Shivering your way through winter? It could be better for you than you think…
It’s been a cold winter so far, but while we hole up indoors and crank up the heating, scientists are discovering that actually, the cold isn’t all that bad for you, and it can actually have some remarkable health benefits. In the 1960s and 1970s, researchers working in organ transplantation recognised the importance of exposing organs to cold temperature to keep them alive. This ground-breaking discovery led many scientists to gain interest in the study of cold therapy. Nowadays, cryotherapy facilities are popping up all over the world as people seek to reap some of the health benefits on offer. We hunted down some evidence to find out whether the claims stand up…
Exposure to the cold boosts your stores of brown fat, which is active and burns calories. Normal white fat, which by far outnumbers brown fat in the body, is inactive and simply stores energy, but the brown stuff can essentially turn calories into heat. Some experts speculate that central heating and keeping our environments warm all of the time could be part of the obesity puzzle, because a lack of brown fat has been linked to being overweight. So try turning down your thermostat a notch or two to make your body work a little bit.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for a year you will be aware of the importance of stopping blood sugar spikes (which put us at risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes). Well, the good news is cold exposure can boost the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which means glucose is cleared from the blood faster. In studies on rats, exposure to the cold caused the cells in their peripheral tissues to take up more glucose from the blood, meaning it could be a useful blood-sugar stabiliser.
Scientists have shown that it’s possible to boost your immunity to pathogens using cold exposure – specifically cold water immersion. Participants sat in 14°C water (a lot colder than it sounds) for an hour at a time over the course of six weeks, and all had increased amounts of natural killer cells circulating in their blood, meaning they had a more active immune system.
Inflammation is often labelled as the route cause of many diseases, from cancer and arthritis to heart disease, but studies have shown cold therapy can reduce it significantly. It does so by increasing adiponectin, a protein which works to prevent inflammation. It can also help to reduce the inflammatory response that happens during exercise in normal temperatures. And it’s no secret that top athletes love their ice baths for helping all the tissues in their body recover from a hard workout.
Experts recommend your bedroom should be relatively cool for a good night’s sleep – between 60 and 67 degrees fahrenheit is ideal. But a Dutch study found that by cooling participants’ core body temperatures further, they enjoyed double the slow-wave, restorative sleep. Keep a window open in your bedroom to reap the benefits.
Several studies on creatures including worms, mice and rats found that reducing their body temperatures caused them to live longer than the control groups kept at normal temperatures. And while these tests were admittedly done on animals, we can always hope that perhaps some of it applies to humans too!
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