People are always looking for ways to reduce the draining effect our busy lifestyles have on our bodies. We're always on the go, always staring at screens, grabbing unhealthy convenience food whenever we can – it would be nice if there was something that would calm down our stress response, make us happier and more resistant to weight gain. If it was free, that would also be great.
Enter the breathing exercises developed by "the Iceman" Wim Hof. You've probably heard about this Dutch athlete and guru, who claims to be able to control his immune system and body temperature using only his breath, performing stunts like running up Mount Everest base camp in just shorts.
Well, that and decent all-terrain footwear – check our list of the best trail running shoes if you're going to follow in his footsteps and tackle the great outdoors.
His blend of yoga, mindfulness, breathing exercises and cold therapy are reported to be nothing short of revolutionary. But unlike old-fashioned, secretive teachers who claim to be able to do this sort of thing, Hof has put himself to the test, offering himself up to scientists and skeptics quite freely in an effort to spread and substantiate his teachings.
Try Wim Hof's ten-minute breathing exercise below:
The really weird thing is, it seems to work. A team of researchers from the Netherlands and Yale University School of Medicine (opens in new tab) in the US sought to examine his claims to be able to teach people to voluntarily activate their nervous systems and immune responses, helping himself to fight the signs of ageing and disease. The researchers studied a group of people he had trained, and found they could do so, lowering their cortisol levels and increasing production of anti-inflammatories within the body.
Cortisol is known as the "stress hormone" and is responsible for our fight-or-flight response when we're panicked or anxious. It also activates our body's "survival mode", encouraging us to store excess energy as fat. In caveman times, this was a useful response, as it would tuck away reserves to burn through while running away from a hungry sabre-toothed cat. However, today, all it does is add to our unhealthy lifestyle. Decreasing our levels of cortisol makes us more resistant to gaining weight and calmer.
Cortisol has been found to be decreased from vigorous exercise, yoga, and meditation all in separate studies, so this shouldn't be news to anyone who's bought one of the best yoga mats. But the study also found Wim Hof's students could elicit production of natural anti-inflammatory chemicals within the body. Chronic inflammation is closely tied to age-related diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, cancer and diabetes, so this could be instrumental in safeguarding our bodies.
"There's a lot you can do with breath," said Oliver James, psychotherapist and author of the breathing technique guidebook 21 Breaths (opens in new tab). "Every system from cardiovascular to digestion, it benefits from the way we breathe. Unfortunately, most of us don't know how to breathe very well.
"There isn't a medication in the world that impacts our body like breath does."
Hof's ten-minute exercise can be found above. You can also check out some of our follow-along yoga videos, or learn how to meditate with our expert-approved guide.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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