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Cold to Aid Physical Activity?!

Updated: Aug 13, 2022

Dr. Craig Heller was interviewed on Episode #40 of the Huberman Podcast. He talked about how to increase endurance and strength by regulating your body temperature during exercise. The key is a part of the circulatory system in the palm of the hands, the soles of the feet, and non-hairy part of the face. This unique structure is called arteriovenous anastomosis where the arteries are directly connected to veins. Normally, arteries are connected to veins by capillaries.

Heat or cold can be applied to these parts of the body to warm or cool the core body temperature. You might have experienced this in the past without realizing it! If you have ever reached your hands towards a fire to warm them on a cold night, you were effectively heating your core. Conversely, on a hot day, you may have put your feet in cool water, which cooled the core of your body. You may have also moved your feet back and forth in the water which may have felt marvelous. The movement prevented the water layer closest to your feet from warming up and equilibrating with your body temperature. Your body creates a ‘thermal blanket’. The zone closest to your feet will be the warmest. The zones further away will be proportionately cooler. Moving your feet mixes these zones and prevents the equilibration.

Now you are wondering, what does this have to do with Lifestyle Medicine? Resistance training, a type of physical activity, generates work and heat in the muscles. The exercised muscle fatigues from overheating, not from energy depletion. Dr. Craig Heller invented a machine to cool the palm of your hand for 2-3 minutes in between resistance sets. He found that the next set will not require as much effort as subsequent sets without the cooling. Your ability to increase the weight will also be easier. There should also be less soreness afterwards. If this isn’t amazing enough, these gains will not be reversed if you forget to use cooling in your next exercise session!

You do need to ensure the cooling device is neither too cold or grasped too tightly to avoid contracting your blood vessels or slowing down blood flow. For example, you cannot stick your hand into a bowl of water with ice. The interview mentioned his invention is not yet available and probably very expensive. The device circulates water at a certain temperature for a constant cooling.

So far, what I found effective is gently holding a glass or bowl that has water and ice. To prevent the thermal blanket, I glide my hands around the glass or bowl. This lacks the precision of hid device, but for my purposes, this is good enough. I have found that I can lift more weight and not be as sore afterwards.

I know that most of us do not want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger! However, increased muscular strength is important. As we age, we lose muscle mass. If we lose to much, the diagnosis is sarcopenia. The muscle mass also pulls against the bones. This helps to strengthen the bones which may help prevent or treat osteopenia and osteoporosis. Please check with your health care provider before starting an exercise routine.

So, I encourage you to “put it to the test” as the admired Dr. Greger says! This will not be a placebo, controlled double blind study. However, I do not think that you need this level of sophistication and expense to find out for yourself if this technique works. Thanks for reading! #lifestylemedicine #adults #olderadults#strengthtraining#resistanceworkout

Photo by Jason Mitrione on Unsplash

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