18 May COVER STORY – EMBRACE THE COLD
Have you ever wondered how our ancestors survived the elements before there were modern comforts of climate control and thermal clothing? Have we become less resilient as a consequence of centuries of making ourselves more comfortable?
Enter Wim Hof, a Dutch fitness trainer/visionary. Hof is also known as “The Iceman” because he regularly exposes himself to extreme cold temperatures wearing nothing but shorts and shoes. He holds many world endurance records for his exploits, including high altitude climbs and long durations immersed in ice water.
When Scott Carney first heard about Hof, he was skeptical. Carney is a journalist who has made a career writing investigative stories on topics like the illicit trade in body parts and alternative communes. His first impulse was to find out more so he could expose the Iceman as a charlatan.
“I thought maybe Hof had some very special physical abilities-perhaps genetically bestowed-to be able to endure the ice,” Carney said in an interview. “But when he started suggesting he could teach people the same techniques, I was wary.”
So, he traveled to Poland to participate in a training camp that Hof was conducting.
The experience turned him from a skeptic to a believer. The first exercise Hof gave him was to go stand in the snow, which he endured for 5 minutes before he had to stop. “It’s just so cold,” he said, recalling the moment. “I’m in my shorts, bare feet, and it’s really, really painful!”
But he learned that by repeating the exercise on a daily basis, he could increase his endurance to the point where he was standing barefoot in the snow for an hour by the 5th day. Carney discovered that modern man still has his ancestor’s ability to handle extreme climate, but that ability must be coaxed out with concerted training. “Simply reintroducing some common environmental stressors can bring back some of our lost evolutionary vigor,” Carney said. “There’s a hidden biology we can tap into. We need environmental and physical variations that invigorate our nervous systems.”
There was another takeaway from his experience that was more meaningful than having bragging rights about what you are able to endure: Carney began to see his health change, and noted that other devotees with chronic health issues have had significant reversals to their symptoms.
The book he wrote as a result of his experiences, What Doesn’t Kill Us (Roda le Press), discusses the health benefits of this acclimatization and chronicles the author’s own trek to just below the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in tennis shoes and shorts.
Looking at photos of Carney, Hof and others voluntarily subjecting themselves to arctic adventures wearing nothing but swim trunks and a smile makes me look in the mirror and ask myself if I could voluntarily sit down next to them on a glacier if I knew it wouldn’ t kill me, but actually make me stronger and healthier. It’s one thing to be living in a primitive society where the cold is unavoidable, but to choose intense discomfort when you don’ t have to is a step of faith not many of us are ready to take. I will confess that I have been intrigued enough to see how cold I can make my shower since I heard about Carney’s book.
I wonder how many of you, after reading this, will be tempted to do the same?
Until next time,