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The Power of Building Resilience - The Cold Plunge Way!

So I have been experimenting with cold water immersion as a way of building mental and physical resilience. I have always thought of myself as a resilient person and have pushed myself to do better every day. Whether martial arts, or HIIT workouts or striving for excellence in the workplace, I have always pushed it. Sometimes to extreme like when I fainted a few times while doing F45 workouts a year or so ago. Somehow, I felt that I could do extreme workouts like F45 on a fasted state. I found out, that I can't :) Since putting something in the belly before working out, gee, no more fainting! Go figure!

Well, now I am onto something else to build resilience. The power of cold water! I guess it all began when I saw a video of Mark Wahlberg doing cold water immersion when he gets up at 4 am every morning. I started doing research and the usual cast of characters who like to push it and challenge themselves like Jocko Willink, Joe Rogan, David Goggins, Dr. Andrew Huberman etc., were all doing a form of cold water exposure to build mental and physical toughness. Of course, the US Navy SEALS have been doing this for years when their BUDS students have to get into the extremely cold waters off Coronado. 

The more research I did into this, the more I realized the positive benefits of exposure, measured exposure mind you, to cold water. Benefits such as:

  • Immunity: Cold water stimulates white blood cells, which help fight illness.

  • Inflammation: Cold plunging may reduce inflammation.

  • Mood: Cold plunging may improve mood and sleep.

  • Muscle soreness: Cold plunging may reduce muscle soreness and aid recovery after workouts.

  • Metabolism: Cold plunging may increase metabolism.

  • Weight loss: Cold plunging may increase the burning of white fat and increase the production of brown fat.

Other benefits include: Increased circulation, Endorphins, Dopamine, Stress reduction, Athletic performance. 

The research into this isn't concrete, but there was enough there that I decided to try it out. In addition, I ran across an article on a guy by the name of Wim Hof. Many of you probably know who he is. I didn't. He is known as the Ice Man. Back in the day, he did many extraordinary feats involving the cold including climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in shorts, running a half marathon on the artic circle in shorts, barefoot, and standing covered in a container of ice cubes for over 112 minutes. There are many videos on YouTube of Wim Hof who teaches his brand of cold water immersion and breathing. He is still doing it and he is impressive - if not downright mad!

So, I started slowly doing the cold water thing. A good friend of mine who is a former Delta Force operator, told me he had been doing cold showers for years and that it was a game changer. So that is where I started. One fine morning, before my wife and I headed out to F45 class, I got in the shower and cranked on the cold water. Holy S---! My body was shocked into extreme awareness and it was damn uncomfortable. I found out that your body goes into survival mode "fight or flight," when hit by cold water. Plus, it redistributes blood and increases blood circulation to the body's vital organs. It also delivers freshly oxygenated blood to areas of the body that need recovery.

Honestly, I thought about none of that stuff when the cold water hit my body. I was in shock. My breaths were shallow and I lasted about 40 seconds. That was enough for me that day. But when I got out of the shower, I felt so alert and "in the moment." I had an extra "pep in my step" during the workout that day too. As the days and weeks went on, I gradually increased my time in the cold shower to five minutes. Yes, the initial shock was always there. It is damn uncomfortable for about 30 seconds. But after that, my body adapted. Still cold, but I was able to endure more and more of it. The dopamine and endorphins in my body increased. I felt more alert and had more energy throughout the day. I became more resilient. 

But, being me, I needed to do more. So I decided to start cold plunging. Luckily, this time of year in Las Vegas, the temperature of our pool and spa range from 45-58 degrees. (Lately, it is more on the 45 degree side of the house) When I first tried it, it was a different kind of cold than a shower. Your whole body is immersed in cold. No escaping it. My hands and my feet took the brunt of the cold given the blood in my body was going to the vital areas like the heart, lungs, liver etc. They got numb. (This is normal if you are going to do this) I managed about 30 seconds and had to get out. But again, like the shower, I felt good (after the shivering stopped!)

I invested in rubber dive gloves and booties and was able, over a period of time, to stay in for at least five minutes and now can do much more if inclined. There is still that 30 seconds where it sucks. You are shallow breathing as your body fights the cold. But with proper breathing and focus, I can make it through and I feel comfortable in the cold. Today's plunge was a balmy 47 degrees. Sometimes I pray. Sometimes I have the outdoor TV on and watch something mindless like Holiday Wars on the Food Network. Sometimes I listen to a Jocko podcast. But a big part of me is living in the moment, and embracing the suck that is cold water. I embrace it and a part of me loves it. 

Now mind you, more is not better. I found that out when we visited friends in Boston a few months ago. Our friends have a pool and the temps were comparable in that pool to ours here in Las Vegas. After a day of sight seeing, we all decided to jump in the pool. Everyone, including my wife, got in for a short period and got out. I stayed in for probably for 45 minutes off and on. Man, was I comfortable. And stupid! When we all got out, our hosts prepared some appetizers for us. We had all changed into dry clothes but I was shivering. No one noticed but me thank God. After that, we decided to all chill (no pun intended) before dinner. Janice and I went to our room to take a nap. I was shivering so much Janice had to hug me to keep me warm (then again, there might be a method to my madness after all!)

Lesson learned. Cold water immersion is fine, up to a point. Hypothermia is not what you are looking for. 

Bottom line: Cold water immersion is now part of my daily routine. I go between doing cold showers one day to a plunge the next. All of it is beneficial. Is it for everyone? Probably not? But does it help in building physical and mental resilience? Yes it does. When things get really tough in F45, I can close my eyes and transport myself to the cold water. And then I think, "I can do this!" It helps a lot. I push through knowing I can endure a lot more than I think I can. Mentally, when faced with tough situations or daily challenges, the way my body feels with the dopamine levels up for a great deal of the day, I feel I can handle anything that comes my way.

So there you have it. I am an advocate of cold water immersion or showers. Works for me. I would say, try it. Give it a chance. I found out that our doctor has been taking cold showers for years and he swears by it. Anywhere between 1-3 minutes is sufficient. No need to go more than 10 if you are so inclined. If you try it out, let me know what you think. Would love to hear feedback. Even it it's "you're crazy Mike!"

But I do have to admit, when I take my nightly hot showers, it does feel sooooo good!

Till next time. 

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