fitness · health · injury

Can 180 Seconds At −245°F Improve Your Health?

Cryotherapy is a new-to-me wellness trend. Easy and scary, cryotherapy is a process by which a near-naked human spends two to four minutes standing in a cold chamber cooled to below −100°C. The protocol claims to reduce tissue inflammation, which aids in sports recovery, alleviates diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and MS, increases energy, enhances sleep and focus, assists weight loss, brightens skin and reduces anxiety and depression (17 ProvenBenefits of Whole Body Cryotherpay + Side Effects). Better to ask, what doesn’t cryotherapy promise?

I decided to give it a try.

Despite the skeptics at The Guardian (Whole-bodycryotherapy: what are the cold hard facts?) and US News (ShouldYou Try Whole Body Cryotherapy?), there are a lot of celebrity fans (pro athletes and movie stars, including the reigning, though retired, James Bond, aka Daniel Craig) who swear by it. The skeptics make the point that cryotherapyis not a magic bullet (despite James Bond’s endorsement). The protocol does not eliminate the need to take care of oneself. Well, why would it? Seems obvious that cryotherapy is a therapeutic technique (like every other) meant to support and boost a healthy lifestyle, not replace it, or be a hack that enables a casual or reckless approach to wellness.

A quick online search gave me CryoHealthNY only a few blocks from my apartment.  The cryo-office was ultra clean and new looking, but the space also has an unpeopled feel, too. The General Manager, Sujellee, alone at the reception desk the first time I went, was glow-y and enthusiastic.

As instructed I took off all my clothes except bra and underwear and put on the robe, white gym socks and pale blue nurse clogs provided. At the gateway to freezedom, Sujellee gave me earmuffs, a pair of liner gloves, ski gloves and a surgical mask. At the place I went the set up is this: There are two adjoining cold chambersabout the size of a large telephone booth. The first is the pre-freeze chamber, where you take off your robe. From chamber 1, you step through an inside doorinto chamber 2, the cryo-chamber, which, in this case, is cooled to a cryogenic temperature of −245°F. The attendant presses play on the music you’ve selected from Spotify (David Bowie’s Space Oddity) and your three minutes begins.

Temperature gauge of cryotherapy chambers, showing minus 125, because the session is over and the chamber has “warmed up” from minus 245

From the moment I stepped in, I was petrified. Panic nearly drove me from the Dr. Who telephone booth of deep space frigidity. Filled with cold fog, which makes it hard to see anything more than the shadowed specter of the attendant’s thumbs-up outside the window, I was claustrophobic, my breathing hard and choppy. I can’t even be sure how many times Sujellee’s disembodied voice piped into the chamber to let me know how many minutes and seconds were left. Three interminable minutes spent petrified. I had my hand on the door handle to the pre-freeze chamber when she gave me the five-second warning, and I busted out of there like a horse at the Derby when she announced “you’re done.”

The whole rest of the day I was exhilarated. Was it because I felt like I had dodged death? I may well have been experiencing some brush-with-mortality energy. All the way through to the next morning, underneath the warmth of my skin, I felt like I was wrapped in a hair’s-breadth-thick sheath of cold, a pleasant and tingly sensation.  

I also slept better than I usually do and felt springy and resilient on my run the next morning. That’s subjective, I know, but in the end, isn’t that what matters with any therapeutic protocol? Whether we perform better and feel better is the standard and goal, isn’t it?  

I am a willing guinea pig for so many new (and ancient) protocols. I’m curious about my mind and body. I have the good luck of being able to try things (at the place I went to an intro session is $55, a single session is $75 and a 5-pack is $300—I won’t detail the Black Friday specials). As to how often to cryo, I’ve seen recommendations of as many as 5 sessions a week, to once a week, or as needed when you’re feeling physically sore or depleted. At the price, I can’t imagine I’ll ever go 5 times in a week!

That said, I did go for my second session the very next day and took my partner with me. It was a lot less scary with the two of us in the Dr. Who chamber together. Neither of us experienced the same exhilaration I’d felt the day before. But then, he didn’t feel like mortality was an issue, since I’d made it out alive once already. In our US Thanksgiving double spin class the next day, I had strong energy. My partner wasn’t sure what benefits he felt, if any.  

A few days later my partner discovered he had e-coli. His bout was unpleasant and scary, but didn’t stop him from doing any of our usual activities, like going for runs and out for dinner. When he’d recovered a few more days later, we wondered if the cryotherapy had helped reduce the severity of his symptoms. We don’t know.

My third time (my partner’s second), I was still scared, but less so. My partner had a calf pull that felt particularly frozen after the cryo session and he said there was a healing heat sensation afterward. He said he felt more alert that evening and into the next day. I slept better than usual and though not all my sporting aches and pains disappeared, I feel more physically chipper. The next day at aerial yoga I felt more limber.  

My partner and I are going to go back a couple more times to see how we feel. Then we’ll decide if the therapy is worth integrating into a regular regimen or using to heal injuries.

What are your cryo-thoughts? Skeptic, curious or convert?

injury · Sat with Nat · weight stigma

Nat grapples with plantar fasciitis

It started as a dull ache in the summer around the rim of my left heel. It culminated in me limping home 2 weeks ago from work. Did I take the bus? Oh heck no!

So, first, this is a self diagnoses as I am actively avoiding my family doctor after my last visit. Why? I had gone in to talk about my hay fever and how it has aggravated my snoring.

The doctor recommended gastric bypass surgery. I’d never heard of that to treat hay fever before!

I spoke with my Gran, who weighs 80lbs, and she laughed. Apparently she, as her father before her, is a very loud snoring human. As is my dad (her son).

Anyway, no way am I going to see my family doctor about anything correlated to weight gain unless it’s drastic.

So after much research on the Internet and speaking with many friends I’m quite confident self-help options are going to help me recover.

I really liked the detail and approach in this article about stretching, yoga and things that help & aggravate symptoms.

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/yoga-for-plantar-fasciitis

  • Things that have definitely helped:
    • Over the counter insoles
      Calf stretches
      Rolling a hard ball on the bottom of my foot
      Ice
      Ibuprofen
      Rest
      Commuting in running shoes
      Yoga postures that flex & stretch my calves & feet
      Cycling inside on my trainer

    You can see Natalie’s legs stretched out in front of her. She has a yoga belt around the balls of her feet pulling her foot up to 90 degrees, stretching her calves and feet.
    Couch time is a great time to stretch those calves & get!

    It’s taken me a while to get in this much pain so I know it will be a while to recover. Thinking back over the past year I have had a few changes that would exacerbate plantar fasciitis:

    • started commuting with a full backpack
    • stopped doing other activities
    • wore older footwear even when my feet started bothering me
    • Ignored my early symptoms
    • Doubled my walking distances by canvassing
    • Gained some weight

    So, if you start to get that ring of fire around your heel, please, don’t be a Nat! Get checked out by a healthcare provider, try some self help options and talk to friends & family. You may not need to wince in agony for long.

    fitness · injury

    A non-four-letter word I really dislike, but have to deal with: fragility

    Exactly two weeks ago, as I was walking down the stairs from my apartment, my right ankle rolled out and just crumpled underneath me.  I went down, luckily on my rear end instead of my head.  It hurt like nobody’s business– the kind of pain that makes you scream and curse (even if that’s not your thing) and get nauseated and maybe faint.

    My very nice neighbor Melih came right away and took me to the ER, whereupon I was x-rayed and determined to have a bad sprained ankle.  They gave me ibuprofen (which helped a lot with the pain), an ice pack (ditto), a pair of crutches and sent me home.

    Injuries suck. They’re unexpected, often super-painful, and they snarl up our lives and schedules.  And they take a long time to go away, often requiring surgery, physical therapy, and sometimes devices to wear to support us or prevent re-injury.

    Injuries upset me because they highlight my vulnerabilities– places in my body where I am fragile. For me, it’s my ankles.  I’ve always been prone to sprains, and I fractured my left ankle 4 years ago (minor avulsion fracture, but still). Yes, yes,– I’ve gotten very good physical therapy, and I did those exercises religiously. But once I was functional again, I turned away from focusing on my more frail parts. I didn’t give them the care that they so clearly needed.

    So here I am again. This time, at age 56, living alone, and on crutches.  Crutches suck, too, by the way. I had a terrible time crutching around on one foot– my upper body didn’t feel strong enough to manage it. I know, there are techniques for making this easier, and I paid attention to folks at the hospital teaching me, and also looked online (because that’s what we do these days…)

    Let me say now that I’m lucky and grateful to have good friends and neighbors and colleagues and health insurance and enough money for car rides and takeout and a job where I can do some teaching online and all sorts of other things that make my life so nice.  It could be a lot worse.

    This feeling of fragility though– throwing money at the problem doesn’t help.

    (Taking a few breaths here)

    Two things:

    First: My bad ankle sprain is a wake-up call for me as an aging person. I want to be stronger, and I can do things to make myself stronger: continue PT exercises; get a personal trainer or join gym classes; create a regimen that includes more strengthening; pay more attention to my core and upper body (I do yoga, but need to focus more on specific areas of strength and flexibility).  I don’t want to have to go to rehab because I live alone and cannot care for myself.  Yes, that happens, and no, it’s not the worst thing.  But it scares me. A lot.

    Second: Turning toward and taking in my physical fragility and vulnerability is emotionally painful. It makes me scream and curse and feel nauseated and maybe faint. Why?  Because maybe some of that vulnerability is beyond my control.  I have the body I have.  I have the ankles I have. I can balance on bosu balls all the livelong day, and those ankles will still be my most tender parts. This is what my life feels like.

    (breathing again)

    I know, my world is not ending.  I have a bad sprained ankle and months of physical therapy ahead. My world, however, is a bit different now. I’ll be paying attention to fragility and vulnerability more, even though it took some tumbling and kicking and screaming to get here.

    Readers, how do you deal with fragility? Does it scare you? Is it okay?  If you feel like it, I’d love to hear from you.

     

     

    athletes · blogging · fitness · injury · monthly check in · motivation · sailing · weight loss

    Sam’s monthly check-in: What’s up, what’s down, the July version (CW: long, some sad bits, some discussion of weight loss)

    Down, is of course, my knee

    Saw the surgeon and his team on Monday. I’ve been crying on and off since.

    The easy bits are that I got another shot of synvisc under my kneecap. What is it and what’s it for? “SYNVISC is a viscosupplement injection that supplements the fluid in your knee to help lubricate and cushion the joint. SYNVISC is for people with knee osteoarthritis who have not received enough pain relief from diet, exercise and over-the-counter pain medication.”

    Read more here.

    View this post on Instagram

    Knee injection

    A post shared by Samantha Brennan (@samjanebrennan) on

    I’m also still wearing the knee brace and it’s helping on days when I’m on my feet a lot. I spent the weekend in New York and even though I took the subway more than usual and hopped in a few taxis for good measure, I still got 13,000 steps in on Sunday including a walk through Central Park. Thanks knee brace. I did some shopping for more leggings for under the brace and for short skirts and dresses to wear over the leggings. The brace presents some fashion challenges and I’m warmer than usual with black leggings on no matter what.

    Image description: A photo of Sam just outside Central Park. I’m wearing black leggings, sandals, a sleeveless black jumper and a purse over my shoulder. Also, a knee brace. I’m smiling and the sun is shining.

    I’m still going to physio and doing lots of knee-supporting exercises.

    I still meet the conditions for knee replacement surgery (in both knees actually though only the left hurts) but neither of the surgeons I saw recommend it. I’m too young and I’m too active. The surgeons made me laugh, which is something, given the general message they had to deliver.

    They said they like to make people happy. The person they make the most happy through knee replacement is somebody who arrives in their office, sad and older. Someone who just wants to walk to the grocery store without pain, the kind of person who says they want to lead a normal life, get a decent night’s sleep, and not suffer all the time. Knee replacement apparently makes that person very happy but they said for someone like me it wouldn’t make me happy.

    Why not? Because I want to regain function and their line on knee replacement is that you shouldn’t do it to regain function, you should do it to lose pain. Also, knee replacements don’t last very long maybe 20 years and I’m young. I want to do things like ride my bike and some patients after knee replacement have difficulty bike riding because they don’t have the full range of motion back necessary for riding a bike.

    So, no.

    Instead they discussed a different surgery called high tibial osteotomy. That surgery involves breaking bones and resetting them so I have a bigger gap in my knee cap on the side that’s in a lot of pain. It’s a good sign that the brace helps because this does surgically what the brace does mechanically. But it’s not a permanent fix. There’s a chance the other side of my knee will become painful as arthritis advances. So it’s good for 2-10 years maybe. Also, it’s big deal surgery. Like knee replacement it’s months and months of recovery. I’d trade off 10 years of active living without pain for six months painful time consuming recovery but I’m not sure about 2 years. There are no magic globes I can peer in to see the future.

    I’m trying to decide. See them again in three months.

    In the meantime my fit feminist friend Sarah is having that same surgery. Wishing her well.

    But the other depressing piece of news from the surgeons was the strong recommendation of weight loss, both as a way of avoiding surgery and as essential to recovering from it. Either way I should lose a lot of weight. It will definitely, they say, help with pain relief. The pain is all about weight bearing. That’s why downstairs is harder than up. It’s all about force on the kneecap. And as far as motivation goes this is pretty horrible pain. Like pain that makes hard to think about other things.

    Now as I’ve said before I wish that it were the case that medical reasons for weight loss changed the facts. But that’s not so. Your body doesn’t care how good, how “pure” your motivation is. It’s still tough. It’s tough losing weight and tough keeping it off.

    I don’t have any choice but to try. The worse case scenario is that I lose it, gain it back, and more and need knee replacement surgery. But that’s the same worst case scenario I face now. I’ve lost significant amounts of weight in my life, 70 lbs in grad school, 60 when I turned 40. The trick, the hard part, is keeping it off. This time, if I actually lose weight, I’ll be unicorn training, learning the habits of people who actually keep weight off.

    Don’t worry. This won’t become a weight loss blog. Likely I’ll save any angst, any updates, to my monthly check in posts. I’ll also add content warnings.

    I thought about leaving blogging but making this pain manageable and movement possible is a big part of my life right now. And I’m very much still a fit, feminist just one who is coping with injury and aging and hoping to keep in moving.

    Wish me luck.

    Up, still Snipe racing

    View this post on Instagram

    Our Snipe!

    A post shared by Samantha Brennan (@samjanebrennan) on

    It can be tricky moving around in a small boat in ways that don’t hurt my knee but I’m learning how to do it. I haven’t raced a small sailboat ever. All of my sailboat racing experience is on relatively big boats so this is new to me. With all the knee misery, see above, it’s good to have something new to focus on. It’s fun and exciting and lots to learn.

    family · fitness · injury

    How was your weekend?

    Selfie of Sam with white bike helmet and her Sweet Ride Cycling bike jersey.

    I’m not training for anything these days. I’ve got the one day version of the bike rally that I’m still hoping I can do. Please, please sponsor me here! But really my main goal is staying active while managing my knee issues, avoiding pain and surgery.

    This means that my workouts look like a little haphazard. They’re more like active lifestyle than anything you’d call exercising or working out. It’s definitely not training. I’m still having fun.

    Catherine’s post on Sunday really resonated with me.

    This weekend I logged two workouts over the weekend in the 218 in 2018 group I’m part of.

    97. Short hike through fields and meadows, lots of moving things around, mini archery lesson.

    My son Gavin got a new bow and we took it to Sarah’s family farm so he could practise shooting into balloons, hay bales, and dirt piles.

    98. Bike 30 km to cheer Tracy in her Guelph 10 km running race. Great to have her in my new town. A group of us got together for brunch after.

    How about you? What did you get up to this weekend?

    A picture of Sam trying out her son’s new bow. She’s wearing wide leg blue pants. There’s a backhoe in the background.

    climbing · Guest Post · injury

    Climbing Injuries and on Finding a Better Balance (Guest Post)

    By Catherine Wearing

    I first started climbing (indoors) in 2009. I’d wanted to try rock climbing for ages but I didn’t know anyone who did it and (in the days before meetup and the proliferation of climbing gyms) it wasn’t obvious how to get into it otherwise. When I happened to meet someone who was climbing in the gym, I went along with them and fell in love with climbing. As someone who tends to get interested in something for a while, only to gradually lose enthusiasm and eventually turn to something else, I have been surprised by the ongoing passion that I feel for climbing. Almost a decade and still going strong. I fantasize about being a climbing ‘dirtbag’.

    So that’s some relevant background. What I want to focus on is what could perhaps be called a ‘side effect’ of my passion for climbing, namely, injuries. Because I climb as often and as hard as I can, I tax my body – and especially my upper body – pretty severely. As a result, I’ve had a whole slew of minor soft tissue injuries over the past decade: both wrists, both shoulders, several fingers, and most recently, my right elbow. None of these injuries have required surgery and some have healed with rest alone. But most have required doctors’ visits, several months of physical therapy, and in some cases, X-rays or scans of various kinds to pin down what exactly is wrong.

    In reflecting on this history, I’ve been led to wonder about two things in particular:

    First, the threat of injury doesn’t act as much of a deterrent for me. I hate taking time off climbing to rest an injury, but I seem to end up doing it at least once every other year (and sometimes more often). Rationally, it is obvious that my body simply cannot climb as hard as I would like it to and so it should also be obvious to me that I should scale back my climbing ambitions to better suit what I can do. But I have incredible trouble doing this. When I am injured, that forces me to scale back (or stop), but when I am healthy, I only want to try to push myself a bit harder than before. For me, a significant draw of climbing lies in tackling problems that I’m not sure I’m capable of doing. I have learned to be better about building up my strength gradually and pacing myself (especially in the gym) to avoid overdoing it. But my ongoing string of injuries suggests that I haven’t mastered this self-control (if that’s what it is) yet.

    The second thing I find myself thinking a lot about is that I consume a lot more medical resources than I did before I started climbing. On the whole, I have been fortunate not to need much medical care beyond routine preventative check-ups and tests. The various climbing injuries which send me to the doctor and the physiotherapist are essentially ‘self-inflicted’. That is, they’re not the results of accidents, but of overdoing it, of not exercising self-control in how hard I push myself. Given how overtaxed our medical resources are, I’m not sure this behaviour is justified. I suppose I could argue that climbing keeps me happy and healthy in ways that go beyond my ligaments and tendons, which might in turn help me avoid other kinds of medical care. But who knows whether that’s true? Perhaps I’d be almost as healthy if I stuck to the forms of exercise that I enjoy but am not as passionate about.

    I’m trying to learn from experience, to push myself less hard and to draw as much enjoyment as I can from simply being outside on the rock, even when I’m climbing something easy. And I think my rate of injury is gradually slowing. But as I continue to age, I expect the physical demands of climbing, even at the easier grades, to increase. It fills me with delight to see climbing friends still going strong in their 60s and 70s. So I’m hopeful that if I can find a better balance, I’ll be able to keep climbing for a long time. But in the meantime, I wish I could do a better job finding the mid-point between the challenge which brings me such joy and a level of physical demand which my body can sustain.

    Catherine Wearing is a philosopher, feminist, and rock climber. Also a runner, tea drinker, and mystery novel reader.

    accessibility · aging · disability · injury · motivation

    An apology: A thing Sam thinks she needs to stop saying…

    My life has changed a lot since we started the blog and the fitness challenge. There are things I say when we’re promoting the book that now strike me as wrong or at least not as simple as that, or maybe even naive.

    Things feel a lot more complicated since osteoarthritis and advanced cartilage degradation made me a candidate for knee replacement.

    It’s hard to get a more nuanced message across when you’ve just got four minutes on television so I’ve been sticking with the simple story but the truth is I know it’s not so simple. I’m not staking out a position here or defending a claim other than than claim that things are messier than I thought. I do know the blog can handle more complexities than the media buzz around the book can take. So you blog readers get the messier story.

    Maybe after the book promotion I have to stop saying “if you don’t love it, don’t do it.” There are a lot of things in life that I do but I don’t love. These days a lot of exercise feels to me to fall into that category. Knee physio can be tedious and sometimes painful. And I do it most days. There’s no way to love it. You watch Netflix to distract. You give yourself rewards for finishing. I need to do it but there’s little joy in it.

    Instead, I take pride in my grit and determination, in my resolve.

    See When exercise isn’t fun.

    Why am I doing it? Not love of the thing itself that’s for sure. Partly to be sure it’s instrumentally justified in terms of continuing to do things I love. Canoe camping, hiking, biking. I want to keep these things in my life.

    But it’s also instrumentally justified in terms of basic movements, like walking to campus, between meetings, getting in and out of chairs.

    To suggest that we approach all exercise from this “loving it” perspective comes from an incredible place of privilege. I had that privilege. I don’t anymore and I’m sorry if I sounded insufferable, naive, and smug.

    I saw it again today, by the way, in an online body positive fitness community of which I’m part. Someone offered the advice to another community member to do whatever brings joy to your heart. And the thing is I too reject the imperative that we all have to do joyless exercise to tame or unruly, overweight bodies to keep them in line. I also know though that life is complicated.

    Just as Tracy rejects body positivity as just one more demand, I’m coming to feel that way about “if you don’t love it, don’t do it.” No one loves knee physio. It’s okay not to like it and to do it anyway.

    It’s okay to be angry and sad and roll your eyes at people who say they just don’t feel like running this morning. You don’t get to yell at them that at least they can run and tell them to just go do it because you can never run again. Just say it in your head. That’s what I do.

    It’s okay to think, “I’m tough and I’ve got this” instead of I’m doing this because I love it . Because that’s what’s true: I’m tough and I’ve got this.

    Maybe that’s true for you too. I’m sorry for saying you have to love exercise. You don’t. Right now, a lot of the time, I don’t. And that’s okay too.