Cold Exposure and Apnea training???????
(Does this make me healthier?)
What do Laird Hamilton (World Champion Surfer), Tim Ferris (Author of Tools of the Titans & 4-hour Workweek) and Orlando Bloom (Actor- Pirates of the Caribbean) have in common? They all believe in the benefits of apnea training (learning to hold your breath longer) and cold exposure promoted by the Dutchman Wim Hof.
Simplistically, holding your breath repeatedly allows you to tolerate lower levels of Oxygen in your system and higher levels of CO2. But why? Unless you are a Freediver (diving without SCUBA gear); why would anyone undergo apnea training?
Wim Hof (The Iceman) is a 59 year old man who holds world records in events which push the human limits. He has a hiked Mount Everest (20,000 feet) wearing nothing but shorts and shoes, he has run a marathon across the Arctic circle- with no shoes, and holds the record for longest time in an ice bath- nearly 2 hours. But how?
Mr. Hof https://www.wimhofmethod.com/ credits his ability to tolerate difficult conditions to his breathing techniques and to cold exposure which allow him to control his autonomic nervous system. Per Wim, using his breathing techniques allows him to strengthen his immune system, improve circulation, prevent disease and helps with mindfulness.
As an Orthopedic Spine Surgeon who takes care of New Mexico State Athletics: my first response is NO WAY!!!!!!!
In 2014, the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences published a study evaluating 24 participants. 12 of these people were trained using Wim Hof’s breathing techniques, meditation & cold exposure. All 24 of the participants were then exposed to an Endotoxin (E. Coli) and the effects were measured. The 12 people who trained using Hof’s techniques had a different response to the toxin and were better able to fight off the effects.
An important element to Hof’s methods is cold exposure (ice bath, cold showers, unheated pool). Cold does cause the release of Norepinephrine which is known to produce heat via fat breakdown. Cold is also known to decrease inflammation and some people say decrease chronic pain.
Laird Hamilton https://www.lairdhamilton.com/ also practices and conditions his body to exercise in apnea situations (holding his breath underwater) to make him a better surfer and athlete. He feels as if this technique allows him to recover faster and tolerate the frigid conditions of the Pacific Ocean easier.
Conclusion: All of this hype seems far-fetched but as someone who has severe Degenerative Disc Disease at L5-S1, these methods have decreased my back pain significantly. The science is still in the infant stage but the increasing number of followers and increasing body of evidence points to the validity of apnea training and cold exposure.
Many of these techniques can be dangerous (holding your breath under water) and should only be performed with a partner present.