• Nadhiir

Cold exposure

Updated: Mar 22

The title refers to cold showers and ice baths, introduced by Wim Hoff in his book "The Wim Hoff Method".

I started this from a curious read that led to an experiment and evolved into a daily ritual.

Ice bath itself was not wholly new. I was introduced to it when training in Thai boxing during the late 1990s and early 2000. After every session, I would dip myself into an icy bath to heal those painful joints. In those days, getting a bag of ice from a corner shop in east london was not convenient. But that was a pretty enjoyable and refreshing post-training experience.

The Wim Hoff method is another animal altogether. I will not lie to you; it is a challenge but rewarding.

It has been over one year now, and the benefits have been pretty amazing.

Initially, I started with the showers. I had read the book and thought, "lets do this". After my warm shower, I switched on the cold water, and I suffocated and barely made 20 seconds out of my surprise. That was so disappointing, and the whole day I thought, was it me, was I weak. But with the internet, I learnt that this was a usual initial experience.

I persevered, not because of the benefits that were my initial motive for it, but for that ego of mine for not letting the cold defeat me.

Hooray, after a week of a daily cold shower, I reached 30 seconds and hated every second of it. After that, one minute, and then two minutes. I stayed in that 2 minutes limbo for quite some time. Funny enough, it takes me a five minute psyching up to do the two minutes of the cold shower.

Eventually, I reached the four-minute mark. There was no psyching up. I drove my head under the cold shower and was lost in just excepting the cold.

My experience

My most profound experience was alertness. And the alertness pretty much lasted the whole day, with laser-sharp focus and a calmness that I honestly never felt before.

Being able to cope with stress way better. And tackling the stress one by one, no drama, no fuss.

Supercharged cardiovascular fitness, which showed in my morning running, Thai boxing and Brazilian Jui Jitsu. Of course, being the age of 45, I was delighted with this improved performance.

The cold showers had the added benefits of no more common colds, free of illness, and I healed from injuries in a day.

As the summer ended, I thought a challenge would be great, and I thought of daily Ice baths.

The Ice baths

Winter mornings are not bad. Chilham has a lovely freshness and nature all around, making a nice makeshift bathtub filled with ice and water in my garden a friendly welcome.

Again, the tolerance to the cold and the shocking, breathtaking first impact is something to get used to.

I started with 2 minutes, and I insisted that I increase it, in increments, until I reached 10 minutes. It took me three months, and I admit that 10 minutes is extreme, but meditating in that 10 minutes would be equivalent to meditating for 30 minutes.

I personally would not advise 10 minutes of an ice bath, especially outside in the winter, unless you have a sauna or long hot shower. I personally did neither of those. After the Ice bath, I get changed and go about my day.

The science

Cold stress is hormetic stress which activates genetic pathways to help us deal with stress.

Increase in Norepinephrine: Promotes focus, attention and vigilance and improves mood, causing you to have a great sense of well-being.

Mitochondrial biogenesis: the development of mitochondria in your adipose (fat) tissue. This is where white fat in your body is converted into brown fat.

These mitochondria in the fat burn fat fast to produce heat energy to keep you warm.

Immune system: The increase in white blood cells (leucocytes) seen after 6 weeks of daily exposure to the cold, a cellular and genetic response pathway to cold stress.

Inflammation: The same type of stress response that we see in the improvement in the immune systems is a similar mechanism to inflammation. This affects various inflammatory processes such as arthritis, exercise-induced inflammation, or chronic inflammation associated with the environment, lifestyle and ageing.

The positive in the daily struggle

Although cold exposure is great, it is a struggle every day; you end up arguing with yourself all the time. But, I guess this is an important part; if I can squash the inner voice of fear, then fear itself is something I can cope with within my daily life.

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