Marsh & McLennan Advantage Insights logo
Conversations and insights from the edge of global business
Menu Search

BRINK News is transitioning to This Moment platform on as of March 31, 2023. Read the update here.

In Practice

How Breath and the Cold Can Support Your Immune System

Wim Hof is a Dutch extreme athlete, who is well-known for extraordinary feats of endurance, such as running to an altitude of 23,000 feet on Mount Everest in shorts and setting the world record for swimming the furthest under ice — which has earned him the nickname The Iceman. His feats have been viewed over 7 million times on YouTube, and he has over 1 million followers on Instagram.

He has developed a simple approach to reducing stress in everyday life, known as the Wim Hof Method. This method has become increasingly popular as a way of staying healthy during this time of COVID-19. BRINK spoke to Wim Hof and asked him to explain what is meant by the Wim Hof Method.

HOF: The Wim Hof Method consists of three pillars: breathing techniques, cold exposure and mindsets. Breathing techniques have been around for thousands of years, and of course, we all breathe every day, every minute. So what we are doing is manipulating our biochemistry through deep breathing. 

Cold Showers Can Reduce Stress

Then the cold exposure is a way to train your cardiovascular system, which has been shown to be very effective in university studies. The body contains approximately 70,000 miles of blood vessels. A simple procedure like a cold shower every day will stimulate the tiny muscles within your arteries and veins; and with a regular habit of cold showers, you’ll find that the heart rate can go down by 20 to 30 beats a minute. That helps to reduce stress. And it helps the blood transportation of the vascular system get toned. Getting oxygen, nutrients and vitamins to the cells gives you more energy. In short, it produces less stress and more energy. 

The third aspect is mindset. The goal is to use the power of our intention to effectively combat physical stress. People in business live in a competitive environment, which creates stress. This simple method shows you how to battle stress and to use it for your benefit. That is, in short, the Wim Hof Method.

Boosting Your Immune System

BRINK: Have you noticed this approach has any particular benefits as a way of coping with COVID-19?

HOF: Yes, a lot. The dangerous factor of COVID-19 is inflammation. And we proved in medical research, published in 2014, that these techniques can help to bring down inflammatory markers. In the study, they injected us with E. coli bacteria as an experiment, which normally makes people ill. But of the people who did these breathing exercises, almost no one became sick, and they were able to bring down the inflammation caused by the E. coli bacteria. As well as encouraging the use of face masks and social distancing at the moment, doctors should also talk about ways of boosting your immune system.

Improving Your Mood

And then finally, through doing these breathing techniques, you can learn to regulate your mood. Regulating our emotions and our moods improves our work, our concentration, and our performance. It seems that the breathing exercises effectively tap into the stress mechanisms of the brain, which helps to give us a sense of control over our mood. In the time of COVID-19, anxiety and inflammation are problems, and this method can be effective at combating both of them.

People participating in one of the Wim Hof Winter Expeditions in Poland in 2017; Source: InnerFire

BRINK: Can you describe the cold treatment in more detail?

HOF: In winter time, when people get flus and colds and they have to stay home, you can stay fit through cold shower practice. You become stronger. You get more energy. But, to be clear, we are talking about gradual cold exposure, not going immediately into freezing water.

We begin with 30 seconds of a cold shower, after you’ve had your warm one. This is very accessible, and we have a free app on our website with diagrams and timers to guide the person through it.

Improving Performance

BRINK: If I’m an employer, it may not be very practical to recommend cold showers to all employees, so how do I introduce your methods into the workplace?

HOF: Well, you do need to do this in the morning before you go to work. When you take a shower, simply spend 30 seconds under cold water at the end. And the breathing techniques you should also do early in the morning on an empty stomach before you have breakfast, so as to alter your pH level in the blood, which then improves performance.

So it is a matter of personal choice. In companies, I hear a lot of CEOs say, “By 2 p.m., my mind is really tired and my concentration has gone, etc.” When that happens, you can do 20 minutes of breathing exercises, and you are crisp again.

We have worked with a lot of sports people to improve their performance. The breathing exercises make the pH level more alkaline, and if we are able to alter the pH levels within the muscle tissue, then performance is prolonged. 

And that applies to executives, too — those people at the top of their performance, they find that they are able to be more productive by learning to alter their pH levels within their muscle tissue. It applies just as much to the mind, for the mind is seated in the brain. When you increase alkaline levels within the body, it goes through the blood-brain barrier into the brain and it helps you to feel more refreshed. Both physically and mentally, it can help you to improve your performance. 

Wim Hof

Extreme Athlete @Iceman_Hof

Wim Hof is an extreme athlete and the author of several books, including The Wim Hof Method: Activate Your Potential, Transcend Your Limits.

Get ahead in a rapidly changing world. Sign up for our daily newsletter. Subscribe