WHAT do you get if you cross cold water with an EastEnders actress, a rapper, a former Manchester United captain and a Strictly pro dancer?
The answer: Freeze The Fear With Wim Hof, BBC1’s new reality show hosted by Holly Willoughby and Lee Mack.
Household names including Patrice Evra, Tamzin Outhwaite, Professor Green and Dianne Buswell are exposed to cold-water therapy with the self-styled “Iceman”, Wim Hof.
The Dutchman has been a firm favourite with the celebrity set for years, with Oprah Winfrey, Orlando Bloom and Chris Hemsworth among his millions of fans.
The 62-year-old extreme athlete has a breathing technique named after him and champions the health benefits of being chilly.
He has set 26 world records for cold-climate challenges, including climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts, running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot and standing in a container while covered with ice cubes for 112 minutes.
He told The Sun: “I believe in what I do. I want to change the world by bringing autonomy, love, happiness, strength and health to the world.”
All this through the power of cold.
Wim has been at it for 45 years and reckons “cold, hard Nature” saved his life.
He said: “I truly realised the benefit of the cold when I was grieving the death of my wife, Olaya, in 1995.
“She had depression and spiralled into darkness. I was left alone with four kids to look after and no money, dealing with deep emotional agony yet needing to be strong for my children.
“The children made me survive but it was the cold that brought me back to life. It healed me.
"Instead of being guided by my broken emotions, the cold water led me to stillness and gave my broken heart a chance to rest, restore, and rehabilitate.”
The science backs him up. Studies show exposure to the cold can boost the immune system, lower the risk of mental health problems and ease the symptoms of menopause.
Tom Parry, an osteopath and Wim Hof level 2 practitioner who trained with the Iceman himself, said: “Controlled exposure to cold water is unbelievably good for a whole host of physical and mental health conditions.”
Ben Coomber, 35, from Woodbridge, Suffolk, agrees.
He says working with Tom to learn the Wim Hof Method, combining breathing exercises and cold exposure, helped him fight “long Covid”.
The nutrition coach and boss of Awesome Supplements began cold-water therapy in December 2020.
He said: “I’d been ill for six weeks by December and couldn’t get any help or advice other than to rest.”
He contacted Tom at Livelong Hyntle Barn Clinic in Suffolk and was recommended a breathing exercise and daily ice baths.
Ben said: “The difference has been life-changing. I’d been stuck in a rut feeling terrible. I felt depressed and had brain fog all the time.
“I didn’t want to get out of bed but within weeks I started making good progress. I felt better day by day.
"It helped my mindset too and made me feel sharper and more focused.”
Ben took ice baths every day for six months, then three times a week in the summer of 2021.
When he stopped last autumn, his symptoms came back. He said: “I was getting more fatigue and brain fog, which is how I knew the cold-water therapy and breathing exercises were having an effect.”
He went back to cold therapy and now takes 90-second cold showers most days.
Ben added: “I’m much stronger now in terms of my immune system. I fight off bugs better and feel more resilient.
“It feels like the inflammation in my body (from long Covid) is more under control too.
“I love the feeling afterwards. But don’t get me wrong, I hate getting in.
“But that skin-burning sensation when you warm up and the mental benefits are so worth it.
‘BOOST ENERGY LEVELS’
“It makes me feel like I can handle anything.”
While many of us might have heard about the benefits of cold-water therapy, Tom says people often do not know why it works.
He said: “When we’re exposed to cold water, it elicits a stress response in the body.
“You might think that’s bad for us but not all stress is the same. Some actually benefits the body.
“Cold water triggers what’s known as hormetic stress, which is good for us.
“The short, sharp shock of the cold water releases hormones that boost energy levels, help the body heal and can improve mental health.
“In contrast, the long-term chronic stress most of us live with due to busy modern lifestyles exposes our bodies to an excess of these stress hormones over a prolonged period of time.
“That can leave us with anxiety, heart disease and digestive issues, among other things.”
Plunging into cold water and adopting Wim’s breathing techniques can help combat that, as Professor Green, Patrice and the others are discovering on the new show.
Patrice, the former Manchester United skipper, admits thinking he would “struggle more with the cold, but I just prepared my mindset as a challenge, as a warrior”.
And rapper Professor Green has continued the cold therapy at home.
He said: “I have cold showers every day now. I think these little moments of discomfort are good for you.”
Meanwhile, host Holly Willoughby has adopted Wim’s breathing techniques to help manage anxiety and stress.
She said: “I instantly felt the benefit and couldn’t believe how powerful it was — something as simple as breathing, which you’ve been doing since the day you were born.”
- Freeze The Fear With Wim Hof airs on BBC1 on Tuesdays at 9pm.
HOW TO BE LIKE WIM
TOM PARRY hosts regular Wim Hof classes (www.wimhofmethod.com/instructors/thomasparry) that get booked up months in advance.
But there are elements you can try at home, and it helps to first download the Wim Hof app.
He says: “The two components are cold water exposure and the breathing, so start by practising one at a time.”
DIP IN . . .
“IF you’ve never experienced cold water before, don’t ever start in the sea, a river or a lake,” warns Tom.
“Take baby steps. Put one hand in cold water, then two. Gently work up to your wrists and elbows over a matter of days, not instantly.
“Use a bucket or washing-up bowl and start putting your feet in too.
"Run a cold bath, if you have a tub, and gently lower yourself in, bit by bit.
“If you have safe open water nearby, you can try it. But NEVER go in alone.
"Find a group on social media and at first, spend a minute in. Then gradually build up.
“It’s vital you warm back up slowly too. A hot shower could leave you at risk of serious issues (from chilblains to shock and rewarming collapse, when your blood pressure drops) as your body warms up too fast. Take your time.
“It should take several hours to feel properly warm again.”
. . . AND BREATHE
“WHEN it comes to the breathing, lie down and close your eyes,” Tom says.
“Take 40 deep breaths in and out, expanding your tummy before filling your lungs. Do that four times in a row.
“After each set of 40, exhale your last breath completely, then hold your breath for as long as you can. You’ll find you can hold your breath for longer each time.
“Do what feels comfortable.”
TOM says the benefits of Wim’s cold water exposure and breathing include:
BOOSTED IMMUNE SYSTEM
Czech scientists used cold water on study participants three times a week, monitoring their physiology after every session.
They found increased white blood cell counts, signifying a boost in the immune system.
REDUCED MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
Cold-water exposure releases endorphins, as well as the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine.
Endorphins are natural painkillers, while low levels of serotonin and dopamine are linked to depression.
Dopamine levels have been found to increase by 250 per cent during cold-water immersion.
Cold and heat exposure make the heart beat faster. The cold makes your vascular system constrict, sending blood to your core to keep warm.
When you warm up again and your blood vessels relax, you have effectively given your circulation a good flushing-out.
IMPROVED METABOLISM AND CALORIE BURNING
When exposed to cold water, the body uses energy to keep warm. Cold water makes your body work twice as hard to stay warm, burning extra calories.
Repeated exposure has been found to boost the metabolism, in turn helping the body burn calories more effectively.
GETS YOUR LYMPHATIC SYSTEM GOING
The lymphatic system helps the body cleanse itself but unlike blood, which is pumped by the heart, it relies on muscle contractions to function.
Cold water causes lymphatic draining, which can help prevent the build up of toxins.