No matter how hot the thermostat reaches outside, the thought of immersing yourself in extreme cold temperatures might seem like a form of medieval torture. Shockingly (pun intended) cold therapy has science backed benefits on mental and physical health that have celebrities like Lewis Hamilton and LeBron James relying on the practice as a natural way to jumpstart the immune system, increase overall energy, and alleviate various conditions from arthritis and joint pain to anxiety and stress-related ailments. It’s even been touted as a weight loss solution, alongside a healthy diet and regular exercise.  

EBONY spoke with nutritionist and wellness lifestyle coach, Mila Jouravleva, owner of The Fuel Stop, a boutique wellness center in New York City and Miami. The self-proclaimed anti-spa offers cutting-edge, regenerative services including cold therapy, which clients rely on to speed up muscle recovery, reduce pain and inflammation, and improve overall physical and mental health. Keep reading to find out why you should incorporate cold therapy into your wellness routine.

Understand Cold Therapy

In general terms, cold therapy refers to the use of low temperatures to promote natural healing. Ice baths, cold showers and Cryochambers are three common ways to experience it. Cryotherapy, which has skyrocketed in popularity, exposes the body to temperatures of -230F for three minutes inside a Cryochamber for a long list of health benefits “When our bodies are immersed in an extreme cold temperature of -230F for three minutes, it diverts the blood flow from the extremities to the core to protect vital organs from freezing,” explains Jouravleva. “The cold then brings down inflammatory cytokines [small secreted proteins in cells] and alleviates conditions such as arthritis and joint pain. Newly oxygenated blood rushes back to the extremities, improving circulation through the whole body.” Regular cold therapy sessions are scientifically proven to balance the nervous system and reduce inflammation as well, which helps to alleviate muscle and joint pain from injuries or after a strenuous workout.

Reap the Benefits

This therapy isn’t just for athletes or those seeking muscle recovery. It can also boost immunity, metabolism, and skin and sleep quality. When the body is exposed to cold temperatures for a set amount of time, it increases white blood cell production, which strengthens the immune system. In addition, “The skin starts building new collagen to thicken against the cold, thus improving tightness and tone,” says Jouravleva. For stubborn fat removal, “Following the session, the body starts burning adipose brown fat for energy and heating function, which results in up to 800 calories burned within 24 hours.” Lastly, the therapy regulates momoamine neurotransmitters which combats insomnia and promotes quality sleep.

Improve Your Mental Health

While you often see your favorite athletes on social media enjoying the benefits of cold therapy after strength training, one of the biggest benefits happens in the mind. It all has to do with the Vagus nerve, the body’s brain to gut connection, which acts to counterbalance the fight or flight system. “The Vagus nerve, often called highway to health, is the main nerve in the body that strengthens other peripheral nervous systems,” says Jouravleva. “The main action to strengthen the Vagus nerve is thermodynamics: contrast showers and cold plunges. Cryotherapy is the most effective way to strengthen the nerve.” Essentially, the body reacts to the cold by activating the “rest/digest” response to conserve the energy needed to keep the internal temperature warm, which in turn reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, and increases dopamine, the brain’s happy chemical, resulting in an elevated mood, more energy and reduced anxiety following the session. 

Achieve Optimal Results

Whether your cold therapy method of choice is cryotherapy or an ice bath, Jouravleva notes that both are meant to achieve the same result: reduced inflammation and athletic recovery. “While it takes 15-20 minutes to cool down the body in an ice bath, it takes only three minutes in the Cryochamber, with more intense and profound results,” she explains. “The best and most consistent results from cryotherapy are achieved with 2-3 sessions per week.”

Discuss With Your Doctor

“The only precaution for the cryotherapy session is to make sure there’s no moisture on the body, as this can result in frostbite,” says Jouravleva. “People with chronically elevated blood pressure should take [their] medication before the session.” If you have a medical condition or are pregnant, be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning any cold therapy practices. 

Try It At-Home

While you can find Cryochambers and ice bath services in most major cities, either at spas and wellness centers or high-end gyms, taking advantage of the biohacking benefits of cold therapy is as easy as turning your shower handle. After putting your shower on the coldest setting, jump straight in, before your brain talks you out of it. The goal should be 2-3 minutes of cold-water exposure but try starting with 30 seconds and work your way up each day. Deep rhythmic breathing, in the nose and out the mouth, and moving around under the shower stream will help you regulate your body’s response to the frigid shock. As for the best time of day: try a cold shower first thing in the morning, 3-5 times per week, for a natural jolt of euphoric energy.