When it comes to losing weight, there’s no substitute for a healthy diet, sensible portion sizes and a reasonable amount of exercise. But if you’re looking to kick start your weight loss and reset your body to burn the maximum number of calories continually, then whole-body cryotherapy is worth considering.
Polar bear swims, icy plunge pools and even tepid showers are considered by most to be forms of masochism. However, whole-body cold therapy, or cryotherapy, is not a life-after-death preservation procedure but rather a vertical cryosauna that you step into for a rapid, neck-to-toe ice down for its health benefits.
Developed in Japan in 1978, cryotherapy has been used for years in Europe to treat chronic aches and pains. Now it’s making its way into American spas and medical centers and is used by elite athletes for athletic recovery following training and back-to-back games. Sessions last only two-and-a-half to three minutes, during which time an inert gas plunges the temperature inside the cryosauna to between -200 and -250 degrees Fahrenheit. The rapid chill penetrates only half a millimeter deep, though, causing vasoconstriction but not frostbite; it reduces soreness and swelling, promoting what its practitioners call parasympathetic rebound, or taking the edge off of postgame fatigue.
So will cryotherapy make you skinnier? Don’t rule it out. A study published earlier this year in The Journal of Clinical Investigation found that brown fat — that is, the good kind — can be activated by cold. Unlike its lazy, energy-storing white counterpart, brown fat is located in small, oddly placed patches — a few ounces in the upper back, on the side of the neck, between the collarbone and shoulder, or along the spine — and it burns calories like crazy, especially when we’re chilly. In the study, male subjects who were held in a room that was cool but not cold enough to cause shivering burned an average of 250 calories over three hours — 80 percent more than they would have normally.
Whole-body cryotherapy studies in Japan and Eastern Europe have suggested that it’s effective at optimizing recovery for competitive athletes, decreasing joint and muscle pain, decreasing inflammation, and improving cholesterol profiles. A new surprise benefit is that whole-body cryotherapy appears to rev up the basal metabolic rate, burning 500 to 800 more calories, and thus may offer a totally new tool for weight loss.
Many people who are overweight have higher concentrations of toxins within their systems, and these toxins can lead to excessive glucose production. If they reach high enough levels, the body takes all the energy it requires from this glycogen store. But with cryotherapy, the shock your body experiences during the course of treatments helps the body to reset its metabolism from glucose burning to normal, healthy glucose and fat burning.
Depending on your individual metabolism, the length of the treatment, temperature in the cryosauna and where you are in your weight loss program, you can burn between 500 and 1,000 calories per session, or up to 5,000 extra calories per week. If you don’t overeat, to refuel these lost calories you can expect to lose between five and 10 pounds over a four-week program. To maximize this loss, it is recommended to have a high-protein diet of between 1,200 and 1,500 calories per day.
As with all weight loss programs, the hard work is up to you. This is not a miracle, nor is it an excuse to eat more. It is an opportunity to reset your systems, more easily adapt to a healthier lifestyle and burn more calories than you could achieve in an hour a day in the gym.