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Feeling low on energy, constantly tired or just a little down, generally? According to certain enthusiasts, the answer is cold water—and lots of it. It may sound a little out there, but with search for cold water therapy on the rise, now’s the time to read up on the myriad of supposed health benefits.
From life longevity to improved metabolism, cold water seems to cure it all. Some eczema sufferers have even found regular cold water immersion to help their flare-ups, now swearing by the ritual.
Wild swimming is one of the buzzterms for this year, a bit like CBD oil was to 2020. That’s partly thanks to its alluring freedom after months of lockdown, but also as a result of the buzz cold water swimming induces. And yet it’s been raved about for centuries: Hippocrates is the oldest recorded mega-fan of a cold dunk, documenting his experiences way back in 370 BC.
Today, celebrity fans include Madonna, Lady Gaga, Miranda Kerr, and Nicole Kidman, to name but a few. Have we peaked your interest yet?
Intrigued to find out the full extent of what cold water therapy (CWT) is, with insight from a team of qualified experts and health professionals in the field?
Look no further. Our fashion ed has rounded up our favourite swimwear for you, too. A whole heap of health benefits could be just a cold shower away…
What is cold water therapy?
According to healer and wellness expert Antonia Harman (divineempowerment.co.uk), the term ‘cold water therapy’ means exactly what it says on the tin—that is, it simply refers to the therapeutic befits of cold water. “This comes in many forms”, she shares. “Think cold showers, dips in unheated lidos, ice baths or even cold chambers”.
Wondering how cold is, well, cold? Dr Michael Barnish, head of genetics and nutrition at REVIV (revivme.com) reckons you’re good if you go for anything below 15 degrees C. “Many seasoned cold water users brave just a few degrees C.”
What are the benefits of cold water therapy
Or, what doesn’t it promise to do. Benefits are still hotly disputed in the scientific world, and CWT still errs on the edge of ‘woo woo wellness’ territory.
“More research needs to be done, for sure, but many athletes and celebrities swear by cold water for recovery reasons,” shares Antonia.
Alongside improved recovery, cold water therapy is believed to:
- Boost the immune system
- Improve circulation
- Deepen sleep
- Boost energy levels
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve metabolic function
- Improve mood.
Dr Barnish, himself a cold water enthusiast, goes as far as to call cold water therapy ‘the elixir of life’. But why?
“Top laboratories around the world are discovering being cold for a short period, using water or not, seems to extend your life expectancy. Being exposed to uncomfortably low temperatures, the key word being ‘uncomfortably’, seems to activate the longevity genes engaging our survival response, a key player in making sure our DNA is repaired before new cells are made”, he shares. Get that?
Not only that, but Barnish shares that cold water can promote positive metabolic changes in the body and help with skin conditions, such as acne and eczema.
Ok, but which benefits have been scientifically proven?
It’s all well and good debating the potential benefits of getting your cold on, but what have researchers actually proven so far?
Antonia shares: “A small study on cyclists from 2011 concluded that cold water therapy reduces the symptoms of DOMs, or delayed onset muscle soreness. So, if you ache like crazy after training especially when you are trying a new sport or have had a break from it, a cold shower may save you from pain later.”
How does this work? Well, she explains, cold can help to numb pain by constricting blood vessels, which in turn helps to reduce swelling. That’s why ice is a great remedy for anything from bee stings to sprained ankles.
While it’s clear more research needs to be done on the benefits of CWT, Dr Barnish highlights that there is a large body of research on the benefits of being uncomfortably cold intermittently, plus how to stimulate healthy brown fat by being cold. “A specialist science team from the University of California are exclusively researching this area”, he adds.
That’s before we even get started on cryotherapy, cold water therapy’s sister which uses technology to reduce the body temperature instead of water. “Studies show that cryotherapy improves performance, reduces inflammation and assists recovery time—it’s just pricier than cold water therapy,” shares Barnish.
If cold water therapy is so great, why doesn’t everyone do it?
Ah—that age-old question. Put simply, a range of reasons. It may not be the norm in the UK, but as Dr Barnish points out, the Scandinavians have been practising cold water therapy for centuries, alongside many countries with colder climates, like Chile and Canada. “They utilise the wild open waters over their shower or spa.”
The other issue, of course, is that cold water is often free to most people. Dr Barnish shares that when looking at CWT for a particular symptom or disease management, the funding is usually hard to come by, as there is little profit to be had.
I’m keen to try cold water therapy. What’s the best way to start?
1. Take it slow
Dr Barnish’s advice? Take it slow. “I personally took two weeks to build up to cold showers, and sometimes I regress backwards, depending on my emotions or stress levels that day. Just build back up, taking it slowly again, a little longer each day.”
2. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
If you want to reap the benefits of cold water therapy, you need to get used to being uncomfortable for short periods. “The best way to first try cold water therapy is at home in your shower.” He advises following these steps:
- After you have showered at your normal temperature, remain under the water.
- In slow intervals, turn the thermostat to make the water colder.
- Each time the temperature drops you should feel uncomfortable, then comfortable again, relatively quickly.
- The aim is to get to the temperature where the uncomfortable feeling lasts and doesn’t subside. This is when the benefits can occur.
- Try and hold out for as long as you can and no longer than a few minutes on your first go, aiming for no more than 5 minutes, eventually. This may take a fair few showers before you can last that long.
3. Normalise it in your everyday
As above, cold water therapy doesn’t need to be about jumping into freezing cold lakes or going wild swimming: try adding a blast into your daily shower or face washing, instead.