Feeling Better? – No Athletes Were Harmed.

As we move deeper into the holiday season, we tend to eat more and have less time to get that all-important exercise that we’re urged to indulge in. Grey skies with wind and rain or snow are a good excuse to refrain from leaving our armchairs and computer screens.

The New Year will be time enough to change back into dynamic mode and get back to vigorous exercise. We cling on to faith that we’ll regain our sylphlike figures that we vaguely remember seeing in the mirrors of our youth.

At the back of our minds, though, there is that little voice warning us “not to overdue it – it’ll hurt if you do.” Of course we’ll pay it no heed – we’re tougher than that and anyway, there’s a new fast recovery solution for “athletes” like us with that sort of thing.

The good news was presented to the world last week in the Public Library of Science by Hausswirth and her team from France (1). They had a group of nine athletes run up hill and down dale on their treadmills to give them some exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) and then tried three recovery methods to find the most effective.

They tried leaving it alone and hope – which most of us do. They also tried exposing the whole body, except for the head, to far infrared radiation – nicely warming, but not into the microwave region so no one was actually cooked. Lastly, they tried whole body cooling (WBC), which entailed them spending 3 minutes in a room at -110 ºC stripped down to their skivvies.

Now, -110 ºC is very chilly and three sessions within 48 hours of the heavy exercise worked wonders – far better than the other two strategies. Why does it work? The idea that the penetrating colds does just that, it cools the core and reduces the blood flow in the over exercised muscles, thereby reducing inflammation.

It is interesting to note that the perceived benefits in terms of pain reduction and increased well-being were also greatest after being exposed to WBC, so it wasn’t just the recovery of muscle strength that resulted. I think that just the threat of having to stand around for 3 minutes, practically naked, at  -110 ºC would make me claim to be fully recovered.

  1. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0027749

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