The first cryotherapy treatment I remember experiencing happened when, as a child, I visited Disney World. My parents took my two sisters and I camping there during the winter of the year it first opened.
My father, who enjoyed a good prank, tricked me into thinking that lake near the campgrounds was warm (even in Florida, the water is cold during winter). I laughed on the way down a slide into the lake to the shock of finding water so cold it took my breath.
But, when I got out of the water, and dried off, I felt wonderful and happy and together with my two sisters, who took pleasure in my being duped, laughed there by the lake as the sun warmed my 12-year-old body.
Later, as a teenager, I discovered how joyful I felt when I went from something hot (the steam bath at the YMCA) to something cold—the swimming pool, kept cold for the competitive swimmers.
When I was 17, as a scuba enthusiast, I went diving every month of the year. In the winter, after I would come out of the icy water, for the rest of the day, I would feel amazing—mentally and physically.
By this time, I became very clear that exposure to both hot and cold did something amazing for my clarity of mind and for my emotions.
So, as a teenager, it became my practice to go for a short swim when I encounter a body of water, especially in the winter, as a way to feel better.
The research shows that my experiences then were not the result of my imagination.
Whole-body cryotherapy is now used by most pro football and baseball teams for strong reasons—not only for recovery but as a way to enhance performance.
We have three to ten times as many cold receptors on our skin, as we do heat receptors, indicating a strong response occurs with cold.
Cold can affect the body at least two different ways. First, chronic, all-day-long, every-day cold is not so good for you. People who are exposed to all-day cold tend to develop a more round body habitus and gain weight. But, research shows that the second way, intermittent cold, affects the human body in many helpful ways—including making a more lean body.
For example, intermittent cold causes the body to convert white fat into brown fat, which is associated with a higher metabolism leading to a leaner healthier body. In one study of people who routinely swim in cold water, the cold water swimming caused an improvement in lipids, a drop in cholesterol, and an improvement in homocysteine levels.
With athletes, research showed that if athletes experienced cold therapy immediately after training, then pain and soreness decreased.
There was one rat study that showed that cold treatments actually change the gut flora, which is associated with improvements in metabolism and protection against problems with the brain.
Just like with the other savage factors, there’s the swapping on and off of genes. So, there’s truly a metabolic effect (from the change in gene expression) from the cold. We know of over 200 genes that are affected by savage factors. Gene activation and deactivation cause a change in cellular metabolism and the way the body regenerates itself and the way the brain works with improvement in mood and clarity of thought.
Professional athletes essentially experiment on themselves daily since they “practice” then measure the effects of their practices when they perform their sport; so what elite athletes find helpful gives a clue to what the more formal medical research will eventually show.
I remember as a medical-school resident, in the 1980’s when the research still claimed that anabolic steroids did not make professional athletes stronger (the extra weight was thought to be water weight). But, I could see what happened to the strength of my friends at the gym who took anabolic steroids and knew that the athletes knew what the research did not yet show.
So, the practice of the professional athletes is worth noting as a clue to what the medical research may eventually prove and their practice demonstrates best performance and best recovery with whole body cryotherapy treatments down to minus 160 to minus 220 degrees Fahrenheit for two and a half to three minutes.
With regard to effect of cold on men compared to women, there was one study that showed that, somewhat surprisingly, women drop their core temperature faster than do men. So, a woman at a minus 180 for two and a half minutes would drop her core temperature similar to a man at minus 200 at two and a half minutes. You may think that women would drop their core temperature more slowly than men because women usually have, on the average, a higher percentage of body fat. But the research shows that they don’t have to go as long and as cold to have the same effect as does a man.
Women also think better in a slightly warmer environment. Women were shown to perform better mentally if their office was slightly warmer at 74 degrees, versus a man at 72.
Cold can also be used to treat depression.
Cold decreases inflammation, improves sleep, heightens sexual function, and helps with recovery and pain. So, how would practice the savage factor, cold?
If you’re submersed in the cold ice bath, to a whole-body cryotherapy machine, you’re exposed to a cold shower, or to cold water swimming, all four are possibilities.
Taking a cold shower is my least favorite because sometimes the shower is just not cold enough. The shower does act like a sort of a shock therapy because it’s so sudden and the water conducts heat more quickly than does the air. Also, the shower doesn’t cover the entire body.
Another option is to swim in very cold water. The Gulf of Mexico, near where I live, only grows cold enough to be therapeutic in the winter months. When the water is very cold, I prefer not to “swim” as much as to just walk to chest-deep water and dip so that my head is submerged. Swimming in very cold water could be dangerous and should only be done with supervision. If you’re swimming anywhere, someone should be watching in case you get in trouble—the “buddy system” taught by the YMCA and the Red Cross. The buddy system becomes crucial in cold water.
Another option is to sit in an ice bath. If you put four 10-pound bags of ice in your bath tub, then fill the tub with cold water, you can submerge yourself and experience a wonderful effect. If you sit in a sauna or steam just before jumping in the ice bath, that’s even better. Ten minutes in a sauna that’s 170 to 210 degrees Fahrenheit followed by 5 to 10 minutes in the ice bath works wonders.
When you’re sitting in the bath, use a kitchen timer so you don’t have to keep looking at your watch and you can meditate or simply focus on your breathing instead of your watch. This routine (10 minutes in the sauna an 5 in the ice) gives you a 15 minute routine where you can experience both hot and cold and meditation.
Repeat the routine up to 3 times on days when you have time. I’ve found if I do more than 3 cycles, then I experience headaches and increase fatigue.
Tips: Water temperatures between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit work best. Fill a large chest freezer (in your garage or basement) with 10 or 20 pound bags of ice. Then 3 to 5 times a week, just grab 40 pounds of ice and have fun.
The other option for practicing cold is a whole-body cryotherapy treatment. It’s faster than making an ice bath and it’s only a two and a half to three minute treatment. I find that for some reason, exposing the skin to -200 to -210 degrees Fahrenheit give me a better effect than 5 minutes in an ice bath at 45-55 degrees. If you have a whole-body cryotherapy chamber near you, then this method can be conveniently integrated into a busy day for tremendous effect. I think there’s something about the skin experiencing a temperature of less than 200 degree, Fahrenheit and also slowly breathing the cold air that activates a different and powerful set of metabolic changes that may be missed by the cold-water bath. To see this profound effect, a true whole-body chamber is needed (where the head is in the chamber too, not sticking out of the top of the chamber).
Both the cryotherapy chamber and the cold-water bath work. Which you use will depend on what you have available and your budget. You may live in an apartment in a big city where you have a small freezer (not large enough to hold 40 or more pounds of ice) but have a cryotherapy chamber in a commercial location nearby. Or you may live in a rural area with no cryotherapy chamber available for 200 miles, but you have space in your garage for a large freezer where you store 300 pounds of ice (30 bags that are 10 pounds each) and you simply grab 4 bags every morning and throw them in your tub for your morning routine.
All of these methods work better than doing none of them.
Before I was a doctor, I was a Jack Lalanne fan. Remember when he celebrated his 70th birthday by pulling seventy boats a mile, shackled, swimming in the San Francisco Bay? I mean, he was a freaking monster. Well, Jack Lalanne was inspired by a guy named Paul Bragg.
So Jack LaLanne was inspired by a book on fasting called The Miracle of Fasting by Paul Bragg. So, I’ll come back to that.
I’d like to teach you a word called hormesis, which I never learned in medical school, but hormesis means the body adapting to stress. And so Paul Bragg was teaching fasting. Now we’re talking intermittent fasting a hundred years ago, and by the way, he died in his nineties still surfing and living in Hawaii. But Paul Bragg didn’t invent it, right? Gandhi and Christ and all those smart people practiced fasting. But up until now, I think most people have looked at that idea as an isolated thing.
So when I trained for medical school, I was actually criticized for being a runner. And if you go back and look at, some of you guys are old enough to remember, George Sheehan used to write for Runner’s World. He was thought to be a quack.
He died of a heart attack?
Yes, he died of a heart attack, but he would have died years earlier. He lived far past the people in his family. We’re all going to be dirt, so I’m not going to come up here and tell you how you’re going to avoid your mortality. But I promise you, I will tell you a little trick that I can prove with research, decreases your risk of dying, cuts it in half over the next year.
Research proves it. Okay, some of us may pass on, but you are, as a group, our risk of dying will be cut in half and it has to do with hormesis or adapting to stress. And George Sheehan right back when he was being criticized, he said, well, even if it doesn’t make me live longer, I live better.
When I was a kid in the first grade, we went to The Birmingham Zoo and I remember, so this is before I read about Paul Bragg. We’d go to the lion exhibit. I don’t know why this stuck in my head. Remember how the lion exhibit used to stink like crazy? You’d go in there and saw 16 house cats lived in there and they would feed the lion behind this glass thing and then they could go through a little door back into the thing back there and roam around.
So we were little kids looking through the grass at the lion and the lion keeper said, we do not feed the lions on Wednesday because they’re not as healthy.
So, what does fasting have to do with George Sheehan have to do with hormesis?
The body adapts to stress but it also adapts to no stress. And the primary thing that takes out us living in a civilized society is not stuff like typhoid and diarrhea, which kills millions of kids in other countries, or strep throat, which used to kill people before we had penicillin. The most likely thing to take out the people in this room has to do with the diseases of civilization, all of which are decreased by being exposed to the stresses that used to happen naturally by just being alive.
So, you used to have to walk a little bit, now you’re trapped in a box.
You have to make time on your schedule to go for a walk because you wake up in a box, you get in a box and you go to your work, which is in a box. Most of us. And so you have to somehow figure out your schedule, how to get out of your box. Imagine if you had a million dollar horse and you kept it in the box all the time. You would consider it to be cruel but yet many of us do that to our own self.
And so this idea of putting your body through some sort of stress rather than letting it adapt to continually no stress is thousands of years old. So, if you look at the thinkers, like Thoreau wrote a whole essay on walking. Was he a thinker? Did he walk because he was a thinker or was he a thinker because he walked? Gandhi walked, Jesus walked, Buddha walked.
And now we know by hormesis, the body adapting to small amounts of stress. It’s not just your muscles getting stronger or your anaerobic threshold changing. There is over 200 genes that swap on and off that have to do with metabolism. So now we know walking helps ADD because it helps focus. And so maybe he was a thinker because he walked. He said he’d go crazy if he couldn’t walk a certain number of miles per day. Thomas Jefferson said he would go crazy if he couldn’t exercise two hours a day. Yet he still had time to be a pretty popular guy who did lots of cool stuff. So here’s what I want to tell you. Some tricks that I have found over the years through being sort of a health nut combined scientist sort of, and a doctor sort of, mostly just a guy trying to figure out how to be Jack Lalanne since I was seven years old.
Okay, so here are the small stresses you can do that, I promise you, I can show you the research, will make you smarter, stronger, cut your risk of dying in the next year in half. That’s all causes mortality, better sex, better thinking, better digestion, stronger bones, all those things. I just mentioned walking, and most doctors are still preaching 30 minutes, two or three times a week. The benefits kick in some at that level, but once you get to 21 miles a week, your risk of dying in the next year gets cut in half. And I don’t even care how fast you go, just cover 21 miles a week. Another study showed that even though our obesity rate is somewhere around 50% in Alabama and Mississippi with no change in diet, the average person, will have a perfect body weight if they walk that many miles. Okay, so walking is one. The other one is heat.
I remember as a kid, many of you guys are old enough to remember this, growing up in Alabama in the 60s and going to visit a friend, probably 1972, and thinking this can’t be healthy. He had an air conditioner. I thought this feels like he’s living in the refrigerator because you were adapted to the heat and now we know that that adaptation actually makes you healthier. Don’t if any of you guys are Seventh Day Adventists, but they have a whole subculture. They have their own medical school on Loma Linda, and they have these sanitariums they called them that had been around over a hundred years. It’s a little subculture you have to plug into to know about. It’s where Kellogg’s cornflakes came from. You go there, you live vegetarian and you stay there for a month or two and you go home without your medicines if you have type 2 diabetes. And when I went to visit one, I’m not Seventh Day Adventist. I’m sort of a Buddhist, Hindu, Baptist, Jew, kind of something like that. I’m 5% Jew, but grew up in a Baptist church and sent my kids to a Catholic school and studied meditation from the Hindus. So anyway, whatever that makes me, but they have a whole subculture of writings about health. And a hundred years ago they were preaching heat, getting your core temperature up to 105, 104 to 105.
When a person finishes a marathon, average temperature, core temperature is 104. The infectious disease doctors will tell you, unless you’re becoming dehydrated or having severe aches from your fever, you can fight the fever better with the fever. And the [inaudible 00:08:09] activates your white blood cells are mostly stuck to blood vessels. They demodulate and float through the blood system. So part of what’s happening in your exercise is just raising your core temperature is helping your immune system.
So how would you practice that one? Busy people. By the way, part of my doctoring, I was bringing up three boys as a single dad with them in my house six nights a week. Understand that young kids that dominate your time and how do you make time to do this. One of my tricks is I would throw the kids down in the middle of the football field and then I’d run the track around them. You can’t get hurt even on the blanket if you’re one years old in the middle of a football field. Stuff like that. So there’s ways to make it work. And so how would you integrate 105 temperature twice a week? Well, you could just take a hot bath. You go to the steam room, but there is research showing that doing that two to three times a week switches on and off somewhere around 230 genes that decrease inflammation and help you fight how you’re adapting to being sedentary.
I’ll show you the reverse of that and actually, I had a guy come to me with panic attacks and he was drinking to treat his panic attacks, so he had become an alcoholic. His job was he had gone from special forces to undercover policeman, so had a really stressful job. This is not a wimp. So how does a wimp have panic attacks? I mean a not whim, have panic attacks. How’s that happen? Another guy came to me, same problem, panic attacks. He had been a special forces guy. Then he had gotten out of the army, he was teaching snowboarding and now he was sitting in the classroom having panic attacks. How does that happen?
Here’s how it happens: back before we lived in a box, if you were stressed out. My dad always said there’s only two sports: running and fighting. Everything else is a variation on that. Running and fighting because that’s fight or flight. That’s how you respond. So the office sort of a little bit of running and kind of a way of fighting, but then you got purified and then pure track because before we had civilization, if your adrenaline was going, something was trying to eat you so you either had to run or fight. So now think about what happens biochemically. Biochemically, if a lion’s trying to eat you, you need the adrenaline to run or fight to protect you and your family. In the process of doing that, instead of having adrenaline and cortisol, you make serotonin, dopamine and endorphins that are like morphine. So you got serotonin, dopamine and morphine going after you do the fight and the run. So it counterbalances the cortisol. So it could be some of you older guys that have been in high, like our laid back friend who’s combination, undercover cop.
Part of what can happen with these guys is they’re so wired for fighting and now you sit them in a classroom and now the stress isn’t balanced out by the biochemical change that happens with the running and fighting and you’re just overloaded with cortisol and adrenaline. But this is not a fight that uses your body. You have to use your brain and sit still. So the result is you have a panic attack.
And it happens all the time and it gets treated, in my opinion, often the wrong way. You don’t need Valium, you need to go do five miles and maybe go do some martial arts or lift weights. I don’t like to get hit. So I lift my weight. My weight training is fighting and my miles are flighting. You’re not just changing anaerobic threshold but decreasing your risk of heart attack for the next year in half.
Because of that, by building new blood vessels, you’re burning the cortisol that’s being generated by staring at the computer, trying to solve a problem. And you’re flipping it to what you would make if you were in a primitive situation into endorphin, morphine and dopamine and that calms you down when you do the physical. And the same thing happens with the heat and you you get in a hot bath that calms you down. So, my little trick is hormesis is doing these little things that change you. It’s not just a local effect when you sit in a hot tub. It’s changing your metabolism and it’s doing things with you biochemically that make you healthier. And everything I’m spouting up here, this isn’t crazy health food guru stuff. This is backed up by the research. So walking, or whatever speed you like to go, and working your way up to 21 miles a week.
I’m not your doctor obviously. I want to make sure you know that this is my legal disclaimer, right? So make sure it’s okay for you to do that. But you work your way up to somewhere around 21 to 25 miles a week. Now, when I used to do marathons and triathlons, everybody doing marathons has an injury. Once you pass 25 miles a week, the injury rate starts to go up. So the sweet spot is 21 to 25 for maximal effect and minimal injury. Almost no injuries until you hit 21. I mean, you can fall off the couch or something, but most people don’t get injured until they pass the 25 mile a week mark. Anyway you want to cut it. Okay, so walking, used to you had to do that to survive. Walking.
So basically think, what would I have to do if I were living as a caveman or woman? You would walk around, you might pick up something that weighs more than a pencil. But you wouldn’t go try to pick up a big boulder, you’d go get some people to help you with that. But some sort of resistance training two or three times a week, we now know it helps even people in their nineties do better. So resistance training twice a week. If you want to duplicate caveman in your civilized box, I’m telling you how I like to aspire to do it after spending 59 years of trying to be Jack Lalanne. Okay? Being a chemist, being a doctor and interviewing lots of people, like one lady I saw in the ER. Are we at the 10 minute mark yet?
Okay, I’m going to say 10. Good. Okay. So, one day what I used to do in the ER, if you came in and you told me your weight, I mean your age, and it was way more than I was expecting, I’d just pull the curtains and tell the nurses, you have got to leave me alone. And I’d start taking notes. So one lady came in. She had fallen off of her house.
Off of her house?
Off her house, and then she was working on the roofs. She had somehow slipped and rolled off the house and hit the bushes and then hit the ground. By the way, there’s nothing sexual about a physical exam but she had the most amazingly beautiful breasts and she was 82 years old and she had a bruised rib. So as an example, I have other examples. So, I pulled the curtains and said, okay, what did you do?
When I ask people that, they always give you the same variations on the same stuff. They’re doing the hormesis thing. She said, I walked in today, all the people I know said they’d live not just longer, but like George Sheehan said, live better. So, lots of people are in their 80s, but not not many of them have fallen off the houses and just getting a bruised rib. She said, I walk every day and they all have some kind of God stuff to do. She had a connection to God and [inaudible 00:16:12] and whatever scripture you like to read, I’m not to preach to you, but they all have a God connection and they’re forgiving people. And she was visiting old people in the nursing home. That was real hard thing to do. The giving people, that God people and they’re walking and they’re not eating junk food and they don’t smoke. And they don’t drink, most of them a lot, but then I drink a little.
I won’t start telling stories. But anyway, I’m telling you a combination of things to do that may not make you live longer but [inaudible 00:16:48] better and you could live longer. So this is my schedule. I would do weight resistance two or three days a week. I’d be walking 21 to 25 miles a week and if you was time-crunched, that’s when I’d do my phone calls or I listened to my books on Audible, audible.Com. Do this math. If you do the math on it, let’s take a random, 10-minute mile or jog a 10-minute mile, walk a 20-minute mile. I do not pay attention.
Some people will walk from this, say this is all fascinating. I’ll say, yeah, I’m not in a hurry. It’s work. Work is rate times distance. There’s not a time factor in that. And you think, if you lift weights, if you’re strong, some guys look strong, doing curls with, I don’t know, 20, 30, 50 pounds. When you walk, you’re moving 160 pounds for an hour. You’re doing a lot more work and doing a lot more stuff with a walk. So anyways, so you walk and if you do the math on it, if you’re 21 miles a week, at 20 minutes a mile, okay, that’s an hour a day on the average, right? So, it’s three miles a day, whatever. So, it’s about an hour a day on average.
If you did, if you listened to Audible, if you listened to a book an hour a day, times 360 days, if you do the math on that, it’s about two and a half months of 40 hours a week in school. So, I don’t worry about how fast I’m doing, but I’ve listened to a lot of books, Wall Street Journal, and a lot of phone calls because I’m not trying to get my pulse up to anything. And I get away from people. I don’t like group walking unless it’s we have a business meeting. Now if a sales person wants to come talk to me and say sure, we’ll go for a walk. Trudy used to make the press walk with her. So yeah, we’ll go for a walk we’re having me walking. Daniel and I’ve had lots of staff meetings walking. You think better.
Steve jobs did a lot of his meetings walking. Okay. So my point is you will have more time, you’ll think better, yes. You’ll remember better what you’re listening to than you would sit in your ass. George Sheehan said never trust an idea you get sitting on your ass. So all right, so walk between 21 and 25 miles a week, get your core temperature up to 105 or so a couple of times a week. So we got the heat, the resistance training a couple times a week of what feels comfortable. I’m back to lots of pushups and chin ups, lots for a 59 year old guy. If you want to go lift weights, that’s fine, but you can just let your body do the old school stuff you learned in high school that will do too. You know jumping jacks and crap. Do some chins, do some push ups, that kind of thing if you didn’t want to lift weights but resistance training.
It’s not our main business, but I bought that machine for me and I said if people like it, I’ll keep it there. If they don’t, I have a four-car garage and I just had one car so I know where I’m taking it if people don’t like it. When you say we had the same shear that building that the Cleveland Indians have. You get in it, it takes you minus 200 to 220 degrees in your underwear and your body thinks you’re going to die. Your brain thinks you’re going to die. You shiver a little bit at the end, but before, before you actually die, your skin thinks you’re going to die and all these things that happen, just like if through heat, if your body still at 105 degrees, you will die eventually.
So that same idea happens and that’s why I’m saying anti inflammatory. If you don’t want to go to staying in a cloud chamber, some of the guys, the athletes, high-performance people now would just dump lots of ice in their bathtub and get in there. The old school way was hot, hot and jump into an ice bath. When you train for football, it’s just inconvenient to do an ice bath twice a week to three times a week. Do something to bring your core temperature down. Boom, start to shiver and then you stop. That’s all need. Okay. Hot cold, stay anaerobic for a while. So whatever that is, walking just to where you start to get you’re panting. It’s not the whole freaking work out or you’ll start to avoid it. So low oxygen is one of the hormetic things. You didn’t get to never get out of breath back when you were a cave woman.
So the body will adapt to that and things happen metabolically. Go anaerobic just to the point of getting short of breath, stop and then do the rest of your walk comfortably. And then there’s hypercapnia. And to do that, I swim laps, very gently with a snorkel because the snorkel builds up your CO2 and you adapt to that. Then build in a stretching routine and do all that. And the last thing then I’ll stop is that sitting silently doing your prayer or whatever that you do with meditation, you weren’t constantly bombarded with stuff. You were left alone with your thoughts when you were a primitive man or woman, and there are some things for your peace of mind. So that’s my new formula. And if you did that, statistically your risk of dying in the next 365 days would be cut in half, your body would change, you would think better, you’d have better sex and life would be better. So that’s the whole formula. Thank you guys for having me. I hope that’s helpful to you.
IMPORTANT: Going down to -160°-220°F without your clothes can have side effects in some people. Though Dr. Runels bought the Cryo Chamber and started CryoYoga in an effort to bring to the community what he’s found to be very helpful for both himself and for his family (including 3 sons and his parents), using the CryoYoga chamber does not establish a Doctor-Patient relationship with Dr. Runels. Here’s our consent form for adults. Here’s our consent form for teens who need parental consent.<–