I started to read about the Wim Hof Method which focused on breathing and cold water exposure a few years ago. It took me a bit to work up to the ice bath, but I finally decided I wanted to try it. I started incorporating these methods into my life and found a huge benefit and valuable lessons about my mental health. It has become one of my favorite biohack.
The first time was what many would consider a failure.
For me, it was a significant eye-opening moment. I could not get past kneeling in the ice water-filled bathtub and thought, "Nobody would be able to do this." Then immediately drained the tub and took a shower.
The next time, I had the benefit of doing it with my dad, who has been meditating daily for decades. He had never done a cold water immersion. I now realize I invited him to do it with me to prove to myself that nobody could achieve this challenging goal of plunging their body fully into a cold water bath.
But the opposite happened; he got right in, started breathing calmly, and did it.
When I went in that time, I immediately started hyperventilating and spitting out excuses.
My dad calmly said, "Meaghan, you are having a panic attack. This is all in your head."
And he was right.
This was when I realized there are so many benefits to cold water immersion, but my favorite is how it has trained me to build up mental resiliency and connect to my breath.
So let's talk about the many benefits of cold water immersion. The many benefits include:
For me personally, the most beneficial aspect of incorporating cold water immersion is increased mental strength.
The truth is that we are built to do extraordinary things. Subconsciously we believe that we can't do hard things, and this gets in the way of us achieving our goals. During cold water exposure, we are forced to check in on our mind and body to ease anxiety and slow down our minds.
By forcing yourself to embrace the stress of cold exposure as a significant self-inflected stressor, you tap into deeper brain centers that regulate reflexive states. It engages a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex that is responsible for planning and suppressing impulsivity. This is what builds resilience and grit.
Importantly, it is a skill that carries over to situations outside of the deliberate cold environment, allowing you to cope better and maintain a calm, clear mind when confronted with real-world stressors. In other words, intentional cold exposure is excellent training for the brain and teaching yourself how to control challenging stressors.
Cold Water Immersion can also be of great help when it comes to weight loss. As a result of immersing the body in cold water, the body has to work hard to maintain its normal internal temperature. During this process, the metabolic rate increases to produce heat for the body. Therefore, when practiced regularly, Cold Water Immersion can increase the metabolic rate by as much as 16%. When practiced consistently, this can result in a loss of weight.
Cold therapy also triggers brown fat, and this mechanism has many benefits when triggered. By activating brown fat production, both metabolism and mitochondria production increase.
Mitochondria is the area of the cell that makes energy. Therefore, it helps to convert energy in our bodies and provide adaptive responses to our environment. And these benefits have been shown in research to start even after only a few days of cold water exposure and even at fairly reasonable temperatures.
When we stimulate the burning of brown fat, we also produce more norepinephrine- a feel-good hormone responsible for mood, attention, focus, and arousal. This is one of the reasons why cold water therapy helps both our mood and metabolism.
Here's how it works:
Cold water exposure can be either through immersing in cold water or incorporating cold showers. But by doing this therapy on a regular basis, you will start to find numerous benefits and improvements in everyday life.