Wim Hof method shown to ‘influence’ the immune system and defend against infections

Freeze the Fear with Wim Hof trailer from the BBC

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After the death of his wife to suicide in 1995, whom he met at 20 years old, Wim Hof went in search of ways to improve his mental health. He found instant bliss in the icy cold waters of a park in the Netherlands, while everyone else was asleep. Since then, he has developed the Wim Hof Method – a combination of cold-water exposure and a meditation called “inner fire” which he believes holds the key to improving your body’s immune response. But the benefits of his technique aren’t hocus pocus – there are fascinating scientific papers to back it up.

The Iceman is convinced that if you do his method, you will quickly realise that you are the “master of your stress, health, and happiness”.

He told Lewis Howes on The School of Greatness podcast: “If you learn how to deal with cold water, you will also [end up] learning how to deal with your emotions and mood…

“The deepest part of your brain goes into the survival [mode], and it shoots out adrenaline … into the bloodstream and resets the body… It [in turn] fends off the bacteria and viruses.”

In fact, he is so sure of his technique that in 2014, he opted to allow scientists to inspect his intense training bootcamp.

The scientists were trying to find out whether the Wim Hof Method can really improve the human immune response, as he claimed it could.

They looked at six people who were taught the Wim Hof Method during a trip away to Poland with Hof and instructors.

Over the trip, the experimentees were exposed to the cold by standing in the snow for 30 minutes, lying bare-chested in the snow for 20 minutes; daily swimming in sub zero ice-cold water for several minutes, and hikes up a snowy mountain wearing nothing but shorts – in temperatures ranging from – 5 to -12 degrees.

They also did Hof’s breathing technique: hyperventilating for an average of 30 breaths, and then exhaling and holding their breath for two to three minutes.

After they stopped holding their breath, they inhaled and held their breath for 10 seconds. Participants did several cycles of this when they did the training.

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About a week after the trip, their immune response was tested by injecting an endotoxin into the bodies of each of the participants.

An endotoxin is a toxin that is found in bacteria that triggers the immune response.

In the landmark study, they found that those who had done the Wim Hof Method had influenced their own immune system, creating anti-inflammatory effects.

Inflammation is responsible for dozens of health conditions, including autoimmune diseases, and severe COVID-19 which is linked to excessive inflammation.

Those who underwent the Wim Hof Method also had fewer flu-like symptoms.

The authors of the 2014 study stated: “The present study demonstrates that, through practising techniques learned in a short-term training program, the sympathetic nervous system and immune system can indeed be voluntarily influenced.”

Another study in 2019, found that an eight-week Wim Hof method course on adults with axial spondyloarthritis – an inflammatory disease, had a reduction in the traces of inflammation, known as inflammatory markers.

Hof said: “You are the ruler within your own mind and body, and this is the mindset [that you should have]. … You should actually become alchemists in the morning.

“The cold shower will help your vascular system, … and the breathing exercises [transform] your body.

“And then suddenly you will realise that you are the master of your stress, health, and happiness.”

There is more and more research coming out surrounding the Wim Hof Method, a technique which is to feature in the BBC program Freeze the Fear with Wim Hof.

However, it is important to consult your doctor before doing the technique, if you have any concerns.

The Wim Hof website even advises against the practice if you have epilepsy, heart disease or if pregnant, or on a prescription for high blood pressure.

How to do the Wim Hof Method

  1. Take in a strong inhalation through the nose or mouth
  2. Let out a relaxed exhalation through the mouth
  3. Repeat for 30 breaths
  4. After the last breath, exhale and hold for as long as you can
  5. When you feel your body really needs to take a breath, inhale all the way and hold for 15 seconds before releasing.

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