As temperatures drop and the evenings draw in, our thoughts naturally drift towards ways in which to comfort ourselves. Log fires, warm socks, hot chocolate and luxurious blankets, in fact a whole industry has in fact built up around this concept under the Danish term, ‘Hygge’
Recently though, we are hearing more and more about the benefits of embracing the cold rather than fighting it. People up and down the country are taking cold showers, turning down the heating and going out for a walk without a coat on!
As a natural hibernator I have some resistance to these ideas and it should be noted that cold therapy must be undertaken with care. It is not for those with a pre-existing heart condition and if you have any health concerns you should consult your GP first.
The proclaimed benefits are however enticing. According to Wim Hof, Dutch extreme athlete otherwise known as The Ice Man,
“Proper exposure to the cold starts a cascade of health benefits, including the build-up of brown adipose tissue and resultant fat loss, reduced inflammation that facilitates a fortified immune system, balanced hormone levels, improved sleep quality, and the production of endorphins— the feel-good chemicals in the brain that naturally elevate your mood.”
The internet is full of articles advising you on how to start exposing yourself to the cold. There is a lot of talk around building resilience, a sort of antidote to the comfortable way we have become used to living. When we feel a bit chilly, we turn the heating up, have a hot bath or put more clothes on. When we’re hungry, we immediately reach for a snack. The premise is that we have become very poor at tolerating even minor discomfort and that by embracing the cold in a graduated way, we become more robust both physically and mentally.
What do you think? I am intrigued and with the reported prevalence of conditions such as anxiety and depression, I think that any approach which might help people make improvements and take control are worthy of further investigation. I’m not quite ready to throw away my hot water bottle but I may try an experimental turning down of the shower (from almost unbearable hot to comfortably tepid!)