Wim Hof is pretty awesome. His nickname “The Iceman” probably has something to do with the fact he has climbed Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro… in just his shorts!!
Wim Hof challenges the scientific preconceptions of what the human body is capable of. Having attained roughly two dozen world records in conditions thought to be way too cold for humans, scientists were incited to study Wim Hof and his unique ability to expose himself to the elements.
The “Wim Hof Method” draws on Tibetan Timmo Meditation by shuting off activity in the mind and redirecting the metabolism into generating heat. The method also manipulates the hormone noradrenaline, which means his adrenaline allows him to overcome the cold.
Is Wim Hof Superhuman?
Researchers at the Wayne State University School of Medicine studied Hof using imaging techniques, like PET scans, to look at his brain and body functions. Wim Hof wore a specially designed whole-body suit which gave the researchers the ability to control the temperature around him. Through this they acquired essential data on the changes in his biology when exposed to the cold.
The results were pretty mad. They found that by practicing his technique, Hof’s skin temperature was generally unaffected by exposure to the cold.
You can watch a 40 minute vice documentary all about him here!
So, How Can We Benefit?
We’re not suggesting that we should all get naked and run a marathon in Finland like Wim Hof. That being said there are actually some serious health benefits to regular exposure to the cold.
Cold therapy has been used for hundreds of years in many different cultures. It activates the body’s natural healing powers, which means when practiced regularly it can provide long lasting changes to your immune and digestive systems, as well as boosting your general health and wellbeing. So maybe sometimes replacing those steamy candlelit baths with ice cold showers could be a good shout.
Let’s take a look at some important benefits:
Exercise and diet are just two of the better known ways known to improve circulation, but cold therapy is up there with the best too. When you expose your body to extreme cold conditions the blood rushes to surround your vital organs which in turn means your heart is forced to pump more efficiently. Cardiovascular circulation is actually one of the most crucial components in our overall health and wellbeing.
Have you ever noticed how we seem to shrink in the cold? Of course this is great when you’ve been indulging in cheese and wine all christmas, but not so great when you loose your favourite ring off your *suddenly three times smaller* finger. The cause of this is increased levels of adiponectin, a protein hormone that increases fat burning and helps prevent inflammation. Cold water also lowers damaged tissue’s temperature and constricts blood vessels. This helps reduce swelling, which is why we use ice on sports injuries.
So, take this with a pinch of salt, as there’s yet to be a study on humans. However, studies on various insects have found pretty groundbreaking results on lifespans in colder climates.
A study on flies found that those kept at 21 degrees were living sometimes twice as long as those kept at 27 degrees! We think this could be down to the adaptation “hormesis” that makes animals stronger and more efficient if they are exposed to environmental stresses. Maybe we should re-think that move to sunny Ibiza!
Strengthens Nervous & Immune Systems
The autonomic nervous system was largely thought to be beyond conscious control before studies on Wim Hof. It’s now known that cold temperatures act as a mild workout for the nervous system, which adapts and strengthens as we expose ourselves the elements. As well as this, cold therapy causes your lymph vessels to contract, which in turn means lymph fluid is pumped throughout your body and flushes waste out of the area. The immune system’s white blood cells are then triggered to attack and destroy any unwanted substance in the fluid, ultimately keeping you healthier.
Exposure to cold activates the sympathetic nervous system and increases the body’s levels of beta-endorphins and noradrenaline (natural opioid painkillers). The high density of cold receptors in the skin is also thought to send a vast amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain. This results in an anti-depressive effect.
In fact a study in 2007 showed that cold showers could actually be more effective than antidepressants. The immediate mood lifting effect comes from an increase in dopamine, which has an uplifting effect on your mood!
Facilitates Weight Loss
Cold therapy such as cold water immersion has been shown to boost the metabolism when practiced routinely. Some tests showed that it increased our metabolic rate by about 16%. The voluntary deviation from the body’s ideal temperature causes reactions in the body to maintain the internal temperature, facilitating weight loss.
Rests Temperature Regulating System
Are you someone who always feels hot or cold? Cold therapy can be a great way to reset your body’s temperature control. Due to external sources of heat such as central heating and warm clothing, many people in the modern world have actually lost the ability to keep themselves warm.
Cold showers can reset your body to heat itself up, you’ll be Wim Hof in no time!
How Can We Get Involved?
If you fancy giving it a go yourself, why don’t you head to one of the Big Chill Swim events, which can gather up to 600 people to the Lake District to swim in open waters. Check out what they’re doing here, it’s pretty cool!
There’s also a swim club in London called Swim-Dem-Crew who are challenging themselves every week, you can see a beautiful documentary all what they do here.
Alternatively if you want a more DIY method, after your morning shower – turn down the temperature as low as you can handle and stay in for as long as possible – around 4 minutes. Practice this every day or attempt an ice bath if you feel brave enough and you should start to feel some benefits
Hold tight for a feature on the best places to swim outdoors in London…