Ice cold is best: the Cool Challenge

30 April 2020


Jumping into a lake in the heart of winter, immersing yourself in an ice bath or taking a cold-water shower. According to proponents of the Wim Hof Method, this is the best way to live a healthier, more energetic and less stressful life. To test this premise, BeFrank came up with a veritable Cool Challenge. Was it at all doable? And what were the benefits for participants?

Building up, over the course of one month, to a minute-long, cold-water rinse at the end of your shower. On paper, BeFrank’s Cool Challenge sounds like a piece of cake. But those who have ever stood underneath the spray of a cold shower – either by accident or on purpose – know better. Taking a cold shower is simply not in our DNA. It feels unnatural, which is why your brain sends you a sole signal: escape! In other words, turn on the warm water faucet. Immediately. The Cool Challenge asked participants to finish their shower with a cold-water rinse for a month. They started with 15 seconds per day in week 1, then graduated to 30 seconds in week 2, 45 seconds in week 3, ultimately building up to 60 seconds in week 4: the grand finale reserved for the truly persistent.

A boost to the immune system
The principle of the Cool Challenge is based on a method developed by Wim Hof. The Iceman, as he is known, achieved fame due to his ability to perform all sorts of strange antics in extremely cold temperatures. For example, sitting in an ice bath for two hours or swimming underneath several metres of thick polar ice. Hof claimed that he was able to do this thanks to a combination of cold training, breathing exercises and meditation – now known as the Wim Hof Method. Initially many people were sceptical about Wim Hof’s techniques. But the tide turned when Radboud University conducted scientific research on the method. They discovered that thanks to his self-conceived method, Wim Hof was able to influence his immune system, something that had never been seen before. And even more interestingly, the group of people trained by Hof could also regulate their immune responses to a certain degree.

A fresh start
From that moment on the Wim Hof Method became increasingly popular. Proponents of the method claim that not only does it give your immune system a boost, it gives you more energy as well. These effects have not been proven, but it is also said that the method helps you lose weight more easily, increases your endurance, makes you less susceptible to stress, helps you sleep better, causes less muscle soreness after exercise and decreases your chances of suffering from depression. Reading about this host of benefits you’d think that these would easily outweigh a mere minute of suffering each day. This was why Jelle took the initiative and challenged his co-workers. ‘The idea is that you get a fresher start to the day. That’s the main reason for me. In any case, I have noticed that my colds have become shorter in duration since I’ve been doing this.’ But do the participants in the Cool Challenge think similarly – after a month of suffering? It seems like the answer is yes, because virtually all of the reactions have been positive. ‘That kind of shower in the morning is so refreshing,’ says Jean-Pierre. ‘Thanks to this refreshing element I am more alert and energetic when I start my day. I plan on continuing this ritual after the month is over.’

Start with your legs
Renate is another convert to the Wim Hof Method. After completing the Cool Challenge she continued finishing her showers with cold water and has since made it a habit. ‘I’ve noticed that I am not so sleepy in the mornings and don’t drag my feet. I used to still be a bit groggy in the car driving to the bus stop. A good tip for cold showers is to start with your legs and end with your head.’ Harmke has not been ill since she did the Cool Challenge, even though several of her co-workers were sidelined by the flu. Of course, she can’t be sure that this was due to her cold showers, but she recommends the practice nevertheless. The same applies to Yvonne, who noticed that she experienced less muscle soreness after a tough workout thanks to her cold showers. Once she also got rid of a nasty headache by holding her forehead under a stream of cold water.

A totally new experience
The Cool Challenge was a breeze for Margreet, since she’s been taking cold showers for years. She participated in the Challenge by increasing her usual one minute of cold water to two minutes, a habit she will be continuing. ‘I do it because it really boosts my circulation and is wonderfully refreshing,’ she says. Cas tells of a similar experience, although cold showers were an entirely new undertaking for him. ‘I had fun doing it, although it was hard in the beginning.’
Every day it became a little easier for Cas – certainly when he started to notice the benefits of the cold showers. ‘I have a difficult time getting out of bed sometimes, but thanks to the cold stream of water I got out of the shower refreshed and with a lot more energy. The best part was noticing after a few days that it became increasingly easier to stay under the cold water longer. Although the Challenge has ended, I plan on continuing my cold showers!’

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