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The Health Benefits of Cold Hormesis

Andrew Merle

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“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

This quote gets at the concept of hormesis — when something is damaging or toxic in excess, but highly beneficial in smaller doses.

We have learned that short-term acute “stress” has powerful health and longevity benefits, as long as the stress subsides at some point.

For example, we have always known that exercise was good for us, but we weren’t exactly sure why. Hormesis is the likely explanation.

If you intensely exercised all day, you would cause excessive wear and tear on your body and eventually you would break down. But short bursts of exercise stress the body just enough to activate your survival genes. Once that stress response is engaged, your body will recover and build back even stronger than before.

An obvious example is weightlifting. Lifting weights stresses your muscles, then they get sore and grow back bigger than your baseline. But lifting too much weight, too often, or at too high of an intensity can lead to serious injury. It is all about finding the right dose.

When it comes to exercise, a dose of just 15 vigorous minutes per day can reduce the chance of death from a heart attack by 40% and all-cause mortality by 45%.

In addition to exercise, we now know that cold immersion can have similar ‘hormetic’ benefits.

Being uncomfortably cold for short periods of time activates protective brown fat in the body and can lead to weight loss, improved immune function, and reduced feelings of stress and anxiety.

You don’t want to get to the point of frostbite or hypothermia — a daily 5-minute cold shower can do the trick.

You can even take a warm shower and then just turn down the water temp as low as it goes for as long as you can handle at the end.

Exercising in the cold is especially beneficial. I am a personal fan of running outside in the winter or you can try cold water swimming.

Many people also swear by the Wim Hof Method, which combines cold therapy with breath work and mental conditioning.

You are stronger than you think you are.

By tolerating short periods of intense cold, you can activate your survival genes and emerge even tougher than before.

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Andrew Merle

Follow me for stories about health, fitness, and nutrition. Read more at andrewmerle.com. Contact me at andrew.merle@gmail.com