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Draw lines in the sand, but know when to erase them

You value your health and you’re willing to make changes to improve upon it, or you wouldn’t take the time to read this column.

There comes a time, though, when a suggested way to enhance it seems unsuitable, impractical, or just too over the top. So you draw a line in the sand during your time on Good Health’s shores.

Such line drawing is inevitable because of an unspoken irony. While we all see good health as a priceless vacation, we still put a price tag on it.

What comes next will not attempt to assess its face value, however. It will explain there are times during the vacation when you need to put down the novel, rise from the beach chair, make a sweeping motion with your flip-flopped feet (the sand could be hot, after all), and erase a previously drawn line.

But what really makes you draw the line in the first place?

In a case of mine about 30 years ago, it was pain, intense pain.

A winter bicycle ride that began in snow flurries became a race for home when the skies darkened, the temperature rose, and a steady rain started to fall. While the emergency rain jacket I immediately put on did its job, the gloves that were supposedly waterproof didn’t.

My fingers went numb. Shifting gears and applying the brakes required so much conscious effort that crashing - even if I avoided the black ice -became a concern.

This was before cell phones and there were no pay phones in the immediate area. To keep going, I kept thinking how good it would feel once I got home and warm.

Was I ever wrong.

As I struggled to unstrap my helmet (after needing at least a minute to open the front door), the tips of my fingers began to burn, really burn. Now I’ve been told by more than one medical professional that my pain tolerance is through the roof, yet this feeling dropped me to the floor, made me roll to one side, place my hands between my thighs, and cry.

Those defective gloves left me with frostbitten fingertips and a to-this-day loathing of being cold while doing any type of workout.

The group got a good laugh last fall, for instance, when a rider saw how overdressed I was for seasonable weather and dubbed me the Michelin Man. And I dress so warmly for weightlifting sessions in my unheated basement that I sweat within minutes of beginning my ab-work warmup.

So it should come as no surprise that when I first read about the assorted health benefits of cold-water swimming and the many forms of ice therapy that resulted from it, I etched one of those lines in the sand with the thickest stick I could find.

I’ve since redrawn that line, but that doesn’t mean you’ll find me jumping in Mauch Chunk Lake on New Year’s Day. It means I’ve done what I so often urge you to do: Experiment to create a health and fitness practice that works for you.

I call mine the Polish Ice Bath because I don’t use ice or sit in a tub. (I’m poking fun at my own ethnicity, so please don’t call the PC Police about me.)

It allows me to receive some benefit from cold-water therapy, and it’s really nothing special. What is, though, is that it’s led to better health from a new line in the sand.

For the last few minutes of the shower following a really demanding ride, I’ll alternate between hot and really cold water hitting my legs. It increases blood circulation, forces blood away from the legs and to the heart, and expedites the removal of the exercise-induced lactic acid to minimize the next-day soreness.

Wearing compression sleeves on your legs after workouts produces a similar effect. And because the Polish Ice Baths worked well for so many years, I did not hesitate when asked to evaluate compression sleeves designed to be chilled in your freezer.

In the subsequent article written last June about TheraICE RX sleeves, I reported that they lessened the next-day ache I usually experience in my hips and glutes from riding hard at my age -and with two titanium rods still screwed into two previously fractured, and now a bit arthritic, femurs.

But even if you don’t need quicker recovery from exercise, there are good reasons to experiment with a form of cold-water therapy. They are detailed in a meta-analysis published in the September 2022 issue of the International Journal of Circumpolar Health that was performed at - where else? - the Arctic University of Norway.

The press release issued by the school about the study cited improved overall cardiovascular health, in part from a heart-rate increase similar to the one produced by intense exercise.

In addition, the study found cold-water therapy appears to increase insulin sensitivity, thereby reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, as well as increase the production of BAT fat, brown adipose tissue, the “good” fat that helps maintain body heat and burn calories.