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ICE ICE BABY - the benefits of cold exposure: both science & personal journey

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

The cold

What most fear.


Coming into winter time, everyone rugs up. Beanies, jumpers and in the heater often.


But in fact, we should not fear it and embrace it from time to time for ultimate health benefits.

So how can we combat the cold & make it our friend?


In this article I will be sharing the science around how embracing the cold can positively impact our health & my personal experiences with cold exposure.


My cold exposure journey started in 2019.


A guy called Wim Hof came into my life via a YouTube video.

I was watching these incredible videos (you can watch some here) about what he could do. He had a history of doing the unbelievable such as staying in an ice bath for 1 hour and 52 minutes (and 42 seconds), climbed Mt Everest in just shorts, and running a marathon through snow at -20 degrees celsius again in just shorts!


I thought to myself "how is this man conquering these feats?!"

"What kind of conditioning and mindset does he have to achieve such things?"


So I started to explore to train myself.


I started with the Wim Hof breathing - nothing super consistent maybe 1-2 times per week.


It felt amazing.

But no cold exposure just yet, at the time I wasn’t sure how to access it on my own.

It wasn’t big yet, and everyone I spoke to thought I was mad for wanting to try it.


Fast forward to a fitness expo in Melbourne 2019 when I was an ambassador for a fitness company at the time, and there was Recovery Science with a stall that had ice baths.


Here is my chance I thought! But then I chickened out. There were 1000’s of people and my mind was “What if I couldn’t do this? What if I look like a fool?”


Ever since that day, I regretted not taking the challenge.

The mindset I had was avoidant, not growth focused.


I stayed in contact with the owner of recovery science and I went in to try their facility in Brisbane.


I had been reading more into the benefits of the cold, which I will share later and I really wanted to try it.

So I went alone.

Here’s me, going for the first time.

Mentally preparing myself.


This will be painful but I can do this.

Prepping myself with long deep breaths and visualisation.


I can do this.


My intention was to go in for 3 minutes.


And to come out alive and calm the other side (dramatic, I know - but visualising you being ok definitely helps!)


The mental prep was longer than the ice bath itself.


Then came time to enter the ice bath. As my foot touched the freezing cold water, my mind instantly reacted "Holy crap this is FREEEZING what are you doing you mad woman" then I regathered - focus focus focus.


As I lower myself in, I focus on the breathing. I have prepared for this.


Short sharp breaths (expected) transitioning to long deep breaths. Creating calm within. Something was so profound was my mind was silenced.


Nothing was going on up in there (my mind loves to think a lot). Except me and the cold.


Present.


In the now.


The sensations on my body was literally, sensational.


Hands to thighs, cool calm and collected. 3 minutes I did in the cold, and then I got out into the hot bath.


Regathering and consolidating what I just did, I was so damn proud of myself.


I felt so ALIVE.


So I did it again. Two more times that session, and then called it a day.


For days after I was on a natural high. I felt super woman. I felt invincible.


After that, I tried to recruit as many people as I could to come and try it with me. Because I found something that made me feel amazing naturally, I wanted to share it with the world. Not only does it have some incredible health benefits, but it also helped me find peace. Since then, I have been a regular ice bather and wim hof method breather.


I have done stints of doing ice baths every day, and doing it intermittently depended on what was happening in my life. I built my own ice bath, so I can practice at home and eventually became a certified Wim Hof Method instructor myself so I could truly understand the benefits in deeper detail and share it with the world. Now I'm doing workshops all around Queensland, which you can check out the next dates here!

So lets talk all things benefits.


As you can see, cold therapy can create a beautiful peace and calm within the mind.


When we speak to the mental health side of things - mental health is among the 10 leading causes of disability in both developed and developing countries, and depression is the leading cause of years lost due to disability worldwide, projected to be ranked the number one global burden of disease within 2030. Cold exposure can combat this as when we enter the cold we experience a big release of noradrenaline and dopamine.


Noradrenaline is responsible for taking action, improving focus, attention, diligence and mood. This lasts for the time in the ice bath, and reduces when we exit and warm the body slowly - so this acts as a positive stressor to the body. Embracing the stress, and then restoring balance.

Dopamine is another hormone, that is responsible for happiness feelings, motivation, movement etc and this is also increased up to 250% after deliberate cold exposure.


So naturally, we feel healthier and happier!


Deliberate cold exposure is a hormetic stressor. In the fields of biology and medicine hormesis is defined as an adaptive response of cells and organisms to a moderate (usually intermittent) stress.


Using the cold as a stressor, it sets off sets off protective mechanisms and allows us to come back stronger and more resilient to the cold and other stressors we encounter in life.


Cold exposure can lower inflammation within the body and strengthen our immune system.


The hormones noradrenaline and cortisol that are released within cold exposure act as anti inflammatory agents and create short term inflammation, which can be beneficial for fighting harmful microorganisms that enter the body.


For our immune system health, after deliberate cold exposure an anti inflammatory protein interleukin (IL)-10 is increased, white blood cells are increased also which help fight infections within the body.


This can last up to 6 days after cold exposure. It improves our cardiovascular system by strengthening the smooth muscles in our arteries, which means blood can be pumped around the body better without the heart working too hard for it.


It also trains these muscles to rapidly contract and relax, making our cardiovascular system more efficient.

It can help us regulate our body temperature more efficiently, for example our body can warm itself in cold environments and cool its self in hot environments much quicker and create balance within our bodily system more easily.


Cold exposure can also improve our insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin resistance, which means for those who experience ill effects from carbohydrates with drastic changes in blood sugar levels - it can help our body regulate much more easily.


Also, it has been proven that cold water exposure helps to reduce muscle inflammation. The temperature of the water lowers the damage of the affected tissue, and reduces further swelling which helps with delayed onset muscle soreness. (something to be mindful of is when to do it eg before or after training dependant on your goals, you can read more about best practices here)


Plus many other benefits! As a summary, deliberate cold exposure can positively impact our mind body and soul. It can help us feel more balanced, more focused and more alive. It improves our cardiovascular system health, our response to stress, our ability to adapt to different temperatures, reduce inflammation, improve our mental wellbeing and much more. All in all, happier healthier and stronger. So the question is now, how can you practice cold exposure to get all these amazing benefits?!


You can come along to one of my Wim Hof Method workshops

(Queensland wide, check out dates here) where you can learn in depth about the three pillars of the Wim Hof Method, how to embrace the cold as your warm friend and obtain these benefits! If you're in Brisbane here are some wellness venues that I highly recommend that have cold therapy baths available: Recovery Science - Brisbane Central


In other places of Australia, I have only visited a couple but these are great also: FLOWST8 - Melbourne


You can also build your own ice bath from a chest freezer, check out my tutorial here. So many amazing things! If you enjoyed this, please share to those who you feel would like to read this.


Kirsti xx References: https://www.wimhofmethod.com/





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