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Submerging in Ice Water Is Good for You—Here's Why

With the right precautions and proper coaching, your body will reap incredible benefits

Philippine summer seems to get hotter and hotter every year, with the highest heat index reaching 55 degrees Celsius in some parts of the archipelago. For someone who prefers the cold, air conditioners just don’t cut it. Several years back when I still lived in a condo, I would cool down in our 6-degree plunge pool, and even though there was a shocking sting at first, I began incorporating it into my daily routine as my body started to look for the relaxing after-effects. I noticed my sleep improved, my focus got sharper, and my energy levels increased. I then found out that cold therapy (or cryotherapy) was actually a thing, and it has such profound health benefits. No wonder athletes dunk themselves in ice baths as part of their strict physical regimen. 

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But don’t just take it from me, take it from Aly Borromeo AKA “Da Ice Man,” former captain of the Philippines’ national football team, Azkals. Now the founder of AB Wellness, his company provides private stress resilience sessions and incorporates contrast therapy, breathing exercises, and short workouts. He started his ice bath journey due to a condition called chronic venous insufficiency, where the veins and arteries don’t pump enough blood as efficiently. It was the unfortunate result of all his knee surgeries while playing for the Azkals years ago.


Read on our chat to know more as Aly and I dive deeper into this wellness practice that’s proven effective and has now become a movement for healing, biohacking, and resilience. 

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Aly Borromeo

Metro.Style: What is cold therapy?

Aly Borromeo: It’s basically immersing yourself in cold or ice water to shock your body and develop a survival mechanism. This activates adrenaline/norepinephrine which strengthens our resilience to stress.


MS: When is it best done? Pre-workout or post-workout?

AB: I usually plunge before a workout to activate more testosterone and vasoconstriction (the constriction of blood vessels, which increases blood pressure). Kinda’ like an espresso shot times 10! Hehe! I do another 2 to 3-minute plunge after to keep my metabolism going. But if you’re looking for hypertrophy (thickening of muscle fibers), then you’d want to wait a few hours after your workout. 

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Aly taking a quick 10-minute nap submerged in 2-degree ice water

MS: What happens physiologically when the body is shocked by cold temperatures?

AB: Your body develops an immune response by constricting your blood vessels to protect you for survival. This acute response is good for our immune, cardiovascular, and circulatory systems. It’s our first line of defense against all these pathogens that make us feel ill every day. 


MS: Are there studies that show this is beneficial to the human body? What are these benefits, if so?

AB: There are studies that cold plunging reduces muscle soreness and decreases inflammation, making your body recover better and faster. 


MS: What's the optimal temperature to achieve the best results?

AB: Ideally 2-5 degrees Celsius for 2-5 minutes is the standard, with around 11 minutes total per week. But everyone’s stress response is different, so I’d advise for proper guidance, especially in the beginning.

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A wellness and biohacking session for a private company

MS: As an athlete, how has it benefited you?

AB: Cold exposure has allowed me to recover faster, therefore being able to train optimally time and time again. But note that it provides recovery and numerous benefits for all people from all walks of life, not just athletes.


MS: Are there risks?

AB: There are no risks unless you have major cardiovascular issues, but then again gradual exposure is key and beneficial. Also, hyperventilating (rapid breathing due to panic) and submerging are not ideal, especially if you’re out swimming in open water.

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Aly in his element, coaching a client

MS: Can you share a success story from one of your clients?

AB: I have a few clients with PTSD, ADHD, and trauma from the past, and the cold has taught them to be in control of themselves. You have to focus on surviving for a minute or so, then you adapt to the cold, just like how we adapt to any stressor in life—we just have to breathe and let go. This helps them to be in tune with themselves to focus on surviving.


MS: What are tips to build tolerance? What if I can only last for 10 seconds during my first session?

AB: It’s normal to get initially shocked from cold exposure, and that’s a good thing. Acute stress is good for our hormones while long-term stress is bad, keeping our cortisol levels elevated which is detrimental to our bodies. Certain breathing techniques lower your heart rate and train your vagus nerve (the main nerves that control specific body functions such as digestion, heart rate, and immune system) to dial down to parasympathetic response so you can adapt more easily in the cold. 


MS: What do you say to those hesitant to try it? 

AB: It’s all about mindset. When you deliberately put yourself in acute stress, your body will reward you with a surge of dopamine that lasts for hours. This is the reason why doing hard things that require effort benefits our mental health and physiological responses.


The pursuit of health and wellness doesn’t have to be complicated. Who knew that the humble ice water could profoundly impact not just our physical but our mental wellness, too? As Aly once said, “We must learn to let go, otherwise we’ll never be resilient. The ice is our teacher.”


Join Aly’s stress resilience sessions via Instagram at @ab.well_, or reach out to his personal account @alybor11.

 

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