1

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What do you think of Polar bear swims, winter runs, ice baths for weight-loss?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created December 16, 2010 at 3:32 PM

Tim Ferris' new book has an interesting chapter called Ice Age about using the cold for weight-loss and it comes at just the right time (at least here in these northern parts) for some experimenting.

His basic premise is that the body burns up energy in more ways than just exercise and one of those ways is through loss of heat. They were trying to figure out how Michael Phelps could eat so much and still burn it even though his exercise output--which is a lot--still didn't amount to what he was eating. One thing they found was that when a body is in contact with cold water we transfer heat from our body to the water. Then our body burns more calories to keep its body temp up. He claims that research has shown people can burn 4 times the amount of fat after two hours of cold exposure. He says cold stimulates certain fat cells to burn fat in the body. Interesting ideas.

I know a bunch of people here take part in Polar Bear Swims and things--probably more for fun than anything--but is anyone thinking of applying some of the cold=weight loss ideas this winter?

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on December 17, 2010
at 02:01 PM

No problem! I'm the same way.

710a2d86803b176778ce7db770944bb7

(626)

on December 17, 2010
at 05:29 AM

hahaha sorry!!!! tough day at work...apologies for the poor tone/miscommunication on my part. this stuff gets me all riled up!

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on December 17, 2010
at 05:12 AM

Yeah, you may be right. I just felt indignant that you called my speculation ridiculous. :-)

710a2d86803b176778ce7db770944bb7

(626)

on December 17, 2010
at 03:14 AM

And also, what about the argument that paleo man, or pretty much any indigenous person alive today, is not taking hot showers on a regular basis. This doesn't seem to have drastically affected their body composition.

710a2d86803b176778ce7db770944bb7

(626)

on December 17, 2010
at 03:12 AM

I'm not trying to start a debate, but I think the crucial difference is that occasional exposure to very cold water, or even regular exposure for short durations is entirely different (as an evolutionary stimulus) than an organism living the majority of its life in freezing water. No one is suggesting that people spend multiple hours swimming in freezing cold water. Thus my sun tanning=giving us the physiology of lizards analogy.

691f120a3e7a1a036845d105d86c99a3

(3641)

on December 17, 2010
at 12:16 AM

nice suggestions, in the spirit of a Hack!

691f120a3e7a1a036845d105d86c99a3

(3641)

on December 17, 2010
at 12:15 AM

true its the not the be all end all but maybe its got some benefits? a lot of heavy people are on the paleo diet too :)

691f120a3e7a1a036845d105d86c99a3

(3641)

on December 17, 2010
at 12:14 AM

i think you are right, i wouldn't use cold as my way of losing weight haha. but it might be one more thing in the bag of tricks to mobilize your body for fat burning. next time someone says hack my diet, its not working, we could tell them to take cold showers right?

691f120a3e7a1a036845d105d86c99a3

(3641)

on December 17, 2010
at 12:13 AM

Ferris talks about drinking ice water as part of the deal actually.

5e36f73c3f95eb4ea13a009f4936449f

(8280)

on December 16, 2010
at 11:42 PM

Tons of variables, but my point being that it doesn't seem to help them much in losing weight... :P

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on December 16, 2010
at 11:28 PM

I think it's more like saying going tanning will make your skin darker.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on December 16, 2010
at 11:27 PM

And "Changes in thermal homeostasis in humans due to repeated cold water immersions." http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8765994 shows a (small) increase in body fat.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on December 16, 2010
at 10:58 PM

This one shows lowered adiponectin levels: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20423746

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on December 16, 2010
at 10:57 PM

This study, for example, shows leptin decreasing in response to cold exposure: http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0026049500800013

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on December 16, 2010
at 10:53 PM

You think they have evolved higher bfp's for some reason other than temperature regulation? I think it follows that if exposure to cold makes you burn a lot of fat (which is part of the premise under discussion) then a good body response to that is to make sure you have lots.

710a2d86803b176778ce7db770944bb7

(626)

on December 16, 2010
at 10:26 PM

also, I don't know if they affect weight loss but it will make you feel great. they are proven to be good for the immune system and circulation. Paleo man was definitely not taking hot showers--except when fortunate enough to be near a hot spring, if he was in the water, it was probably pretty cold.

710a2d86803b176778ce7db770944bb7

(626)

on December 16, 2010
at 10:25 PM

thats ridiculous. Those animals have evolved higher bfp's for a number of reasons. The idea that cold water exposure could cause someone to gain fat because animals that have evolved in cold water over millions of years happen have a higher bfp is not logical. Thats like saying going tanning will make you cold blooded b/c lizards are.

710a2d86803b176778ce7db770944bb7

(626)

on December 16, 2010
at 10:23 PM

I recommend you try it and see how you feel. A lot of people mischaracterize the sensations of cold water as 'painful' or 'uncfortable' but how many people would say the same thing about fasting? Cold water immersion is used by a lot of olympic atheletes btw.

710a2d86803b176778ce7db770944bb7

(626)

on December 16, 2010
at 10:21 PM

Frankly that is a really, really bad way to figure that one out. Lots of fat people engage in lots of activities. Doesn't necessarily apply causation.

B4aa2df25a6bf17d22556667ff896170

(851)

on December 16, 2010
at 05:00 PM

this is actually not very surprising. Thermogenics is a factor in calorie burn and therefore weight loss. I remember reading that drinking ice water upon waking up can burn calories

691f120a3e7a1a036845d105d86c99a3

(3641)

on December 16, 2010
at 04:13 PM

i havent turned on the heat yet in my apartment - 25 degrees outside but its about 60 inside, seems colder than that tho.

50637dfd7dc7a7e811d82283f4f5fd10

(5838)

on December 16, 2010
at 04:07 PM

I always try to finish my showers with 1 minute of the coldest water. Lately, I have been slacking due to the weather... it's too cold , lol.. *enter my violin here*..

A968087cc1dd66d480749c02e4619ef4

(20436)

on December 16, 2010
at 04:00 PM

I've been using contrast showers for years - way before I ever heard of paleo. Invigorating and helps with back pain. Even better in the winter when the water is really cold!

77732bf6bf2b8a360f523ef87c3b7523

(6157)

on December 16, 2010
at 03:33 PM

I guess I should stop taking contrast showers.... I need to gain weight! Ha.

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5 Answers

6
100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on December 16, 2010
at 07:43 PM

Aquatic mammals in an ice-cold environment store lots of fat. Think of seals, walruses, whales, and even polar bears. I don't know about cause and effect, but the correlation is not the one you want.

710a2d86803b176778ce7db770944bb7

(626)

on December 17, 2010
at 03:14 AM

And also, what about the argument that paleo man, or pretty much any indigenous person alive today, is not taking hot showers on a regular basis. This doesn't seem to have drastically affected their body composition.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on December 16, 2010
at 10:53 PM

You think they have evolved higher bfp's for some reason other than temperature regulation? I think it follows that if exposure to cold makes you burn a lot of fat (which is part of the premise under discussion) then a good body response to that is to make sure you have lots.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on December 16, 2010
at 11:28 PM

I think it's more like saying going tanning will make your skin darker.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on December 17, 2010
at 02:01 PM

No problem! I'm the same way.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on December 16, 2010
at 10:58 PM

This one shows lowered adiponectin levels: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20423746

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on December 16, 2010
at 10:57 PM

This study, for example, shows leptin decreasing in response to cold exposure: http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0026049500800013

710a2d86803b176778ce7db770944bb7

(626)

on December 17, 2010
at 03:12 AM

I'm not trying to start a debate, but I think the crucial difference is that occasional exposure to very cold water, or even regular exposure for short durations is entirely different (as an evolutionary stimulus) than an organism living the majority of its life in freezing water. No one is suggesting that people spend multiple hours swimming in freezing cold water. Thus my sun tanning=giving us the physiology of lizards analogy.

710a2d86803b176778ce7db770944bb7

(626)

on December 16, 2010
at 10:25 PM

thats ridiculous. Those animals have evolved higher bfp's for a number of reasons. The idea that cold water exposure could cause someone to gain fat because animals that have evolved in cold water over millions of years happen have a higher bfp is not logical. Thats like saying going tanning will make you cold blooded b/c lizards are.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on December 17, 2010
at 05:12 AM

Yeah, you may be right. I just felt indignant that you called my speculation ridiculous. :-)

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18696)

on December 16, 2010
at 11:27 PM

And "Changes in thermal homeostasis in humans due to repeated cold water immersions." http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8765994 shows a (small) increase in body fat.

710a2d86803b176778ce7db770944bb7

(626)

on December 17, 2010
at 05:29 AM

hahaha sorry!!!! tough day at work...apologies for the poor tone/miscommunication on my part. this stuff gets me all riled up!

3
710a2d86803b176778ce7db770944bb7

(626)

on December 16, 2010
at 05:39 PM

cold water exposure is super, super healthy. Once you get over the shock it starts to feel great and gets a little addictve.

if you don't have easy access to an ocean, river or lake try this (I am NOT a doctor, so if you have any worrisome medical conditions consult your physician before): -get a large bucket from home depot or wherever (several gallons).

-either instead of, or following, a super hot shower fill up the bucket with the coldest water you can get (some people leave the bucket outside overnight to get it really cold)

-dump it over your head, while trying to stay as relaxed as possible/conscious of tension in your body

-do it a second time

why is this superior to just a cold shower? the immense volume of water, in the super short time frame, provokes a different, more thorough bodily response (at least in my own experimentation).

some notes on this: -breathing is important. try to relax your breathing and avoid that GASP response. On the first one try to maintain a long, relaxed inhale. on the second try a long relaxed exhale. order isn't important, but just do both an inhale and exhale that starts just before or as you contact the water. maintain it throughout the pour as best you can.

-try doing this OUTSIDE in all sorts of weather, awesome!

-i've read that it triggers the mammalian diving reflex, which basically means that sudden cold contact drives blood to the interior of the body/prime organs. among other things this causes your core temperature to spike and acts as a mini internal-fever and can be GREAT for preventing illness.

-definitely helps circulation and immune response in general (several studies on this I believe)

-afterwards you will probably feel a really delicious glow/warm feeling in your belly/core (imagine drinking nice warm tea) and general sense of well-being relaxation.

-great for sore muscles, general fatigue and excess tension. I used to suffer a lot from anxiety. Once I did this at the onset of a panic attack. I can't explain what happened but the cold water just released all the pent up tension in me and I started laughing hysterically, pretty incredible in retrospect actually.

691f120a3e7a1a036845d105d86c99a3

(3641)

on December 17, 2010
at 12:16 AM

nice suggestions, in the spirit of a Hack!

2
62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on December 16, 2010
at 07:11 PM

As for weight loss, seems to me that for most people it would be overall not effective enough to make a major difference. Easier to eat just a few bites less of food or cut out a tad of carb than to suffer long bouts of freezing cold! Plus being cold and uncomfortable is a stress on the body, which I think should be considered as potentially less healthy if done to excess. I am personally not convinced it is healthy to shock your body with very cold water. I'd have to see some scientific evidence before I changed my mind. Pain and discomfort are our body's ways of trying to stear us away from unhealthy activities.

710a2d86803b176778ce7db770944bb7

(626)

on December 16, 2010
at 10:23 PM

I recommend you try it and see how you feel. A lot of people mischaracterize the sensations of cold water as 'painful' or 'uncfortable' but how many people would say the same thing about fasting? Cold water immersion is used by a lot of olympic atheletes btw.

710a2d86803b176778ce7db770944bb7

(626)

on December 16, 2010
at 10:26 PM

also, I don't know if they affect weight loss but it will make you feel great. they are proven to be good for the immune system and circulation. Paleo man was definitely not taking hot showers--except when fortunate enough to be near a hot spring, if he was in the water, it was probably pretty cold.

691f120a3e7a1a036845d105d86c99a3

(3641)

on December 17, 2010
at 12:14 AM

i think you are right, i wouldn't use cold as my way of losing weight haha. but it might be one more thing in the bag of tricks to mobilize your body for fat burning. next time someone says hack my diet, its not working, we could tell them to take cold showers right?

1
5e36f73c3f95eb4ea13a009f4936449f

(8280)

on December 16, 2010
at 07:18 PM

re. Polar Bear club. Take a closer look at them. Maybe yours are different, but the pictures of the people I see are all on the heavier side.

5e36f73c3f95eb4ea13a009f4936449f

(8280)

on December 16, 2010
at 11:42 PM

Tons of variables, but my point being that it doesn't seem to help them much in losing weight... :P

710a2d86803b176778ce7db770944bb7

(626)

on December 16, 2010
at 10:21 PM

Frankly that is a really, really bad way to figure that one out. Lots of fat people engage in lots of activities. Doesn't necessarily apply causation.

691f120a3e7a1a036845d105d86c99a3

(3641)

on December 17, 2010
at 12:15 AM

true its the not the be all end all but maybe its got some benefits? a lot of heavy people are on the paleo diet too :)

0
15e684f6f716f88c99f641098a6e06ca

(922)

on June 13, 2011
at 11:23 PM

I don't know about the benefits for weight loss but I participated in my first polar bear swim this year and it was truly invigorating. Also, made a funny video about it which we've just posted: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sT0_NHtEAFQ

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