They call him "the Iceman."
Dutchman Wim Hof has trained himself to withstand extreme cold through breathwork and mind control. He considers regular exposure to cold water the "gateway to flow and energy and peace," where it's possible to learn the great power that the mind can have over the body. Hof believes that our bodies achieve their optimal vascular (blood vessel) tone in just 10 days of ending a regular hot shower with a few minutes of cold water.
And the science on cold-water therapy supports his claims...
Recent studies show cold water protects against neurodegenerative diseases like dementia, helps manage depression, and is an effective pain reliever.
Tempering is the conditioning process that builds up your tolerance over time through exposure to a stimulus (cold water in this case) in small, incremental doses. Through this process, your body eventually becomes used to the cold water and the initial shock of trying it will fade away.
Take a look at the difference between cold and hot showers...
While a hot shower offers your body's tissues and systems a chance to dilate and expand in size (swelling) – the same way heat allows molecules expand and speed up (think water turning to steam) – a cold shower allows your tissues and systems to tighten and slow down (think water turning to ice).
When you take a cold shower, your blood vessels constrict and blood flow to the chilled areas of your body is reduced. In this way, cold water helps with inflammation, swelling, and pain.
Cold water also redirects blood flow from the blood vessels near the surface of your skin to the ones deep within your body. In doing so, internal inflammation and swelling in the body goes down and the amount of blood that travels back to your heart increases.
When more blood gets pumped back to your heart, the waste products in your blood are removed and are replaced by nutrients for your muscles much faster. This change is called improved venous return. You can see this life hack and method being used by professional athletes who use cold (even ice) water baths to recover quickly from strenuous exercise.
A small 2016 study tested the effects of cold-water immersion on muscle recovery following knee flexion and extension exercises. The researchers found that the group that experienced the cold-water bath – as opposed to those who had no post-exercise intervention – had less oxygen taken from their muscles after exercising (a normal process of recovery) and reported less soreness the day after exercising. This was thought to be the result of their improved venous blood return caused by the cold water.
Improved venous return also means improved circulation. Not only do our recovering muscles get the benefit of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood – so too does the rest of our body (our organs, for example).
Cold showers also reduce our levels of a hormone called cortisol that directly contributes to our experience of stress.
In one study, researchers found that cold-water immersion led participants to experience reduced levels of cortisol. They also found that cold water (57.2˚ F) participants had an increase in their metabolic rate (the rate at which our bodies expend energy or burn calories) of 350%.
If you want to try out the benefits for yourself, do what I do... At the end of your hot shower, turn on the cold water for 20 to 40 seconds. It doesn't have to be ALL the way cold, but it should be quite cool...
Start doing this at the end of every shower (at least five times a week). After week one, add 10 to 20 seconds on to your time. When you've finished your week of 40 seconds in the cold water, add on another 20 to 30 seconds... and so on. I actually slowly rotate while I'm doing it so my forehead, then a shoulder, and then back, shoulder, and so on all get the cold water.
Eventually, your body will get used to the cold water and it won't feel like such a shock to your system. In fact, recently I've hit full cold on the knobs and my body was seemingly still warm post workout and wanted even more cold.
Maybe next year I'll try swimming in ice like Wim Hof. I've easily worked my way up to four minutes of cold-water immersion after my regular hot shower and I'm certain you can as well.
What We're Reading...
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
May 24, 2022