Polar Plungers: Crazy or Genius?
Most of us are familiar with the concept of Polar Plunging, but have cast it aside as crazy, stupid, and at best, spontaneous entertainment. The question that comes to mind for me is where did this idea even originate? I ask this question because from a psychological level, humans constantly strive to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Sometimes the extremes we take to avoid pain and gain pleasure are confusing, but nonetheless, behind all we do we are truly aiming to better our lives. Polar plunging seems to be one of those “extreme measures,” and so I had to find out: was it some crazy idea or is there a deeper story? Well it turns out there was a deeper story. The roots of cold water plunging go far back and actually have many medicinal benefits.
During the primal era, man reaped the many benefits of nature’s elements. Cold water was what nature provided until the innovation of fire. Primal man never questioned nature, and while on the hunt or forge they openly embraced the cold and its many benefits. Though there was perfection in nature, there is no denying that life was incomplete. The lack of technology to combat and flow with the elements left primal man no choice but to evolve.
When Native Americans flourished on the land, they developed sweat lodges and more efficient housing. Being in tune with nature, they still used the benefits of cold therapy by alternating between sweat lodges and snow banks. When the Greeks developed a system for heating their water, they continued to bathe in cold waters for the health benefits. As time passed, it seems we have managed to hold on to much of the wisdom provided in nature in the form of the polar plungers. So far the verdict seems that polar plungers might be on to something.
Though the decline of polar plunging popularity has left us questioning it, there are many professional athletes and emerging health advocates that are reaping the rewards of it. So what exactly are the benefits gained by taking an icy dip?
The Many Benefits of Cold Water Therapy
- Lean Muscle Gain. Just 30 seconds of contact with cold water leads to fatty acid releases that provide heat production in the body felt as shivering. The shivering the body engages in is sufficient to carry insulin-regulated glucose into the muscles, attributing to lean muscle gain. Glucose is a carrier of nutrients for the muscle tissue; typically during exercise glucose is carried to the muscles to feed them. Taking a short cold shower can stimulate this process—no exercise required!
- Regular Blood Sugar. Insulin sensitivity is a common problem today. Many people are struggling with working out because of chronic fatigue induced by stress. The stagnation that results from stress related fatigue stifles the body’s ability to regulate glucose. Exercise stimulates the uptake of glucose (sugar) as fuel for energy. When we are lacking in exercise we tend to store more of that glucose as fat. Cold showers stimulate the muscle tissue to take in glucose, thus indirectly helping the body obtain optimal blood sugar regulation by using glucose more efficiently as fuel.
- Increased Immunity. Acute exposure to cold water has “immuno-stimulating” effects. Following a heated exercise or even quick hot shower with cold water augments this process even more. It is supposed that the increase of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that releases glucose from energy stores, increases blood flow to the muscle and oxygen to the brain. All of which can attribute to strengthening the immune system.
- Mental Benefits. The benefits of cold showers on the mind are too vast to limit to just one. From depression all the way to increased confidence, cold showers are supreme mental nourishment! There are multiple studies that show the mental benefits of cold showers. However, allow me to be your personal test subject and tell you that a dip in a cold shower without doubt improves my mood and gives me a natural mental alertness incomparable to any food or caffeine. One unique mental characteristic I have built with cold showers is my ability to “make the difficult choice, and quickly.” Decision making can stop us in our pursuit of many things. When you decide to make the tough choice each morning, by taking an icy cold shower instead of an instantly gratifying hot shower, you learn to become a better choice maker and it seems to set the pace of the day. Not to mention it shows you that short-term hard decisions can actually have rather immediate benefits—you look and feel amazing!
- You Look AMAZING. Like I said in bullet point number 4, the immediate benefits of how you look after a cold shower can be enough alone. After one shower you notice the tightening of your skin, the increased circulation (which also shows up in a new glow to your skin), the increase in leanness of appearance, your face becomes brighter, your skin softer and no longer dry from the over-exposure to hot water, and even a flattening to your stomach. It seems multi-faceted physiological benefits of cold water affects the digestive system and metabolic rate, which for me personally has improved digestion and keeps my stomach flat with no bloating.
Well there you have it—my 5 top reasons to get you to do the crazy and turn your hot shower into a cold one. A few last tips before you take the plunge. You only need to shower in the cold water for 30–60 seconds; this isn’t a death sentence! Additionally, you can start by alternating hot to cold or starting off with a slightly less hot shower, then finishing it with a few seconds of cold water. Eventually you can work your way up to cold showers only of 60 seconds. I like my cold showers first thing in the morning to really wake me up and get my body and organs alive!
Happy Polar Plunging!
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