We might feel the most comfortable living in climate of around 22 degrees, but Wim Hof practitioners believe snapping out of that comfort zone in cooler depths may be the key to improved immunity, digestion and mental health. So, how does cold exposure therapy work? Let’s find out.
Cold exposure therapy is exactly what it sounds like – therapy involving cold temperatures that are intended to push our body to perform better. When we’re suddenly exposed to cold snaps, the physical responses of our bodies may activate important parts of our physiology that often go to the wayside. That’s the concept behind the Wim Hof Method, which involves the three pillars of breathing, commitment and cold therapy. It was created by Wim Hof himself, a Dutch athlete known for his impressive ability to withstand cold temperatures. His theory is that you can control your body, mind and breath through a number of breathing techniques and tolerance practises. It all starts with the breath – controlled deep breathing is often practised in conjunction with cold therapy, where the body is exposed to frigid temperatures. We’ll be diving into the benefits of cold exposure therapy and why so many people are lining up to freeze their mitts off!
Wim Hof recommends exposing yourself to icy cold water to benefit from a number of health benefits – from improved weight loss results to immune health. Here’s what the research says.
May strengthen immunity
One of the biggest attractions of cold exposure therapy is the potential for boosting immune health. Research shows that 6 weeks of cold water immersion improved the count of CD8 – this is what’s known as a glycoprotein, and its major function is to signal immune cells – along with activating T cells, which are a vital part of the immune system. The research shows that pre-cold exposure exercise boosts the immune response.
May improve blood-sugar regulation
Adiponectin is what’s known as a protein, and it plays an important role in blood-sugar management – that’s why it’s so impressive that a study found an increase in adiponectin levels by 70%. A low count of this protein is associated with insulin resistance. Research also shows that cold exposure therapy can improve the body’s insulin response, ensuring sugars are removed from the body more effectively. This improves energy levels and lowers the risk for diseases like type 2 diabetes.
Trying it at home
Keen to give it a go? You don't have to seek out the freezing waters of Finland, you can try cold exposure in your own home! It helps to gradually build up your tolerance rather than jumping in the deep end – pun intended! In fact, you can try this in your shower – you don’t need to be near a lake or ocean. Start with a couple of minutes in the shower with the setting switched to cold – if it’s hard to fully immerse yourself in the water, try just an arm or a leg. After, you’ll want to warm up quickly to prevent injury. When you’re ready to try more intense therapy, go for a cold plunge tub – you’ll want to research if there are any available in your area. These are freezing and require substantial preparation before and after – that’s where a Wim Hof instructor can come in handy. It’s important to stay safe and healthy while practising cold exposure, and these guys are trained in this area.
How to get started
Reach out to an instructor for a deeper understanding of the Wim Hof method, along with gaining guided instruction to focus on your issues and goals. Leah Scott is a New South Wales-based practitioner with extensive experience in breathing techniques and cold therapy. You can find her services here. It was after a challenging divorce in 2015 and a flurry of anxiety and depression that she decided something needed to change. After encountering the Wim Hof method, she knew she was onto something special.
“I knew I’d found something that had changed my life forever,” Leah says. “I felt like I was gifted this beautiful connection within my mind and body, and I did it every day.”
Sounds good, right? If you’re keen to learn more about the practise and whether it’s for you, get ready for our upcoming Unprocessed podcast with Leah and the team at I Quit Sugar. Leah and IQS’s own J-J Yung will be taking a deep-dive into cold therapy and the Wim Hof Method – this is one you won’t want to miss!