by Dr. Parker
Am I crazy? Yea, probably. But I’m crazy for many reasons other than the fact that I jump in glacially cold lakes every month of the year. Jumping in cold water is one of my favorite things to do. But why would I do that to myself? And why is it not that crazy? Well, I could go off on this subject, but let’s keep this brief-ish and focus on just a few reasons.
Why I jump in cold lakes…and why you should too…
Reason Number 1: Voluntary discomfort is good for you (in the right amounts)
Imposing a little bit of discomfort into your life makes you more resilient to stress. I’m not just talking about emotional stress, either. I’m talking about all types of stress, like the stress of spending all day on the mountain or the stress of an infection (cough cough…Covid?). By embracing a small amount of self-imposed stress from various sources, you build up your resilience to all types of stress.
Some examples of these self-imposed stressors include weightlifting, yoga/mobility work, sun-tanning, and – you guessed it – jumping in cold water. Coldwater immersion is a unique stressor for your body. And by embracing the discomfort of taking a quick plunge in Delta lake, you improve your body’s tolerance to things like seasonal weather changes, musculoskeletal injuries, and even emotional distress.
The one caveat to this whole argument is that you don’t want to overdo it. There’s a limit to how much voluntary discomfort you should impose on yourself. If I jumped in the Snake River in January and then stayed and swam around for 2 hours, I’d be on the verge of full-blown hypothermia. But a quick plunge on a semi-regular basis is all I need to get the health benefits.
You should know that your body can handle a lot more discomfort than you think, and it’s pretty fun to take your body to its physical limits. But be smart. You don’t want to be laid up for the entire ski season because you pushed it too far and injured yourself unnecessarily.
Thankfully, when you jump in cold lakes, it’s pretty easy to know when you’ve had enough. With other voluntary discomforts like weightlifting, it’s challenging to know if your body has hit its limit. That’s why I like jumping in cold lakes!!
Reason Number 2: Your body gets better at regulating its core temperature and cellular function
Managing your body’s internal temperature is a costly endeavor. Warming up a cold body is incredibly energy-intensive. So, by exposing yourself to wicked cold water, you train your body to become more efficient at regulating itself. Consequently, you’ll be more comfortable in all sorts of weather.
Also, cold plunges help you live longer because it trains your cells to become more efficient and resilient in the face of stress. “Efficiency” and “resiliency” can be roughly translated to “whole-body health.” So, when your cells get healthier, you do too!
Reason Number 3: Cold water trims body fat
Coldwater immersion triggers the production of adiponectin hormone, which improves insulin sensitivity and increases your rate of fat loss.[i]
Also, exposure to cold stimulates the production of brown fat.[ii] Brown fat is different from your typical white fat. Instead of storing calories, brown fat will burn calories for energy, thereby helping you lose weight and improving your energy efficiency.
Reason Number 4: A cold plunge is like internal body armor
When you jump into cold water, your body immediately enters ‘protection mode.’ It thinks it needs to prepare for a long winter, so it will get rid of old and worn-out cells (a process called autophagy) and bring new and robust cells to the forefront. Essentially, you trick your body into becoming more resilient, and you are healthier as a result.
Reason Number 5: Cold water trains your brain to handle stress better
We all know that the worst thing about cold water is the initial shock of taking your first steps (though I might argue that belly button height is the coldest phase of all – which is why I dive in before reaching this point). But, after you jump in, getting acquainted with the water is a great way to train your body and mind to handle stressful situations. The cold forces you to practice calming techniques like exhaling slowly, even though you feel like you want to hyperventilate. In short, jumping in cold water helps you develop skills that help you relax in the face of stress. And these are skills that you can utilize in many aspects of life.
Bonus Reason: Getting out of cold water feels AMAZING!
Honestly, this might be the best reason of all. After I jump in a cold lake, I feel invincible when I get out. Even if the outside temperature is below freezing, I still feel warm after getting out of a cold lake. Also, the feeling of the water evaporating from my body makes me feel some type of way, and I bet you’ll feel the same.
There you have it, five (plus one) reasons why jumping in cold lakes is awesome. So now, if you leave my office and I tell you to “go jump in a lake,” I promise I’m not insulting you 😊
by Dr. Parker
If you are dealing with some nagging issues that you just need a little help with, give Dr. Parker a call. He specializes in sports injuries throughout the arms, legs, and back.
[i] Wei Q, Lee JH, Wang H, et al. Adiponectin is required for maintaining normal body temperature in a cold environment. BMC Physiol. 2017;17(1):8. Published 2017 Oct 23. doi:10.1186/s12899-017-0034-7
[ii] Fenzl A, Kiefer FW. Brown adipose tissue and thermogenesis. Horm Mol Biol Clin Investig. 2014;19(1):25-37. doi:10.1515/hmbci-2014-0022