Life

Exposure to cold or heat in short bursts can provide stress relieving benefits, research suggests

Business Insider US
Exposure to extreme cold could help us cope better with stress. Getty Images
Exposure to extreme cold could help us cope better with stress. Getty Images
  • Microdosing the body with physical stress could have mental and physical benefits, research suggests.
  • Hormetic stressors, like hot saunas and ice baths, can help aid recovery, according to lead researcher Elissa Epel.
  • The study was inspired by the Wim Hof Method, which involves exposure to extreme cold, yoga, and breathwork.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Quick bursts of exposure to cold, heat, or intense physical activity could actually help your body cope with stress better, according to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.

Hormetic stressors, like a cold shower or ice bath, sitting in a sauna, or doing exercise such as HIIT (high intensity interval training) can briefly spike biological stress, followed by recovery and ease, Elissa Epel, lead study researcher and professor in the University of California's psychiatry department, told the Wall Street Journal

There are other types of hormetic stress, such as intermittent fasting and hypoxic breathing (temporarily depriving the body of oxygen), which are more controversial and discouraged by many health professionals. 

The researchers are also looking into gentle meditation, exercise, and hypoxic breathing to compare their stress relieving benefits.

The study was inspired by the Wim Hof Method, which involves breathwork and cold therapy

Epel said her research stemmed from her own experience with the Wim Hof Method, which involves exposure to extreme cold, yoga, and breathwork.

Wim Hof, also commonly known as the Iceman for his advocacy of ice water dips, is the man behind the method, and his fans include Gwyneth Paltrow, Oprah Winfrey, and Justin Bieber.

Epel found that the method significantly reduced her own stress threshold, so she recruited Hof to teach his technique in her study.

There is research to suggest that Hof's techniques can help people regulate their emotions, decrease stress, potentially help with depression, and even help reduce harmful inflammation in the body, Insider's Hilary Brueck reported.

Cold exposure, such as cryotherapy, has also been shown to activate the body's nervous system and trigger a release of noradrenaline in the brain, which helps the body regulate stress. 

For people who want to start increasing their hormetic stress, Hof recommends taking a daily cold shower, starting with 15 seconds and working up to as much as you can stand.

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