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The Wim Hof method may help fight stress and inflammation

Have you ever felt that twinge in your knee after a workout, or the lingering ache of an old injury? That’s inflammation at work — your body’s natural response to stress or damage. While short-term inflammation is your ally, when it goes into overdrive, it can contribute to everything from heart disease to arthritis.

Now, what if a method combining breathing techniques and icy plunges could potentially help tame unwanted inflammation? That’s the tantalizing possibility suggested by new research on the Wim Hof Method.

What’s Wim Hof method?

Wim Hof, nicknamed “The Iceman,” is known for his extraordinary feats of cold endurance, like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts. His method has gained popularity worldwide and focuses on three main pillars:

Wim Hof breathing

At the very core of the Wim Hof Method lies its distinctive breathing technique. Here’s how it works:

  • Inhale deeply: Fill your lungs completely, expanding your belly and then your chest.
  • Exhale and repeat: Release the breath naturally without forcing it out, then immediately begin the next deep inhale. Repeat this cycle 30-40 times.
  • Hold your breath: After the final exhale, hold your breath with empty lungs for as long as comfortable.
  • Recovery breath: Inhale deeply once more and hold for about 15 seconds before relaxing fully.

Cold therapy

Cold exposure, whether through ice baths, cold showers, or simply spending time in chilly environments, is a defining (and for many, the most intimidating) aspect of the method. The core idea is to deliberately challenge your body’s comfort zone, forcing it to adapt to the stress of cold.


Commitment acts as the backbone of the method, binding together the powerful techniques of breathing and cold exposure. It demands discipline as you consistently push beyond your comfort zone, exploring the limits of your physical and mental endurance.

The Wim Hof Method utilizes the concept of hormesis, where brief exposures to controlled stressors, like those in the breathing techniques and cold therapy, may enhance the body’s ability to adapt and respond effectively to more significant stressors (like inflammation).

Wim Hof method effectiveness

A team of researchers from University of Warwick analyzed eight trials investigating the Wim Hof Method. Here’s what they found:

Epinephrine boost

Multiple studies showed that people practicing the method experienced a spike in epinephrine. This hormone is known for its role in the body’s fight-or-flight response, preparing the body to face stressful situations by increasing heart rate, blood flow, and energy supplies. Additionally, epinephrine has short-term anti-inflammatory effects.

Cytokine changes

Two studies found lower levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals called cytokines (like TNF-ɑ, IL-6, and IL-8) in Wim Hof practitioners, plus an increase in an anti-inflammatory cytokine (IL-10). This change in balance hints at a potential dampening of the inflammatory response.

“These findings offer a compelling possibility that the Wim Hof method may influence the body’s inflammatory response,” says Omar Almahayni, a researcher from the University of Warwick and co-author of the study.

Exercise performance

Interestingly, the impact of the Wim Hof Method on exercise performance was less clear-cut. Some studies saw improvements in respiratory parameters, while others didn’t find significant differences. This is an area where more research is needed.

Study limitations

While exciting, it’s crucial to remember that these studies had small sample sizes and some methodological issues. Scientists stress that we can’t definitively recommend the Wim Hof Method based on this research alone.

“Our systematic review underscores the need for further investigation into the Wim Hof method’s effects on stress, inflammation, and overall health, offering valuable insights into its potential as a complementary approach to wellness,” add Almahayni and co-author Lucy Hammond.

Should you try the Wim Hof method?

The Wim Hof Method might eventually prove to be a useful tool alongside traditional approaches to help manage inflammation, but the jury is still out. If you’re intrigued, it’s essential to talk to your doctor first – especially if you have underlying health conditions.

For now, the best ways to keep inflammation in check remain exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and managing stress.

The systematic review is published in the journal PLOS ONE.


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