7. December 2006
Mat Smith dons breathing mask, mittens, shorts and clogs to brave freezing his body in temperatures of -120°C. Slovakia’s extreme cryotherapy craze proves men and spas can mix
The doctor finished taking my blood pressure and unwrapped my arm. “Excellent. You are – how do you say in England – as healthy as a horse? Here in Slovakia we say you are as healthy as a fish! Ha ha ha! And now we go – to freezing!”
Bewildered, I tried to laugh along with the doctor in order to appear polite, but in truth, I was quite alarmed by the concept of what was about to happen. Being reduced to -120°C for two minutes inside a box the size of a lift is no laughing matter. More serious, though, is what would happen if you didn’t leave on time. Apparently, after four minutes, you would enter a euphoric, trance-like state, closely followed by death, which I wasn’t really all that keen on. But the doctor reassured me that two minutes would be fine, and – perhaps foolishly, given his earlier comment about fish – I agreed. First developed in eastern Europe to treat the stresses and strains of high-performance athletes, cryotherapy has since taken off as the latest in beauty treatments, based on the idea that being reduced to very low temperatures for short periods can promote physical healing. It is available in London at over £30 per session, but is on offer for £10 at the Aquacity resort, in Poprad, Slovakia, where it has proved a popular addition to the hotel complex’s selection of spas, thermal pools and water slides.
Wearing a stylish combination of headband, breathing mask, mittens, shorts and clogs – supplied by the cryotherapy centre, although I expect you’d be welcome to bring your own – I passed the preliminary medical examination and was led into the cryocentre itself, a kind of futuristic sauna room. I watched with interest as the temperature readings on the doctor’s computer reached their maximum levels. As the charts touched -121°C, he gave me an unreliable grin, pulled the lever to open the massive steel door, and ushered me in.