Wim Hof can raise or lower his body temperature at will, overriding his autonomic nervous system. He is able to sit in a box of ice for almost two hours. He can swim 50 meters under arctic ice. Wearing only shorts and going barefoot, he has run a marathon in Lapland and climbed through snow to the summits of Mt. Everest and Mt. Kilamanjaro. In carrying out these feats, he is able to avoid hypothermia, the normal human response to extreme cold. Monitoring by physiologists show that he keeps his core temperature constant and normal during these challenges.
Yet Wim is not a genetic freak or Tibetan monk. He is a 52 year old Dutch man without much body fat. He believes that anyone can adapt to the cold and learn to control body temperature.
In this article, I will try to answer two questions:
- How does he do it, and can anyone really do the same?
- Is this basically an impressive stunt, or is there any benefit to learning Wim’s methods?
I will end by reporting on a preliminary experiment of my own with cold exposure.
Do adaptations to stress exposure show up as changes in blood chemistry or heart function? The answer appears to be “yes”. In his Newsweek article “Lessons in Survival”, Ben Sherwood reported on a very interesting study of elite Army Airborne and Special Forces soldiers that probed the differences between those who could and could not endure an extremely stressful 19-day mock-prisoner-of-war camp. The Resistance Training Laboratory, located at a secret location near Fort Bragg, North Carolina, subjected participants to sleep deprivation, blaring music, semi-starvation and — worst of all — intense interrogation techniques used by enemy forces during WWII, Korea and Vietnam. “The goal is to simulate hell on earth like the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam or Al Qaeda’s torture chambers,” according to Sherwood. In another test of mettle, at the Navy Diving and Salvage Training Center in Florida, trainee divers were put through stressful routines such as being thrown into a pool with their hands and feet bound, and underwater ocean swimming from 3 miles offshore to a target on shore.