It's More Than Just Getting Cold: The Yin and Yang of Recovery
The human body is an amazing system. The way it works together as a unit in order to maintain what is called homeostasis, or stable equilibrium, leaves even the most educated scholars fascinated. Involuntarily, our bodies are constantly adapting to the constant stresses we continue to put on it from day to day. From the things we deal with at work, to exhausting ourselves for a couple hours at the gym, or even dealing with our needy children, it mentally and physically takes a toll on our bodies. But how exactly do we know that our body is adapting? What truly goes on inside our bodies, at a cellular level, that elicits recovery?
Inside of our bodies, there is a branch off of the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) called the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The PNS is basically everything apart from the brain and spinal cord, but the ANS is where the involuntary processes of recovery are started. The ANS is divided into two systems that work hand in hand, but are in constant competition with each other. These two segments are known as the sympathetic and parasympathetic.
The Sympathetic Nervous System is responsible for the “fight or flight” responses. Just humor me for a second, and imagine yourself deep in the forest. Suddenly a giant bear approaches you and stands on its hind legs. During that split second, your body prepares you to either step up and punch that thing in the face, or run for your life. Either way it primes your body for whatever option you choose. Chances are, in this situation; odds aren’t looking good for you. Although, during that moment you may have noticed an increase in adrenaline, heart rate, respiration, along with many other internal responses. Similarly, those of you that have experienced cryotherapy may have experienced this same feeling. The cold air that comes in contact with the top layer of your skin triggers that sympathetic response with the release of norepinephrine. This increases oxygen levels in the blood reducing inflammation, and the release of glucose allows our muscles to work more efficiently—whether you’re pushing for that extra rep in a workout or fighting a bear. The reason some people can only last thirty seconds to a minute in a cryotherapy sessions just shows that their flight response was a little higher than their fight response.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the parasympathetic side of the ANS. This division is responsible for the “rest and digest” reactions. So while the sympathetic stimulates and heightens, parasympathetic does the exact opposite. The parasympathetic acts as the clean up crew to undo the work of the sympathetic. In essence, this is where the actual recovery takes place. While the body is in this parasympathetic state, heart rate decreases, blood vessels relax allowing more oxygen and nutrients to be delivered to muscles, joints, and other body systems. Activities such as sleeping, relaxing, eating, or watching TV, etc. are considered parasympathetic. During these times, your body is in the primal state of healing itself. If you think about it, sitting in the NormaTec compression sleeves do just that. After coming out of the cryo sauna, your body is coming down from a sympathetic state. If you immediately sit in the NormaTec, it allows your body to maximize it’s parasympathetic response while it recovers from the stresses of the cryotherapy session.
Having an even balance between these two systems is ideal for a healthy lifestyle. Having too much of one without the other could lead to all sorts of complications. Being too sympathetic could lead to high levels of stress, anxiety, lowered immune systems, or even heart disorders. Where spending too much time on the parasympathetic could lead to feeling lethargic, depressed, and could even lead to obesity. Cryotherapy paired with the NormaTec compression is the perfect balance between the two systems to ensure your body is recovering optimally and evenly. So next time you find yourself in the middle of an intense workout, or being a couch potato watching your favorite Netflix show, remember which branch of the autonomic nervous system you’re using.
Posted by: Matt Kyser