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Cold Shock Protein

The benefits of cold water are not limited to brain health

When exposed to very cold temperatures, animals and humans have their ‘core’ body temperatures lower. Which we are most familiar with in the form of hypothermia, and is sometimes used medically in certain circumstances of trauma due to the fact that it is protective to brain cells.

This is because when the body undergoes significant cooling, it increases the levels of molecules in the body known as ‘cold shock proteins’, such as ‘RBM3’ and ‘RTN3’. Which were first seen within hibernating animals. During hibernation, these cold shock proteins help to protect the brain from damage and allow it to form new connections.

In 2015, scientists in Cambridge and Berlin demonstrated in mice that the presence of cold shock proteins can protect the brain against damage that is associated with misfolded proteins building up, which often lead to various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as various prion diseases.

These cold shock proteins have also been recently found within the blood of cold water swimmers. Showing that not only does cold induce this protein in humans, but that cold water swimming can be a method to raise this protective protein within the body. Depending upon the temperature of the water you normally swim in, it seems that you may be protecting your brain health in addition to getting a workout in.

The benefits of cold water are not limited to brain health

Exposure to cold water can have several benefits that can help your post workout recovery. The body coming into contact with cold water can potentially

Assist muscle recovery. When compared to individuals who did nothing after exercising, submerging in cold water showed delated onset of muscle soreness, and improved perception of recovery in the period following exercise.

Relieve pain. Cold water exposure is often used during physical therapy due to its ability to lower both inflammation and pain in those who use it. Which can be especially useful for individuals who experience long term chronic pain, as well as people recovering from injuries.

Boost your mood. Research has shown that depending upon the temperature of the water used, immersion in cold water can produce increases in dopamine (a neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for pleasure, that plays a key role in a person’s mood) of up to 250% above the baseline level of those studied.

Some of the different methods for cold water exposure

Cold water immersion: involves submerging the body up to the neck, or a specific area of the body in cold water. Ice baths are the best example of this, as the temperature of the water used can be easily controlled. When using water below 60°F (approx. 16°C), be sure to limit your ice bath to around 15 minutes at the longest.

Contrast water therapy: involves exposing the body to alternating warm and cold water. This is often used in physical therapy to assist in the treatment of pain. Exposure to warm and cold extremes creates an increase in blood flow due to the blood vessels expanding and constricting. Which can help injured tissue heal much faster than normal. There are multiple ways to perform this contrast therapy, but it is generally recommended to spend more time submerged in the warm water than the cold. For instance, for every one minute in cold water, spend about four minutes in the warm water.

Even cold showers can provide some of these benefits as well. However, because most showers cannot reach the same temperatures as ice baths, and the water is not covering all of the body, the benefits seen may not be the same as with immersion in cold water, but can be a way to ease into the practice. It may also be beneficial to practice controlled breathing while undergoing some form of this cold water exposure, combining its benefits with that of something like meditation.
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