Despite romantic ideas of long walks in the snow or being curled up by a roaring fire with a good book, being cold is rarely fun. It can be bad for you too, as statistics show that cold weather is 20 times more likely to kill you than hot weather. It’s no wonder, then, that so many of us crave the summertime when the weather is warm and people seem instinctively happier. Nevertheless, there is a growing group of people who believe that, despite the dangers, braving the cold can actually be very good for you.
Do You Dare?
Dutch dare-devil Wim Hof is one of these people and is, in fact, the founder of a whole school of thought when it comes to the cold. Nicknamed ‘The Iceman’, it seems that Hof has always had an affinity to the cold weather. Even in his teenage years, he was running barefoot in the snow. Since then, he has broken no less than 21 world records in relation to the cold, including the record for the longest time spent immersed in an ice-bath, running a marathon above the Arctic Circle wearing only sandals and shorts, and unofficially, swimming under ice for a huge 120 meters having taken only one breath. Rather impressive, undoubtedly, but Hof claims that through all his experiences, he has developed a technique that control his own autonomic nervous system – something that science has, up until recently, said simply cannot be done.
An Unlikely Claim
Hof first made his claim eighteen years ago and since then, he has shared his technique with the world (albeit for a price). He argues that a mix of exposure to the cold and simple breathing techniques enables people to access the unused parts of their brains and as a result, they can consciously control their immune systems. The students of his method start out with gradually increasing their cold-exposure, usually with icy showers at first. They then move onto breathing exercises, such as controlled hyperventilation, which floods the body with oxygen and raises your pH levels. Finally, they move onto other exercises, such as headstands and forward bends. This method, Hof claims, will make you stronger, healthier, and better.
A Lot of Nonsense?
Perhaps Hof’s claims sound a little far-fetched, perhaps you think they are nonsense and actually, most of the scientific world would agree – what Hof is claiming is simply an impossibility. Except, perhaps it’s not. A slowly growing number of researchers are starting to back-up Hof’s claims with evidence. Maria Hopman of the UMC St. Radboud Nijmgen University in The Netherlands is of that growing number. She conducted a physiological experiment with Hof, examining him as he stood in a cylinder filled with ice cubes. Hopman had predicted that Hof’s body temperature would suddenly drop – these sorts of cold conditions could easily cause a person to die from hypothermia. However, as Hof employed his techniques, he maintained a body temperature of around 37 degrees, suggesting that he could indeed control his autonomic nervous system, thus regulating his heart rate, his breathing, and his blood circulation.
These surprising results led to further studies and research at the same university suggests that, using Hof’s techniques, their student subjects could indeed control their autonomic nervous system and innate immune responses. The subjects were divided into two groups: one group that practiced Hof’s techniques and one that didn’t. Both groups were injected with endotoxin, a chemical that induces flu-like symptoms. The control group, those who hadn’t practiced Hof’s techniques, experienced the expected results: sweats and shivers. The other group though remained symptom-free, suggesting that Hof’s techniques had indeed worked. The researchers claimed that those in the second group experienced raised levels of endorphins which triggered a flood of anti-inflammatory agents that had fought off the endotoxin. Perhaps Hof’s claims are not so nonsense after all then.
Embracing the Cold
These results could have a huge impact on the way we live our lives and certainly for sufferers of auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. It’s a bit too soon to celebrate with a nap in the snow though. Much more research needs to be carried out, and it’s important to remember just how dangerous the cold can be. Still, whilst scientists work to discover more about how it all works, perhaps we’ll be less quick to moan about the weather!
 Doyle Rice, 2015, Study: Cold Kills 20 Times More People than Heat [online], available at: http://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2015/05/20/cold-weather-deaths/27657269/ [accessed: 03/24/2016]
 Sophie Knight, Can the Cold Make You Stronger? [online], available at: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/mar/13/can-the-cold-make-you-stronger-wim-hof [accessed: 03/24/2016]
 Sophie Knight, op. cit.
Can a cold be good for you? by UrbanSculpt staff writer Victoria Froud, MA is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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