Do you like going out into the cold? No, we’re not talking about a hot summer’s day when you walk into a perfectly air-conditioned office or take a plunge into the pleasant coolness of a swimming pool. By cold, we mean real cold—the kind that goes through your clothes and pinches your skin.
If you are like most people, you probably aren’t a big fan of uncomfortably cold temperatures. And that’s absolutely normal. It’s in our nature to seek comfort, driven by the force of self-preservation. And thanks to modern-day technologies of all kinds, from central heating to thermal wear and heated car seats, we no longer have to suffer a moment of that pinching cold.
But there’s a huge downside to a life of comfort. Our bodies are not as fit and strong anymore in the absence of a real need to defend itself. It comes as little surprise then that despite incredible medical advancements, proper hygiene, and good nutrition, the rates of obesity, diabetes, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and autoimmune diseases are climbing. To stay in shape, our body needs a healthy dose of stress.
The cold: The key to proper blood circulation and good health?
Conditions stemming from poor circulation claim almost 30 percent of deaths in the world. Just think about it: one-third of deaths are due to circulatory diseases. One of the main culprits of poor blood circulation is weak blood vessel musculature. When the veins cannot pump blood properly, for example, the blood pools, causing pain, discomfort, swelling, and even clotting.
Like other parts of the body, we need to keep our circulatory muscles toned for proper functioning. However, with a limited variety of temperature extremes—something we’ve so successfully achieved in recent years with our thermostats and layers of insulation—we don’t really expose ourselves to weather extremes on the regular.
Meanwhile, exposure to the cold can prompt a whole myriad of changes in our physiology, aside from our body’s direct response with processes geared towards warming itself. Cold boosts our mental awareness, regulates insulin production, and, yes, tones our circulatory system.
Conditioning yourself to the cold
You don’t have to move to the North Pole or go swimming in your local lake in the wintertime to reap the circulatory and health benefits of being cold. All it takes is stepping out just a little bit outside of your comfort zone.
The easiest change you can try is resetting your home thermostat. Over a third of British people keep the indoor temperature as high as 25◦C—quite hot, don’t you think? Gradually decrease your home temperature. For a cold conditioning boot camp, set your thermostat to less than 15◦C for a couple of weeks and don’t wear too many layers. This change can reinvigorate your system, improve your metabolism, and boost your circulation. Not a bad price to pay for so many benefits!
You can also try taking 30-second cold showers. Only half a minute—that’s it. Turn the cold water tap as far as it can go and feel the water pour over your head, back, chest, and legs.
When exposed to the shock and pain of the extreme cold, keep in mind two coping strategies. First, control your breathing. Your initial reaction will be to hyperventilate and clench your muscles. Don’t. Instead, try to relax, and soon you will notice that you feel much better and the cold is way more bearable. Once you’re there, suppress your body’s natural impulse to shiver. This will prompt your body to produce brown fat, which keeps you warm by burning the regular white fat. (Yes, weight loss is another benefit of cold exposure!)
As you can see, you can do a lot of good for your health by going back to nature. All you have to do is make yourself a little uncomfortable.