Discover your inner Wim Hof & the amazing benefits of cold water exposureAug 09, 2022
Discover your inner Wim Hof & the amazing benefits of cold water exposure
Despite my Scottish genes I'm not a big fan of the cold and have until now been reluctant to try deliberate cold exposure. I repeatedly heard how great it is for you and on our recent trip to Ireland we visited Greystones, the home of the Happy Pear,(find them on IG @thehappypear) the plant based cafe owners who routinely take a sunrise swim and claim it has been life changing to their mood and health. Inspired, we went to their local beach and I made it into the freezing cold Irish Sea (a great achievement as I have been known to dip my toe in the Indian Ocean and then retreat to my sunbed!)
It wasn't pleasant at the time, the cold took my breath away, I felt like I had Ice cream brain freeze and my mind was desperate for me to GET OUT! It was hard to think of anything other than the discomfort and desire to breathe again normally.
After I got used to it I managed to stay in for what felt like 20 minutes, but it was optimistically about 8 minutes. When I got out I felt amazing. I had a rush of energy and felt like I had spring cleaned my whole body and mind. It definitely elevated my energy and mood, and looking around at everyone on the beach, it appeared to have done the same for them, everyone was happy, chatting, laughing and even dogs running wild didn't seem to upset anyone.
I was intrigued to learn more and found a podcast on the subject by Andrew Huberman (Huberman Lab). He is a Neuroscientist and shares so much great scientific knowledge, I highly recommend his podcast and Instagram page.
So here's what I have learned from Huberman Lab about cold exposure:
❄️ It increases mood and focus and metabolism
❄️ It burns fat cells (especially the white fat cells which are the ones that we want to minimise as they are slow metabolisers of energy)
❄️ It reduces inflammation
❄️ It increases the immune system
❄️ It increases performance
What happens in the body
The cold environment is a stressor to the body and so the body responds by releasing adrenalin which energises us. It also increases dopamine which makes us feel good at the time and afterwards. Dopamine is associated with reward (it's the high we feel when we finish a task) and it is associated with greater levels of motivation and our ability to think and plan which is why its release helps us focus and become more productive.
How cold should it be
The rule of thumb according to Huberman is that it should place you in a state of wanting to get out but also knowing you can stay in there without risky health.
Cold water immersion (Ice bath or cold water swimming)
How often should you do it?
Research suggests aiming for around 11 minutes per week.
How it helps with stress
When we are exposed to the cold our body is in a stressed state and it responds in a similar way to when we are stressed with work/life. The pre frontal cortex is down regulated and the caveman brain up regulated. In this state of physical stress we can practice keeping the prefrontal cortex switched on while our body is in a state of stress. This helps us stay in control of the stress and allows us to help our body recover quicker, a skill that can then be used when we find ourselves in other stressful situations.
Ways we can keep the pre frontal cortex switched on during the stress
We can practice the Physiological Sigh (double inhale then exhale breath) to help switch the parasympathetic nervous system back on. See attached audio file for the double inhale breath meditation.
We could also practice cognitive tasks while in the stressful situation, practice your times tables, remember phone numbers, or do your gratitude practice.
How this helps with mindfulness
Keeping the prefrontal cortex switched on during stressful times is a key skill in mindfulness and there is another advantage that can be gained from this practice. The fact that you are increasing dopamine makes you more focused and so more mindful while completing tasks and it also increases your willpower muscle. Strong willpower will encourage you to keep up your mindfulness motivation practice which will deliver more dopamine, more focus and clarity and better sleep at night. This is what I call a beautiful perpetuating upward cycle of good health and wellbeing.
I am a convert and have been doing this for about 4 weeks and I have found it's a great way to start the day, I love the hit of adrenalin and dopamine which have helped me make better food choices, say no to mid week drinking (most of the time!) and step up my exercise regime.
I challenge you to give it a go. If you do decide to try it let us know how you get on.
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