MIGHTY FIT

Is cold weather training good for your immune system?

(U.S. Army Photo by Scott T. Sturkol, Public Affairs Office, Fort McCoy, Wis)

Freakin' Russia, man! That country is everywhere in the news these days. Whether it be unexplained deaths of Putin's opposition, election meddling, weird political memes, or @lookatthisRussian they seem to be everywhere.

Because of this borderline second Cold War, the U.S. military has taken a renewed interest in cold-weather training. Russia is a cold place, and a foreseen conflict will probably occur, at least partially in the Arctic Circle. Not because it's a "Cold" war, read a textbook!


With the potential that you may end up in some type of cold weather environment either in training or on an Op, it's a good idea to take a look at what that exposure to the frigid cold may have on your body and mind.

You may have heard of cold shock proteins, you may have even dabbled with a cold shower or some Wim Hof breathing. Let me spare you the Ice Man's Polish accent and just get to the good things that cold exposure is doing to your body.

Strengthens the immune system

The benefits of cold exposure and cold weather training

Sgt. Bruce Allen, assigned to the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, proceeds to the rally point after completing an airborne training jump at Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson, Alaska, in January 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Alejandro Peña, Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson Public Affairs)

Cold exposure three times a week for six weeks actually increases the number of immune cells that you have. Of course, that's not the only magic combination of exposure that you have to do, it's just what's been tested.

Winter swimmers have some insane immune systems. It used to be just them bragging, but some real research has backed them up. It appears the cold water is making these people superhuman.

But that's not the only benefit to cold exposure. There are a lot more ways that cold exposure can help you maximize your training returns.

Improved mood

The benefits of cold exposure and cold weather training

A Soldier prepares to climb out of a hole cut into an ice-covered Big Sandy Lake after jumping in the water as part of cold-water immersion training for Class 19-01 of the Cold-Weather Operations Course on Dec. 13, 2018, at Fort McCoy, Wis.

(U.S. Army Photo by Scott T. Sturkol, Public Affairs Office, Fort McCoy, Wis)

Depressed? Angry? Outlook grim? Hop in an icy lake; it may be just the thing you need to shake your funk.

When you expose yourself to the cold, your body releases this hormone called norepinephrine (AKA noradrenaline) to constrict your blood vessels. This decreases the amount of heat you lose from your blood by decreasing the surface area of the blood.

There are a few side benefits to norepinephrine, one of which being that it also functions as a neurotransmitter in your brain that helps increase vigilance, attention, and mood.

Makes sense why a cold shower wakes you up!

If you're a fan of hormones and neurotransmitters, check out how they impact your appetite in my free Ultimate Composure Nutrition Guide.

Fixes your brain

The benefits of cold exposure and cold weather training

Cold Weather Leaders Course 19-004 students fire from the standing supported position at the Northern Warfare Training Center's Black Rapids Training Site during the 10-kilometer biathlon March 12, 2019.

(Army photo/John Pennell)

Cold shock proteins are these things that form when you experience extreme amounts of cold exposure. They tend to be rather awesome for you. This is where some of the real hype about cold exposure comes from.

Scientists have even found that in mice, cold exposure results in this cold shock protein called RBM3.

If this seems questionable to you, check this out to see how these types of experiments actually work.

RBM3 appears to fix lost connections in the brain!

If you at all worry about dementia or just losing your mental edge, cold exposure should be on your to-do list.

Inflammation management

The benefits of cold exposure and cold weather training

In addition to cold-water immersion training, students were trained on a variety of cold-weather subjects, including skiing and snowshoe training as well as how to use ahkio sleds and other gear.

(U.S. Army Photo by Scott T. Sturkol, Public Affairs Office, Fort McCoy, Wis.)

Inflammation is the key driver in the aging process, meaning the more you can manage unnecessary inflammation, the more likely you are to slow the aging process.

The aging process includes a lot more than just developing wrinkles. Things like joint degeneration, memory loss, slower recovery times, digestive efficiency are all included in the aging process. Basically, anytime something stops working the way you want it to, that's the aging process.

Inflammation occurs when we hurt ourselves like a swollen joint. Inflammation also occurs from stress. If you're always stressed, you're always experiencing increased amounts of inflammation. Remember, more inflammation means more aging.

To help the physical symptoms of inflammation, try some cold exposure like cold water immersion or cryotherapy.

The cause of your chronic stress will take more effort; some simulated life-threatening danger may help, also meditation is a great help.

Burns more fat

The best for last. It appears that cold exposure increases the amount of brown fat we have. Brown fat is fat that is much more active than other fat tissue. The browner, fat tissue is, the more active it is because of the increased number of mitochondria that it has.

More active fat cells help us warm our bodies in cold environments through what's called non-shivering thermogenesis. Basically, your body heats up without shivering. The amount of heat that you produce from this effect requires energy to conduct, AKA calories.

More brown fat means you have a higher metabolism. A higher metabolism while maintaining the same amount of food you normally eat is basically the same thing as going on a diet. That's science for you.


Here's some more science on other ways to burn fat!

Cold exposure is another tool you should keep in your toolkit to keep yourself in the fight. That being said, it won't make up for missed training sessions or a shitty diet. If you want to learn how to maximize cold exposure, diet, or your training, shoot me an email at michael@composurefitness.com.

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