Written by: Michael Mantz, M.D.
In part 1 of this 5-part article I discuss the importance of getting high-quality sleep as the foundation for developing sustainable brain energy. You can access that article by clicking on this link: Part 1
A second formidable way to develop sustainable brain energy is to routinely expose your body to a cold-water stimulus.
When you expose your body to a brief cold stimulus your body reacts to the cold by increasing your mitochondrial output. Your mitochondria are organelles (“tiny organs”) in your cells that generate ATP, which is the main energy currency that your body uses to fuel its activities including but not limited to:
1) Metabolic processes – for example – breaking down the food you eat and converting it into ATP
2) Detoxification processes – converting toxins you accumulate either from the environment or from your body’s own inner processes into more benign substances that your body can safely excrete
3) Muscle movement – both skeletal muscles (biceps, thighs, shoulders,…) cardiac muscles (heart pumping), and smooth muscles (gastrointestinal tract)
4) Brain and nervous system activity – memory acquisition and storage, language decoding and output, neuron to neuron signaling, etc.
When your mitochondria make ATP, they also release heat and help maintain your body’s internal temperature. If your internal temperature begins to drop below an optimal range, your body responds to this challenge by stimulating its mitochondria to produce more ATP and increase heat production to counterbalance the drop in temperature – analogous to a thermostat stimulating the heaters of your home to kick in once the ambient temperature drops below its set range.
Brief cold-water exposure is a healthy stressor to your mitochondria – giving them a high intensity workout. Your strong mitochondria will rise to the challenge becoming stronger afterwards. Your weaker mitochondria will not be able to keep up and they will begin to break down and die. When your weaker mitochondria die, they will release all their materials and nutrients into your cellular compartments which will be recycled and used by your stronger mitochondria. This process is called mitophagy and it allows your cells to fortify and strengthen its best mitochondria and get rid of its weaker ones.
Animal studies show that cold-water therapy not only weeds out the weak mitochondria and fortifies the strong ones it also appears to stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis – the process where the strong mitochondria grow and divide creating a powerful new army of the best mitochondria you have.
Mitophagy plus mitochondrial biogenesis is survival of the fittest at a cellular level. The result: your cells become more energy efficient and can produce more ATP.
Cold therapy also helps to tone your vagus nerve – the master neuron of your rest, digest, and rejuvenation system (parasympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system) making it stronger. Developing higher vagal tone helps you to relax more quickly after experiencing moments of stress – reducing unnecessary energetic leakage from stress reactions. Higher vagal activity is also related to better glucose control and utilization making your body more efficient at creating consistent energy levels and helping to reduce inflammation throughout your body.
Other possible benefits of cold therapy:
Cold-water therapy can be difficult to implement. This strategy takes practice and resolve in order to turn it into a lifelong robust brain-boosting habit. Many of us are highly resistant to exposing our body to cold-water due to the initial discomfort it brings.
The key to developing a potent cold-water therapy habit is by making it more attractive and easier to do. It took 12 months of personal experimentation and clinical implementation to come up with effective tips to make cold-water therapy much easier to do.
The easiest way to implement cold-water therapy is by ending your daily showers with cold water. There are ways to do this that will significantly lower the discomfort and maximize the beneficial impact of this healthy strategy.
The Vitality Shower:
1) Bathe as you would normally bathe.
2) Next turn the water temperature warmer than you would normally like it and let your body temperature rise up for a couple of minutes.
3) Slowly reverse the temperature to a cooler setting (you don’t want to jar your body).
4) Gradually bring the water temperature down to the coldest setting you can handle for 15-30 seconds.
Focus the water on your chest and face for most of the time.
5) While the cool/cold water is flowing onto your body put your attention on the body part that is being showered on and simply feel the sensations. Whenever you have a thought such as: damn this is cold, or any verbal noise, redirect your attention back to your energizing sensations.
6) Keep your breathing slow and steady through your nose – if you are familiar with ujjayi breathing from yoga – it works great for the vitality shower.
7) Keep your body movements slow and steady – if you feel like jumping or moving around increase the water temperature a little bit.
8) When you stop the shower close your eyes and feel the new vital energy now present in your body. Keep your attention on that feeling for about 30 seconds.
9) Make your bathroom cozy and warm in order to give you immediate soothing comfort right after the vitality shower.
10) Lastly think of one thing you want to do well today and imagine yourself doing that for about 30 seconds.
Make it attractive:
Usually the hardest part of the Vitality Shower is starting to turn the shower temperature towards cooler temperatures. You may encounter great resistance in doing this. To help overcome this resistance, make your shower temperature a little bit warmer than you would normally like it (without hurting your skin), before turning the temperature to cooler temperatures.
Make it easy:
-Start with cool temperatures rather than cold and slowly build up your tolerance. Don’t jar your body by turning it right to cold. You can slowly decrease the temperature as your mitochondria get stronger and your capacity to handle colder water temperatures grows.
-Start with just 15 seconds on your chest and or face. As you get more comfortable you can increase the time to 30 seconds. Don’t increase the time until you are reasonably comfortable.
-Keep your breathing slow and steady – If you are breathing rapidly and fidgeting you have gone too fast in reducing the temperature. Develop a calm Zen-like presence while the cold water is on your body. This will take practice and repeated experimentation.
-Sense your body and keep reminding yourself to stay open and relaxed to reduce bracing, fidgeting, and shaking. In time you will be able to go through the entire vitality shower with little added movement. This will begin to inform your mind that the cold water is not uncomfortable.
-Whenever you have a reactionary negative thought about the cold water redirect your thoughts to focusing on the vitality and energy that is pouring into your body. This is not cold and uncomfortable -this is cold fusion – liquid life energy being poured into your heart, your brain, and your entire body. You can feel it. Over time you will recondition your thoughts around your cold-water experiences and you will begin to enjoy and look forward to them like many of my clients now do.
–Extra Credit: increase cold water invigoration to 60 seconds or more…
The Vitality Shower goes beyond mere physical stimulation of your mitochondria and parasympathetic nervous system. It builds mental and physical resilience. It is a healthy challenge to overcome your innate resistance to cold-water stimulation. By using the tips I provided – not only will you create a more powerful energy making army of mitochondria, you will also build a more flexible and sturdier mindset that will be ready to take on the challenges of the day.
Coming soon – 5 tips for sustainable brain energy part 3: The breakfast for champions