The Science Behind Wim Hof’s Unshakable Resistance to Freezing Temperatures

For those of you who haven’t been following, Wim Hof is a Dutch extreme athlete better known as “The Iceman”. Hof currently holds 21 Guinness World Records. Some of his most notable achievements include climbing the world’s highest mountains while wearing shorts, completing a half marathon above the Arctic Circle while barefoot and only wearing shorts, running a full marathon in the Namib Desert without drinking, and swimming underneath ice for 66 meters.

In 1995, Hof’s wife tragically passed away. Hof became depressed as a result of this traumatic event, and to better manage his depression, he began submersing himself in even more difficultly cold environments and practicing what would become The Wim Hof Method.

What is The Wim Hof Method?

The three pillars of The Wim Hof Method are: cold therapy, breathing, and commitment.

Exposure to the cold can yield a plethora of health benefits including reduced inflammation resulting in a stimulated immune system, the buildup of brown adipose tissue and consequent fat loss, stable hormone levels, enhanced sleep quality, and the creation of endorphins. Breathing has the ability to generate reduced stress levels, more energy, and an amplified immune respond to pathogens. Cold therapy and breathing are nothing with out commitment. In order for The Wim Hof Method to work, one must be fully dedicated.

Scientific Research on The Method

You may be thinking that The Wim Hof Method seems too good to be true. While many folks still question the benefits of meditation on depression and physical health, there is substantial scientific evidence that meditation is effective of humans.

Professors Otto Muzik, Ph.D. and Vaibhav Diwadkar, Ph.D. from Wayne State University School of Medicine have been studying the human brain’s responses to thermoregulatory variables since 2014. In a three-day study of Wim Hof, the doctors used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze Hof’s brain, specifically his anterior insula and periaqueductal gray matter. Additionally, positron emission tomography (PET) was used to study Hof’s body, specifically his intercostal muscles. Hof wore a full-body suit infused with temperature-controlled water during the study.

The results were astounding. The researchers found that Hof’s skin temperature was relatively unaffected by the cold temperatures. As indicated by the PET imaging, Hof was able to generate heat that disperses to lung tissue and heats the circulating blood in the pulmonary capillaries by implementing The Wim Hof Method.

Hof’s brain presented an even more fascinating set of findings. The researchers found that his brain displayed significant brain activations in the anterior insula, a region where the brain’s thermoregulatory centers are found. Even greater activations were found in Hof’s periaqueductal gray matter, an area associated with the sensory pain mechanisms and thought to demonstrate this control through the release through the release of cannabinoids and opioids.  

Mind Over Matter Is Real

While there are many skeptics of meditation’s medical benefits, scientific research being done on the topic confirms that The Wim Hof Method and other meditation techniques have profoundly positive effects on the human mind and body. For instance, in addition to the astounding physical feats of Wim Hof, a 2005 study conducted at Harvard University showed that 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter in their prefrontal cortex as 25-year-olds.

These scientific results prove what those of us who meditate already know: it works.

Jaron is the CEO of Influential Capital. Previously he founded Coinsetter, one of the first digital asset exchanges launched in 2012, and acquired Cavirtex, a leading exchange in Canada—both acquired by Kraken in 2016. Before entrepreneurial life, Jaron was in private equity and investment banking.