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The benefits of cold showers!

Did you watch Freeze the Fear with Wim Hof BBC One recently?


Eight celebrity contestants take on challenges in freezing temperatures in under the guidance of extreme athlete Wim Hof. Hosted by Holly Willoughby and Lee Mack, from the various trailers and promotions it had a feel of I’m a Celebrity… which I am not really a fan of!


But I was very interested in finding out more about Wim Hof. Best known for his ability to withstand sub-zero temperatures, he has broken many records such as running a half marathon barefoot above the Arctic Circle and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts.


So I gave it a watch. It did have lots of tense music as the celebrities prepare for their challenges, talk of personal journeys and funny quips from the hosts. It also had real heart and the impact on the participants over the weeks was plain to see. There certainly seemed to be something in this cold therapy!


One of the regular challenges for the celebrities was to take a 2 minute cold shower each morning. They started of at 15 seconds and built up over the first few weeks.


Cold Shower Benefits – according to the Wim Hoff method


  • Reduced stress levels.

  • Higher level of alertness

  • More robust immune response

  • Increased willpower

  • Weight loss

The science seems to back this up. Regularly cold showers means that your nervous system gradually gets used to handling moderate levels of stress. The process helps you to keep a cool head, the next time you find yourself in a stressful situation. Cold showers also stimulate you to take deeper breaths, decreasing the level of CO2 throughout the body, helping you concentrate.


Also scientific studies have found that regular cold showers increases the number of white blood cells in your body. These protect your body against diseases and research indicates that this process is related to an increased metabolic rate, which stimulates the immune response. Research also shows that cold showers (and exposure to cold in general), in addition to increasing metabolic rate directly, stimulate the generation of brown fat. Brown fat is a specific type of fat tissue that in turn generates energy by burning calories.


Also it obviously takes a strong mind to endure the cold for extended periods of time. The theory being that by having daily cold showers, you are strengthen your willpower, benefitting various aspects of life.


Certainly all the celebrities certainly all seemed to significantly benefit from this seemingly simple challenge and it was one of the only elements of the show that we could try at home. So I did.


A few of weeks ago, after a normal warm shower I turned the temperature gauge down as far as possible and managed 15 excruciating seconds of freezing cold water. It was certainly invigorating, and I did feel good afterwards, enough to keep going. So the next day I tried 30 seconds. Still excruciating and it did feel doubly as hard as the day before. I persevered and 45 seconds the next day then one minute. I felt great getting to that milestone but was still struggling with it a bit. I had to remind myself it had only been four days though and I really wanted to get to the two minute mark.


The next day I was supposed to do 1 minute 15 seconds. But something weird happened and I just carried on and hit 2 minutes quite easily. More surprisingly I actually enjoyed it. The ice cream headaches I had on the first few attempts had gone. I felt clear headed and invigorated. The next day I planned to do 2 minutes again but actually managed more than 5. I wasn’t even watching my stopwatch and could easily have stayed there for a bit longer.


Since then I have been doing between 2 and 5 minutes each day and actively looking forward to it. It hasn’t transformed my life, but it does help get my day off to a good start. I find it gives me a real burst of energy and I feel a real buzz straight after.


A key part of the process is breathing and focus (and Wim has many other breathing techniques as well). Taking a few deep and steady breaths before turning on the cold water prepares you (to some extent) for the shock, and focussing your attention helps you cope with the initial impact. So really it simply involved a bit of self-hypnosis, which I am now quite adept at! Weirdly I also find a bit of singing also helps focus my attention – my favourite seems to be the postman pat theme!


Overall I do feel more focussed and a greater sense of willpower. Whether it leads to weight loss or a boosted immune system, it is too early to say. Overall, I would certainly advocate giving it a go, see how you get on and embrace the cold!

 

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