Taking a cold dip in the Amstel river, ending a hot shower with cold water or taking an ice bath after a sauna visit. It’s a popular phenomenon that hundreds of people swear by. But why would you voluntarily hurt yourself? The answer: the insane health benefits it provides. In the previous article, Wim Hof instructor Tim van der Vliet discussed the health benefits of this method. In this article, I take a closer look at the health benefits. What do other scientists say? Is it really reliable?
Wim Hof is convinced that through his method everyone is able to gain control over their autonomic nervous system. This nervous system is responsible for the unconscious control of vital physical processes. In 2014 he was proven right. The conclusion after a scientific study at Radboud Hospital, with 24 participants, was that people who had practiced with the Wim Hof method were all able to influence their autonomic nervous system. What most enthusiasts experience is that it gives your body a brief boost. Your heart rate and blood pressure go up for a moment. Orthopedic surgeon Geert Buijze conducted research on cold training. His 2016 study from the AMC showed that cold showering for a month reduced sick leave by 29 percent, in addition, people would feel more energetic. “It’s an acute stress moment, and then you go back to relax mode. This is healthy because your nervous system is briefly activated”, Buijze says.
You become healthier
The method is said to improve the immune system through the method of breathing, meditation and cold training. This increases the release of adrenaline and suppresses the immune system. This results in a lower percentage of inflammatory proteins in the blood and a higher percentage of anti-inflammatory proteins, says Tim van der Vliet. According to Buijze: “The effect of cold water on your body is not easy to explain. It possibly has to do with the so-called neurobiological pathways, which affects hormones that activate your nervous system. But it’s not yet known how this is linked to your immune system. The tricky thing with this research, he says, is that it’s an indirect result. There is not one test that shows that your immune system has improved. So, you can only look at indirect effects, for example, how people feel, but those are not conclusive evidence.”
You become happier
A 2014 study published in the journal Medical Hypotheses predicted that a 2-3 minutes exposure to -20°C water sends a large number of electrical impulses to the brain, which would have an antidepressant effect. When we become hypothermic, the blood immediately moves to the head and heart. This increases the level of norepinephrine and beta-endorphin in our blood. This increase, in turn, makes for a better mood and the increase of your focus.
Yet the method is not without its risks. Tim van der Vliet: “The breathing exercises create an effect that is comparable to hyperventilation. Anyone who wants to do this has to breathe in deeply for a number of cycles and not breathe out completely, followed by a period in which you hold your breath. Consequence could be that people can lose consciousness in a short period of time. But this has never occurred during my trainings.” He does say, however, that a cold shower is not a good idea for everyone. Elderly people and heart patients should be careful, because their bodies may not be able to handle the short boost well.
So, it has been proven that the Wim Hof method does affect your anti-inflammatory proteins and your energy levels. But it is not a direct correlation. In any case, I was convinced and therefore decided to test it out myself. You can see that in this video.