This post reflects my continuing experience with cold water immersion. Big caveat up front: If you “jump into” (no pun intended) cold water immersion too quickly, you can end up with a medical emergency. Proceed slowly. Let your mind, body, and maybe a coach, guide you. And of course, medical clearance is recommended.
Also, this post largely focuses on advice I picked up from listening to an episode of the Huberman Lab podcast. I’m paraphrasing what I heard, and I can be a poor listener. Do not take “my” advice; listen to the actual podcast and take your advice from the expert.
I had barely posted a 16-month update to my Wim Hof Method experience when I needed to update the update. It comes after listening to an episode of the Huberman Lab podcast wherein host Dr. Andrew Huberman discusses cold water immersion. (I believe he referred to it as “deliberate” cold water immersion, which he notes is an important distinction.)
I was pretty much aware there were a few flaws to my practice of Wim Hof Lite, as I call it (since I’m not immersing in ice water, or even water that’s therapeutically cold year round). I immerse to my neck in my unheated backyard spa, but living in Southern California, the water ranges from the mid-50s to the low-80s. Obviously, my greatest potential for benefit comes in the dead of winter. But back to the update…
Dr. Huberman didn’t commit to an ideal temperature: I’m paraphrasing, but he suggests immersing in water that is cold enough to be uncomfortable and you want to get out, but you overcome the mental wall and stay in. At the same time, it should never be so cold you risk a medical emergency. That temperature is different for everyone. He suggested a good amount of time actually spent immersing is around 11 minutes per week, spread over a few sessions. But again, he’s talking water that is significantly colder than my coldest soaks.
Since listening to the Ice Bath & Cold Benefits episode, I’ve tweaked my routine, so I wanted to share:
- Originally, I immersed for 10-minutes per day. Now, I set the stopwatch, not the timer. I get out when I’m hitting my limit. So far, this has extended my soak time from 10 minutes to more than 13, but I’m finding it’s more based on a mind saying, “Get out, we’ve got things to do today!” (More impatience than physical discomfort.) This “a-ha” moment is really interesting. I’ve been focusing on the physical benefits of cold water immersion. I have a brand new appreciation for the mental aspect.
- I used to get in and pretty much sit still. It burns when you move! But that’s good. Additional mental and physical benefits.
- When I began, I was intermittent fasting. Along the way, I read it’s important to eat something before cold water exposure. I think that advice might apply to cold water swimmers or some other group because Dr. Huberman says a fasting or intermittent fasting state adds benefits. He also mentioned a little caffeine to amplify results. Now I’m back to intermittent fasting, soaking, cold showering, walking the dog, and then breakfasting.
- One of the things Dr. Huberman mentioned–and I’ve already added this to my routine–is to practice mental exercises as you soak. Your brain becomes sluggish in the cold, so doing math problems or some other form of mental aerobics adds a little oomph to your routine. I’m a verbal person, so I’ve tended to choose a letter and try to come up with as many words as I can that start with that letter, but I also say alphabet backwards, do subtraction exercises, and try to recite the Nicene Creed (a challenge for a fallen-away Catholic) and bits and pieces from the Declaration of Independence.
By the way, I like reference points when I’m reading about someone’s health experiences, so here you go: I’m a 64-year-old female with a BMI around 21, and probably the muscle and fat typical of a woman my age. I’ve been at this continuously for 16 months now, beginning in December 2021. So far, so good, no plans to quit.
I’ve only incorporated the above tweaks for the past four days, so I’ll give you another update down the road.
If you have any interest in cold water immersion, the Dr. Huberman episode is a good place to start.
By the way, Dr. Huberman covers a number of great topics on his podcast. Since I’m also fascinated with the microbiome, I listened to Dr. Justin Sonnenburg: How to Build, Maintain, & Repair Gut Health. It led me to adding fermented foods where I can, although I still haven’t tried making my own kombucha. Another day.