3 steps to more energy, better sleep and a stronger immune system

There are things about your body that feel like they’re out of your control…

Like how fast your heart beats or how cold you feel when you jump into an icy lake. But amazing individuals have demonstrated that you can control bodily processes that appear to operate on autopilot. Case in point?

The Dutch athlete Wim Hof.

Maybe you’ve never heard of Wim Hof before. But he’s developed quite a following. His nickname is the “Iceman” because he can stay submerged in ice water for ungodly periods of time without experiencing any ill effects.

In fact, he set 21 Guinness World Records, including one for swimming under ice, one for full-body contact with ice, and one for running a barefoot half-marathon on ice and snow.

This guy sounds crazy, right? How does he do that stuff without developing hypothermia or frostbite?

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Well, he’s trained his brain and body to respond to cold differently than the rest of us through a combination of cold exposure, breathing techniques and meditation. But he didn’t do it just for the challenge of it (although, he seems to enjoy that aspect too). He did it because exposure to cold improved his mental health.

Hof started jumping into cold bodies of water at the age of 17 and continued doing it daily because it cleared his mind and made him feel exhilarated. Cold water exposure even helped him overcome his grief when his first wife committed suicide. But many who practice his method say the benefits go beyond mental and emotional health. They’ve experienced improvements in their physical health too. In fact, there are testimonials on his website from people with serious diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Ready to learn more about this mysterious method for improving your brain and body? Here’s what you need to know…

What the heck is the Wim Hof Method?

The Wim Hof Method has three pillars: cold therapy, breathing, and commitment. Let’s start with the first pillar — cold therapy.

I mentioned earlier that Wim Hof noticed the mental benefits of cold exposure at a young age. But he’s not the only one to notice these benefits….

A while back, I wrote about a young man who cured his chronic pain by swimming in cold bodies of water. His story was documented in the British Journal of Medicine.

And another recent case study published in the British Medical Journal showed that cold water swimming helped a young woman overcome major depressive disorder and anxiety.

Other research shows that cold exposure causes your body to create more brown fat (the healthy fat that helps you lose weight). Cold exposure is also proven to trigger brain activity that decreases pain perception and anxiety.

These benefits may be why Hof recommends people practice cold exposure daily. You can do that easily by taking cold showers. But be warned, the best approach to cold water exposure is a gradual approach. Start making your showers a little bit colder every day.

The second pillar of the Wim Hof Method is breathing. A lot of us breathe shallowly and unconsciously most of the time. As a result, we’re missing out on the many benefits of deep breathing. Research shows that deep breathing relieves stress and triggers the relaxation response. Since stress weakens the immune system, deep breathing can help keep your immune system strong. Of course, Wim Hof’s breathing exercises are a bit different than just breathing deeply. Below is a tutorial on breathing from Wim Hof himself.

The third pillar of the Wim Hof Method is commitment. As you can imagine, when you’re taking frigid showers daily, it’s easy to lose your resolve. And anyone who’s tried meditation knows that even something as simple as observing your breath is easy to give up on when your mind keeps telling you to check your email or watch that new series on Netflix. So, anyone who wants to succeed with the Wim Hof Method needs to develop willpower.

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How the Wim Hof Method can help you

This is clearly isn’t your run-of-the-mill health practice. But there are many benefits to giving it a try. People who practice the Wim Hof method usually have:

  • A stronger immune response
  • Better mental health
  • Improved sports performance
  • Fewer feelings of stress
  • More energy
  • Better sleep
  • Enhanced recovery after workouts
  • Strengthened willpower
  • More concentration
  • Less depression
  • Fewer feelings of burn-out
  • More creativity

People have also reported relief from diseases like fibromyalgia, arthritis, COPD, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Wim Hof Method, Wim Hof offers a free three-part mini-course that can help you dip your toe in the (very cold) waters of this unusual but intriguing health practice.

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  1. Brain over body: Hacking the stress system to let your psychology influence your physiology — MedicalXpress
  2. What is the Wim Hof Method? — Wim Hof Method
  3. Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response — Harvard Health Publishing
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.