Want to boost recovery and improve your performance in minutes? Try cryotherapy! We take a closer look at what whole body cryotherapy is, along with the health, fitness and weight loss benefits of this sports therapy…
Words: Eve Boggenpoel | Photos: Shutterstock and Getty Images
You’re probably familiar with the benefits of cold therapy – maybe you’ve applied an ice pack to a sprained ankle to reduce swelling. But did you know that subjecting your whole body to extremely low temperatures for brief periods of time, in a therapy known as cryotherapy, can have a host of additional health, fitness and weight loss benefits?
What is cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy is a a type of therapy where you surround yourself with freezing cold air. It is said to increase circulation and cell rejuvenation, boost metabolism, aid weight loss and even reduce the signs of ageing. And cryotherapy has plenty of applications to fitness too. Whole body cryotherapy (WBC) has become increasingly popular with athletes from disciplines as varied as basketball, tennis and track and field. Many use the therapy as a way to manage pain, boost healing and promote quicker recovery after heavy training and competition.
Depending on the cooling system used (either electricity or nitrogen gas), a temperature and humidity controlled air chamber is set to -110°C to -140°C. Research shows this temperature range boosts circulation and helps reduce inflammation. With athletes including Dame Kelly Holmes and Andy Murray having used it as a training aid, you might want to give it a go. However, it’s important to note that whole body cryotherapy not suitable for everyone. If you have high blood pressure, an uneven heartbeat or lung issues, you’re better off giving it a wide berth.
How does whole body cryotherapy work?
Cryotherapy tricks your body into ‘fight or flight mode’ which, in turn, releases adrenaline, endorphins and anti-inflammatory proteins. Studies show it increases levels of anti-inflammatory substances in your immune system known as interleukins and decreases the secretion of pro-inflammatory molecules. Plus, whole body cryotherapy may also function to help decrease pain and injury after athletic competition by decreasing catabolic muscle activity (muscle breakdown).
There are two main ways of receiving whole body cryotherapy: either standing in an open-topped chamber, where your head remains exposed to room temperature, or sitting in a closed chamber – alone or in a group – with your entire body subject to the freezing temperature.
Key health benefits of whole body cryotherapy:
Cryotherapy provides a range of health, fitness and weight-loss benefits, including…
- Increases circulation
- Increases levels of anti-inflammatory substances
- Decreases catabolic muscle activity (breakdown) to reduce muscle pain and injury
- Releases mood-boosting endorphins
- Increases cell rejuvenation
- Reduces signs of ageing
- Boosts metabolism to aid with healthy weight loss
- Speeds up post-training recovery
Reap the benefits of whole body cryotherapy yourself…
Cryotherapy is a medical treatment, so you’ll have someone with you the whole time. You’ll also be given protective garments to wear, such as mittens, socks and a headband, so you don’t get frostbite. Once inside, pulsating mists surround you as the temperature rapidly drops to a bone-chilling degree for around three minutes. However, it may not be the unpleasant experience you might expect, as WF writer Lucy Miller (left) found out.
‘I tried cryotherapy at London Cryo and it was great fun,’ she says. ‘It wasn’t as cold as I imagined it would be – even though it was -125°C. I noticed my recovery was super quick. That evening I got a personal best in the beep test [a 20m-multistage fitness test] and reached level 19. My muscles felt fresh and I just felt faster and springier.’