Ice Therapy: The Latest Wellness Craze

It had been around for years, but its appearance in the Netflix series “Goop Lab”, endorsed by Gwyneth Paltrow, propelled the method to fame. In the second chapter of this documentary, which explores alternative treatments for well-being, the story of Wim Hof, a Dutch extreme athlete capable of tolerating freezing temperatures thanks to breathing, is told, and who postulates that doing so strengthens the immune system and relieves symptoms of various diseases, among other benefits. This practice, known as “the Wim Hof ​​method”, skyrocketed in popularity in 2020, when the series premiered and the global quarantine plunged the world into the search for ways to strengthen your health.

Return to the natural state

Known as “the ice man”, Wim Hof ​​has broken 26 Guiness records with feats such as running a half marathon in the Arctic Circle or locking himself in an ice container for two hours. His patented method (and not without controversy) is presented as a way to “keep your body and mind in their optimal natural state”, and points out that for much of our history the environment was responsible for generating beneficial stress, living in low temperatures, between icy winds and hungry wolves, and with your mind always ready and focused to protect yourself. Today modern life, much more comfortable and easy, has eliminated those dangers and also our natural state of alertness and clarity. As a result, he argues that our natural defenses are not as alert, so we get sick, stressed, suffer from insomnia and live without energy.

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Proposal? Three pillars that reinforce each other: breathing techniques, mental focus training and gradual exposure to cold. “This method is characterized by its efficiency and simplicity and allows us to reconnect with nature. It empowers our biology, since we have a lot of very powerful tools and the wisdom of our body is asleep”, points out Lorena Lorenso, an instructor certified by Wim Hof ​​and the only one in South America together with Marianela Ducca, her partner and partner.

Each of the pillars can be done separately, but together they promise the greatest benefits. The first is a type of breathing that works with the diaphragm, so it is recommended to do it on an empty stomach. The intention is to generate a concentration that allows the body to be controlled even in the most extreme conditions. “The effects have to do with the alkalinization of the blood and the strengthening of the immune system. At the same time, through intermittent hypoxia, the cardiovascular system is trained”, Ducca illustrates.

The second pillar is exposure to cold, which can be done with freezing showers, immersion in ice pools or directly in frozen lakes, as Wim Hof ​​often does. “It is proven that by immersing yourself in ice for two to three minutes, the benefits continue to work in our body for six days. Once a week is an ideal regularity”, points out Lorenso. For those who prefer cold showers, the repetition can be daily.

The final pillar is commitment. The above tools point to techniques that require patience and dedication, whereby focus and mental determination are the last mile. Is that the idea is to install a specific punctual short-term stress, which strengthens the power of adaptation of the organism. “Wim says that fitness is 100% mental, because the body doesn’t go where the mind doesn’t,” says Ducca.

in the balance

For a long time, cryotherapy has been used by athletes to regenerate their muscles and joints after training and matches. “It is one more method of physiotherapy, like heat, magnetism and ultrasound,” describes Alejandro Halaburda, kinesiologist and physiotherapist at Boreal Salud. In this context, the application of ice or cold has to do with reducing inflammation, since it produces a vasoconstriction that prevents more blood from reaching the area. It can be used in an injury or also to regenerate and combat fatigue. In cases where it is applied by immersion in ice water, the specialist does not recommend exceeding 15/20 minutes, always taking into account the patient’s tolerance.

Asked about this version of ice contact, Halaburda is cautious. “It is important to be careful with the immersion time, because the last stage of cold is the burn. It can reach the point of burning the tissue or generating an irreversible process in the tendons or muscles”, he reasons. And both in this process and in traditional cryotherapy, he maintains that it is not recommended for open wounds, cardiac patients, the elderly, with pre-existing diseases or a history of osteoarthritis.

For her part, Dr. Florencia Dafne Raele (@beautyfreak.room), who defines herself as a functional and integrative doctor, wanted to try the Wim Hof ​​method in 2021, after having studied traditional cryotherapy a few years ago. Since then, she recommends it for all those who want to experience something new and train the mind, as well as improve their rest, circulation and focus. “When one is immersed in ice, which is a hormetic stressor (N. de la R. something that in high doses is dangerous but in small amounts is beneficial), the nervous system is decompensated and the sympathetic is stimulated. To regulate that, one must control the breath a lot, and take a notion of how, through it, the nervous system can be controlled. That is the most powerful thing about the practice, beyond the benefits”, she highlights. Along this path, she began to generate hormetic retreats, “to understand what are those beneficial stressors that we need in their proper measure.”

She understands that the contraindications are few and similar to those sentenced by Halaburda, but that the biggest problem is the fear that people have of the cold, given the enormous lack of habituation of modern life. “That’s why breathing is key, because it acclimatizes the body. After the initial minute, the body gets used to it and relaxes, perhaps ceasing to feel the cold or not suffering it as much, ”she points out.

Other benefits that are assigned to this practice include raising energy, increasing sports performance and relieving symptoms of autoimmune diseases. And although there may be sessions with professional instructors at the end of the exploration tour, the path can start at home: finishing the showers with 15 seconds of cold water is the initial step that Lorenso and Ducca recommend. “Your focus has to be on your breath, exhaling as long as you can,” they indicate. In addition, they recommend the breathing tutorials on Wim Hof’s YouTube channel, as well as his app and access to scientific papers that study the method. “It is within everyone’s reach,” they encourage. Just in case, before trying it, it is advisable to consult with your doctor.

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