5 Ways Icy Cold Temperatures Can Boost Your Body and Mind | ExpatWoman.com
 

5 Ways Icy Cold Temperatures Can Boost Your Body and Mind

From the Wim Hof Method to mindful snow walking, here's how cold conditions can bring a host of health benefits.

Posted on

26 December 2019

Last updated on 8 January 2020
5 Ways Icy Cold Temperatures Can Boost Your Body and Mind

All Credits: PA

We may moan about cold weather, but there’s a growing community of chill-seekers who swear by the health and wellbeing benefits of icy temperatures.

Using extreme cold or freezing conditions for health purposes is generally referred to as cryotherapy. But away from clinical settings, the cold features in a host of wellness practices – from cold water immersion to meditating in the snow and ice swimming.

Remember, some of these practices are quite extreme and should only be attempted by trained and experienced athletes with the appropriate safety measures in place. Safety always comes first – even if you’re just taking a quick dip in the local bay or heading to the hills for a walk – so always be sensible.

However, there’s a lot we can all take from these methods and exercises too. That might be putting a new spin on your winter walks with friends or family this season. Or just braving a few seconds under a cold shower in the morning, to super-charge your start to the day. If you are tempted to get more involved with something like cold water immersion or winter open-water swimming, it’s a good idea to do a guided course or join an established group who can help you acclimatise safely.

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Here are 5 ways icy cold temperatures can boost body and mind…

1. The Wim Hof Method

Wim Hof, aka "The Iceman", has become a bit of a legend in the wellness world, and as his nickname suggests, he’s all about icy cold conditions, as well as breathing technique.

What started as a personal mission to improve his own health, and challenge and push his own boundaries – Hof’s chill-inducing feats include running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot wearing nothing but shorts, and swimming beneath a sheet of ice for 66m – has now turned into a bit of a global movement.

His mission is to help people become "happy, strong and healthy", but it’s obviously vital that beginners start slowly and with expert guidance – certainly don’t just go plunging into frozen bodies of water without proper training and experience, and never do it alone.

At the core of the Wim Hof Method is the belief that controlled exposure to cold temperatures (this usually means cold water immersion) triggers a range of physiological responses in the body that can bring immediate and longer term health benefits, including reduced inflammation, healthier immune function, better sleep and a flood of endorphins.

Fans say it can change their life, proving transformative in managing chronic pain, depression and elevating general health and fitness.

2. Ice baths

Ice baths are a fairly common practice among athletes and sports people. The idea is that after intense training, you climb into a bath of cold water and ice as part of the post-workout recovery process. Being immersed in the icy water is thought to help reduce inflammation in the muscles, meaning quicker healing and less soreness.

Also, the extreme cold makes blood vessels restrict, while they dilate when warming up again afterward. It’s said this cycle can help flush metabolic waste (chemical by-products that build up when your body has worked extra hard, such as lactic acid).

There’s debate around how effective ice baths really are. A study published in the Journal of Physiology recently suggested they may actually impede muscle building. However, the practice is still pretty popular around the globe.

3. Ice swimming

Most hardy open-water swimmers who take the plunge all year round, will tell you the habit has improved their health and wellbeing in immeasurable ways. Wherever you live, look closely and you’ll notice there’s likely a community of outdoor swimmers who make their morning visit to the lido or lake, come rain, shine or icicles.

They’re fairly easy to spot: they’re the ones with that exhilarated glow and a twinkle of joie de vivre in their eyes.

Winter open water swimming (admittedly, this often just means a quick dip and a few laps – but that’s enough) is said to work wonders for boosting blood-flow and circulation, which can improve function throughout the body, supporting long-term health too. But it’s the mental benefits that often strike people most, from the alertness and clarity to the bolstered mood and better sleep.



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Some people even do ice swimming as an extreme sport. The International Ice Swimming Association runs a series of events, including the Ice Mile – a hardcore open water mile-long swim in water of 5C or less, and no, wetsuits are not allowed. Of course, this is for trained athletes who have to adhere to rules and meet medical criteria first.

4. Snow meditation

Meditation is hailed for its benefits for body and mind, particularly around helping us become more mindful, less stressed and even helping manage depression and anxiety. Taking your practice outdoors in the snow could take it to whole new levels.

Not only are you immersing in nature, which in itself is proven to support mental wellbeing, the cold air can help heighten concentration and focus. Plus, let’s face it, a snowy scene or landscape is always pretty magical anyway.

5. Mindful snow walking

Similarly, a mindful snow walk can be a great way to channel winter wellness. Walking, as we well know, is one of life’s greatest health super-powers – numerous studies have found people who walk regularly are not only fitter but have lower long-term risk of major diseases like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Just recently, a new study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that people who walk or cycle to work had a lower risk of heart attack.

A mindful walk simply adds another layer to the benefits. This is all about being present in the moment, enjoying the process, slowing down to notice what’s around you – the scenery, birdsong, or even just how you’re feeling if you’ve had things on your mind. Walking in snow, there’s also the delicious crunch under your feet, the awareness that what you’re seeing is fleeting and will soon melt away. This is all about tuning into the seasons and connecting with nature’ cycles.

 
 

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