing cellulite, weight loss, and anti-aging benefits. Lots of benefits just for getting cold for a few minutes, right?
Like many things that are actually good for us, we have been programmed to avoid “getting cold” at all costs. We spend tons of money and research time finding the best fabrics and clothes in order to stay warm. We have seat heaters in our cars. Be honest – how many of us can’t even handle taking the trash can to the curb on a chilly morning without throwing on a coat? So how can we POSSIBLY handle subzero temperatures almost naked? And why in the world would we do so on purpose?! Good question.
For one thing, in addition to the benefits I listed briefly above, getting cold has a number of unexpected perks:
It increases alertness. The deep breathing that occurs in response to your body’s shock to the cold in order to keep you warm, increases your overall oxygen intake. More oxygen, especially at our altitude, it always a good thing. Your heart rate will also accelerate, releasing a rush of blood that will increase your all day energy level.
Increases immunity and circulation. By encouraging blood to rush to and surround our organs, cold can affect and improve overall circulation. Better blood circulation leads the arteries to more efficiently pump blood, and according to Dr. Joseph Mercola, a natural health expert, it may improve overall heart health. Lower blood pressure and clearer arteries serve to improve our immune system in general.
Reduces inflammation. Anyone who has ever participated in a sport of any kind has probably been subjected to an ice bath or at the very least a cold compress to speed muscle recovery and aid in pain relief, as cold is well known for its pain reducing effects. I’d like to note here that personally I hugely prefer the dry cold of the WBC to the wet cold of ice. Anyone who lives around here knows that 40 degrees in low humidity is a world away from 40 degrees in a humid climate.
Helps relieve stress and depression. Because of the intense impact of cold receptors in the skin, which send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from the peripheral nerve endings to the brain, a few minutes of cold can produce an anti-depressive effect, boost your mood, and give you a “runner’s high”.
Sounds great, right? So now let’s get to the “hard” part…
When we say “cold”, we’re talking COLD. Just in case any of you locals just snorted and said “You don’t have to tell ME about cold – I live in Colorado”, let me be more specific. Your kitchen freezer generally stays between +15 degrees and -15 degrees Fahrenheit. An ice bath can reach temperatures of -100 to -110. The coldest natural temperature ever recorded on earth was -126.8 degrees Fahrenheit, and I have a feeling that Vostok Station in Antartica is probably colder than your yard, although it may not have felt like it last Christmas.
Whole Body Cryotherapy uses temperatures of between -220 and -274 degrees Fahrenheit. Yowza!! While it is only for a time period of one to three minutes, I’m not gonna lie to you. It’s freaking cold.
Speaking to my first time, I had about 187 things rushing through my brain! What is negative over 200 degrees going to feel like? Am I going to get frozen in bad places? Should I be wearing more clothes? Am I going to be able to take three minutes of it? Am I going to shiver to death? Will I ever warm up again? Am I going to look like Han Solo at the end of The Empire Strikes Back? And most importantly, it’s kind of hard to get that whole “freeze to death” expression completely out of your mind!
Everyone is different, of course, but here’s what my first time looked like. I stayed pretty nervous for about the first 60 seconds. Sort of breathing weird, kind of anxious. Then a thought occurred. The same one that seems to occur to pretty much everyone. This is nothing like I thought it would be! It was plenty cold – no doubt there – but it was also kind of… nice. It had a bit of that “icy hot” feeling about it because of the extreme temperature. Because I kept moving inside the tank, the cold was hitting all of my skin and causing all sorts of different metabolic responses. The feeling in my muscle tissue was very different than it was in my fattier tissue. The injury in my hand – even though it was inside a glove – started to tingle. Constantly talking to the Tech, who was also giving me regular updates on how much time I had left, was keeping me pretty calm. After all, she was smiling and didn’t seem worried at all that I was going to turn into a human popsicle. Huh…
Just as I started thinking this was pretty easy, the endorphin release kicked in. This is desirable and we want it to happen during cryo, but this is your body’s natural “panic” response that will keep you alive in extreme emergencies. You’ve heard about women lifting cars off their children after accidents? This is the same response I was having. Panic.
This will sound strange but its true. The first time I felt it hit, and many times since I have had the same response. Instead of thinking to myself that I should tell the Tech to turn it off, or to gently push the door open myself to get out, it seems a perfectly reasonable thing to me to hoist myself up over the top of this huge machine and leap out – like Wonder Woman or something! I guess it’s the hard hit of endorphins that causes that, but to be honest – man what a rush! The panicky part goes away pretty quickly after it hits, but I know now why many runners half kill themselves to get that “runner’s high”! Whoo-wee!!
As trepidatious (read: scared) as I was to get in the tank the first time, I have never felt that way since. As I was getting dressed that very first time my biggest concern was “When can I do that again”! And after more than a dozen sessions I still feel the same way.
So what is the hardest part of doing cryotherapy? Is it the cold? Not really. It’s cold and the last 30 seconds can feel pretty long but… meh… you can do anything for three minutes.
Getting warm afterward? Not hardly! The heat virtually rushes back into your limbs. By the time you get dressed you’ve warmed up.
Going the distance? With the Tech standing there talking to you it really doesn’t feel that long. Not to mention that feeling all your aches and pains disappear in that cold mist goes a long way toward wanting to continue!
So the hardest part of cryotherapy – the absolute worst part – is getting up the nerve to step into that big black octagon for the first time. That is the absolute hardest thing you’ll have to do!
Go ahead and let your mind swirl; trying to stop that isn’t going to help. Be nervous – you’d be kind of dumb if you weren’t. Talk to the Tech. Dance around. Cuss if you must (although our house rule is no F-bombs until the last 30 seconds). Stand on your tiptoes and lean your head back and take a deep breath. Giggle. Whoop. By now you’re probably a lot more calm.
So as you step into that pre-cooled chamber, close the door, hand your robe over the door to the Tech, take a last tug on your gloves, and hear that nitrogen start hissing, you can take comfort. Just say this to yourself: “Cool your jets Buttercup – the hard part is over”.
Find out more about Whole Body Cryotherapy and its benefits at durangocryo.com
(Note: At Durango Cryotherapy, we use a cryosauna manufactured by Impact Cryotherapy. Impact Cryotherapy manufactures whole body cryosaunas in the U.S. in ISO 9001 certified facilities. The Impact Cryosauna has been evaluated by the FDA under the 513(g) process. The FDA has concluded the Impact Cryosauna is not a medical device. Products manufactured or produced by Impact Cryotherapy are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or chronic illness. – See more at: impactcryo.com.)