Winter is usually a time when most people would prefer to stay inside cozying up in front of the fire with a nice cup of hot cocoa in one hand and the TV remote in the other. And why not? The flu rears its ugly head in the colder months and the many other viruses are doing the rounds. So naturally, you want to stay warm and well.
But what if the cold weather wasn’t the villain? What if there were benefits to be had from exposing your body to cold temperatures? Well, there is growing evidence to suggest a cold environment could actually do wonders for your health.
Why is the Cold Beneficial?
Scientists have found that frequent exposure to a cold environment can be good for your health because it has been shown to reduce inflammation, speed up metabolic processes and strengthen your immune system.
There was a scientific study which was carried out to test the benefits of being submerged in cold water. A number of people were plunged into cold water (14 C) for six minutes at a time. This was done three times a week for six weeks. Researchers discovered that the cold environment signaled the body to initiate a ‘fight or flight’ response which activated the immune system.
After six weeks of enduring the cold water, the participants had gained some lymphocytes which are responsible for fighting off infections. This is interesting because it shows that submerging your body into cold water can actually increase your white blood cells.
Who is Wim Hof?
The champion of this cold therapy movement is a guy called Wim Hof. He holds twenty world records for putting his own method into practice. He became famous for running half-marathons in the snow wearing nothing more than a pair of shorts. He also takes leisurely swims in ice-cold lakes because he finds it invigorating.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this man is superhuman, but he insists that most people can learn and benefit from his method.
What is the Wim Hof Method?
The Wim Hof Method is comprised of ‘three pillars’ which are breathing techniques, exposure to the cold and the commitment to stick with the method.
The breathing technique is derived from meditation practices that Tibetan Buddhists use. It involves 30 quick breaths through the nose and out of the mouth, followed by deep breaths which fill your lungs capacity and then holding for 10 seconds before breathing out. When you breathe out exhale until you can’t push any more air out, then you hold again for 10 seconds before inhaling.
This breathing technique is designed to induce a hypo-metabolic state where your heart rate is lowered and your mind is calm. This relaxed state reduces the effects of stress and anxiety on the body which is going to have the desired effect.
You’ll be glad to hear that to reap the benefits of cold therapy, you don’t have to run half-naked in the snow, or swim in an ice-cold lake. In fact, Wim himself recommends withstanding 20 seconds in a cold shower at first and then gradually increasing your exposure to the cold.
The Scientific Evidence
The Wim Hof Method has been tried and tested in a scientific setting and the results astonished scientists as they suggest that humans have the potential to control the sympathetic nervous system at will. The research was conducted on twenty-four participants. Twelve had been trained in the Wim Hof method and the other twelve were not.
All of the samples were injected with an endotoxin which usually evokes a strong bodily reaction. The twelve who were trained in Wim’s technique didn’t react as strongly to the endotoxin as those who were not. Researchers believe that it was down to the breathing technique that the trained group used.
It appears that there are benefits to forcing your body into a hyperventilated state. This is probably because when we experience oxygenated blood coursing through our veins without the usual panic that would be associated with such a state, we feel charged due to the chemical changes that are occurring in our bodies.
Wim’s technique combines controlled breathing with exposure to the cold and he does have a strong immune system. Also, people who have learned his method have also strengthened their immune systems and the aforementioned scientific evidence backs this up.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the Wim Hof Method, why not head over to his site. Oh, and just one more thing. Before you try Wim’s techniques, it’s always best to discuss it with your physician beforehand.