Breath in deep. Now let the breath fall out. Again.
Complete this exercise 30 times and a growing number of people will tell you to expect everything from changing the chemistry of your body to being able to survive insanely dangerous temperatures. This trend was kicked off by an eccentric Dutchman named Wim Hof who has dazzled the world with an array of stunts. Hof has successfully survived extreme cold while setting world records for swimming under polar ice, staying submerged up to his neck in a tub of ice, and running a marathon above the Arctic circle wearing only gym shorts and sandals. Not only that, but Hof has summited Mt. Kilimanjaro in the same scant attire, and even attempted to summit Mt. Everest as well. What’s more, he claims that by practicing his special breathing technique, you and I can achieve the same results.
The startling thing about Wim Hof is that he not only completes his cold weather challenges with ease, but he has been scientifically monitored in order to see just what is going on in his body. After being monitored in 2008 at the University of Minnesota Duluth by scientists who specialize in the effects of cold, they explained the results like this: “What you’re seeing basically is a situation in which the usual response to a shock or a cold was completely obliterated.”
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Other scientists who have measured Wim have recorded the same basic results. In fact, several recent studies have concluded the possibility he may be able to control his autonomic nervous system and the innate immune response. To the common person, this basically means he can regulate systems in the body generally believed to be out of our control. Not only that, but his method was tested on a group of people trained by him with similar results. He also claims to be able to consciously ward off illness by changing the chemistry of his body. All in all, Wim Hof may be easily scoffed at, but his track record while being observed by scientists cannot.
One other factor that plays a role in Wim Hof’s ability to withstand extreme cold may be increased levels of brown adipose tissue (BAT), otherwise known as brown fat. Brown fat is a fat found mostly in babies, and its purpose is to burn white fat in order to stay warm. Essentially, it generates heat in the body by burning white fat. Scientists once believed that once you grew past a certain age, you would lose your brown fat. However, now scientists realize that brown fat is found in adults, and adults with a lower body mass index (BMI) have more of it. What’s more is that Wim Hof has higher levels of brown fat than people half his age. Again, he credits this to breathing, meditation and the ability to control his mind.
What does all this mean? First off, you might be a little skeptical about Wim and his achievements. After all, there have been more than a few people in history who earned a reputation doing similar feats. However, this situation seems different because Hof is teaching people his method and they are completing similar feats. Also, it is being scientifically proven that his body is changing in order to better protect against the cold. Finally, this is unique in that it doesn’t cost any money to try.
Contrary to popular opinion, your biggest threats when out in the wilderness are not grizzly bears and mountain lions. In reality, you are most likely to perish from falling, drowning and hypothermia. If the Wim Hof method has validity, you may be able to better safeguard yourself against the latter while out in the woods. Adding an extra insurance policy against cold temperatures might be something worth looking into. Like anything, Wim Hof’s method may not work for you. Anyone interested in experimenting with this method would be wise to proceed in baby steps and test their body a little at a time. In the long run, it may be something that helps you stay better prepared for the outdoors.
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