There are plenty of blanket statements out there about how cryotherapy (or, more simply, cold therapy) has anti-aging benefits. A lot of these claims come from cryotherapy spas and makers of cryotherapy devices, so it’s good to be cautious. But for healthy people who don’t have circulation or cardiac issues, there are a number of cold therapies that may have beneficial effects on both the mind and the body.
[Read: “Cryotherapy for Stress-Busting.”]
And while researchers admit there isn’t sufficient evidence to make firm medical claims about cryotherapy, studies have shown that cold may help reduce inflammation and muscle soreness and activate the immune system. It’s certainly an area worth exploring further, and you should always consult your doctor before trying any experimental therapy, especially involving severe temperature.
5 Cold Therapies to Consider
There are various ways to expose your body to cold, from stepping into a cryotherapy tank cooled to -200 degrees Fahrenheit for a few minutes to grabbing a cold pack out of the freezer. Some are going to be more effective than others, depending on what you’re hoping to accomplish.
1. Ice Packs & Exercise
There is an abundance of evidence showing that applying an ice pack to recent injuries correlates with faster recovery. Icing your skin (whether it’s your ankle, your face, or elsewhere) reduces blood flow to the area and so also dulls pain.
Recovering from an injury to get back to an exercise routine improves overall health and wellness. In fact, life-long exercise is associated with a longer life and may delay the onset of roughly 40 different chronic conditions. It can even stave off dementia.
2. “Frotox” & Cryotherapy Facials
A cryotherapy facial involves having liquid nitrogen blown across your face and décolleté (the neck and chest area) for 5-10 minutes. Sometimes called “frotox,” spas promise increased collagen production and tighter skin. Scientific research on the procedure is scant, but one study did report a satisfactory reduction in forehead wrinkles. There’s also plenty of anecdotal evidence that people who practice face-cooling techniques experience a reduction in inflammation
and oil production.
You can get a less intense ice water “facial” by splashing with cold water, dunking your face into a bowl of cold water, or simply spending a few minutes wearing an ice mask. At the very least, it’s likely to reduce any puffiness. It’s also easy to try if you just want to see whether or not it works for you.
3. Cold Water Immersion & Mental Health
Whether you climb into an ice bath for a few minutes or spend the last 30 seconds to two minutes of your shower with the water as cold as you can get it, you’ll likely feel invigorated afterward (though uncomfortable while it’s happening). Even at quick intervals, the cold water sends electrical impulses to your brain that increase alertness and energy and release endorphins. That feeling of optimism has even been shown to have an effect on depression, a disease that is correlated with a shorter lifespan.
[Read: “Transformative Travel: Ideal Places to Soak, Shower, and Float.”]
Other studies have provided preliminary evidence that those who swim in cold water and suffer from rheumatism, fibromyalgia, or asthma, reported that their swimming relieved pain related to their conditions.
4. Cryotherapy Massage & Gentle Acclimation
This type of massage can take place in a spa with a device that employs liquid nitrogen, or you can try it at home using cold rollers or even ice cubes. There is some evidence that shows it can help reduce hyperpigmentation and rosacea.
It’s worth considering that the most beneficial part of this cold therapy may be that it acclimates you to the cold and prepares you for more intense full-body therapies that can have more convincing benefits.
5. Contrast Hydrotherapy & Muscle Recovery
Going from very warm water or a steamy sauna into a cold shower or plunge pool—sometimes called circuit therapy—can help prevent post-workout fatigue and address the buildup of lactic acid after intense exercise, making you more likely to keep up with your regimen. Healthy subjects also reported less pain after alternating hot and cold baths.
Those who suffer from cardiac issues should avoid alternating hot and cold therapy, however, because the rapid vasoconstriction and vasodilation can do more harm than good.
Discipline and Dealing With Cold
But perhaps the most convincing reason to try some form of cryotherapy is the mental discipline required to get through it.
Cold therapy has been around for millennia, but for the last few decades, the primary proponent of this modality has been “Iceman” Wim Hof, a man who has truly conquered the cold. Using frequent exposure, breathing techniques
(akin to yogic pranayama), and meditation techniques, he’s shown that the human body can adapt to and thrive as a result of safe exposure to the cold. Fans of his approach provide a plethora of anecdotal evidence that cold exposure can improve feelings of wellbeing, enhance energy, reduce stress, and improve both focus and immunity.
Whether it’s the cold itself or the willpower, patience, dedication, and coping techniques we use to deal with our body’s reaction to cold, the number of testimonials about cold therapy’s benefits are striking. Whether or not it helps people reach an older age remains to be seen, but it is no doubt helping many proponents live and age better.
Come in from the cold (or not!) and download our free e-book, “Healthy Aging for Body, Mind & Spirit.”