During the so-called Big Freeze that paralysed parts of the country last week, night-time lows reached -9C. Pah! I’m about to experience temperatures more than 100C lower than that – and while wearing little more than a swimsuit.
The reason? Because chilling out in an oversized deep-freeze – or cryotherapy as it is known to spa-goers – is an extreme pick-me-up. More than that, it is said to work wonders for the skin, can boost your immune response, ease chronic pain, heal nerve damage, and even improve sporting performance.
Whoever thought that walking half-naked into a sealed, icy chamber with a pair of knee-high socks, gloves and ski mask could be good for you? The Japanese, as it happens, who came up with the idea of “whole-body cryotherapy” in the 1970s. But it was Polish scientists who embraced it as a way to relieve chronic pain, helping to popularise it in sanatoriums across eastern Europe.
Whole-body cryotherapy is currently only available in one UK resort – Champney’s in Tring – but devotees say that the massive hormone rush from the freezing temperatures can benefit anyone suffering from stress, burn-out, insomnia or depression. It’s good for skin conditions like psoriasis. It is also an effective analgesia; your body is so busy focusing on the cold, it forgets everything else.
As well as easing the effects of arthritis, rheumatism and multiple sclerosis, it has been shown to boost sporting performance; the Olympic rehabilitation centre in Spala, Poland, has a cryotherapy chamber used by sports teams from around the world. Many athletes record a remarkable 10 per cent improvement in performance after a dip in the deep freeze. Jockey Tony McCoy used it a couple of years ago to recover from serious back injury in time for Cheltenham, and the Irish rugby team have been enduring cryotherapy sessions for almost a decade, believing it to limit muscle damage and as an aid to recovery.