Cold therapy, also known as cryotherapy, refers to the use of cold temperatures to promote various health benefits. When I left Chicago for Arizona in 2002, I wanted nothing more to do with the cold. But the health benefits of cold therapy are too much to ignore.
While there are no studies showing a lower risk of heart disease in people who perform cold therapy or cryo, there are some signals that significant benefits may be obtained.
Remember, ask your doctor first if cold therapy is right for you. There is some concern for acute cardiovascular events such as heart attack based on case reports.
Here are a few potential cardiovascular benefits of cold therapy:
- Reduced inflammation: Inflammation is linked to all diseases, including cardiovascular. Cold therapy can help reduce inflammation in the body, including inflammation of the blood vessels. Inflammation is a common contributor to cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis and can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Cold therapy was found to reduce CRP, the main inflammatory blood marker, in this study. By decreasing inflammation, cold therapy may have a positive impact on cardiovascular health.
- Enhanced blood circulation: Exposure to cold temperatures can stimulate vasoconstriction, which is the narrowing of blood vessels. This constriction can help improve blood circulation by increasing the pressure within the vessels. When the cold stimulus is removed, blood vessels may dilate, leading to a surge of fresh blood and nutrients to the tissues. Improved circulation can support cardiovascular health by ensuring an adequate supply of oxygen and nutrients to the heart and other organs. Blood pressure may acutely go up a little during cold therapy, but the long term effects on blood pressure may be beneficial.
- Increased metabolic rate: Cold exposure can stimulate the activation of brown adipose tissue (BAT), a type of fat that generates heat to maintain body temperature. When BAT is activated, it burns calories to produce heat, which can contribute to weight loss or weight maintenance. Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for cardiovascular health, as obesity is a risk factor for various heart conditions.
- Improved lipids: Cold therapy improves mitochondrial health and uptake of lipids into cellular compartments. By doing so, systemic cholesterol and other lipids are likely lowered.
- Improved recovery from cardiovascular exercise: Cold therapy, such as cold water immersion or cryotherapy, is commonly used by athletes to facilitate muscle recovery after intense exercise. By reducing inflammation and enhancing blood circulation, cold therapy can help alleviate muscle soreness and promote faster recovery. This, in turn, may support cardiovascular exercise by enabling athletes to engage in more frequent and intense workouts.
It’s worth noting that while cold therapy can offer potential cardiovascular benefits, it may not be suitable for everyone. Individuals with certain health conditions, such as Raynaud’s disease, cold allergies, or cardiovascular disorders, should consult with a healthcare professional before considering cold therapy. Additionally, the duration, intensity, and method of cold exposure can vary, so it’s important to follow safe guidelines and recommendations when incorporating cold therapy into your routine.