Cold Exposure When Sick

Cold Exposure When Sick

Ice bath during a snow flurry.

I have done cold exposure for 4 years now. Not every day of course but very frequently. My favorite method of cold exposure is going out to Deep Creek during the winter, especially when there is snow on the ground, and swimming briefly in the icy creek. There is something unmatched about the experience of being in water that is so extremely cold that it will in fact kill you if you linger too long, combined with being outside in God’s creation it is one of the best experiences one can have. Most of the time however my cold exposure of choice is a freezer that has been modified to hold water at a consistent temperature from 33 to 36 degrees. We have one of these freezers (pictured above) at home and another one at work. So most days when I want to get some cold in I have easy access. Of course, this time of year a cold shower is also very effective as the water coming out of the tap is a balmy 49 degrees.

One thing I have often wondered in the past 4 years is whether or not I should do cold exposure when I was sick, or feeling like I was getting sick. To be honest I never did any research on this, which if you know me is not normal, I research most things, a lot. The reason I didn’t ever look into it is that I knew what people would say, “don’t do it”, and I didn’t want to know. So for the last 4 years, I have continued to do my ice baths even when I felt like I was coming down with something. When I was actually sick, which thankfully has been rare, I did stop the cold exposure. Most of the time it is still a mental fight to get into the ice and when I’m sick I turn into a pretty soft guy, ask my wife, she’ll verify.

This last week I got sick, most likely with covid but I didn’t get tested so who knows. I say most likely because most of the guys I work with have had it recently. We are not allowed to come to work when sick so I have been home with the family for the last ten days. Now at the start of this month, I made a pact with myself, I was going to do Wim Hof breathing and an ice bath every day, for the next 30 days. I had spent the month of December enjoying the season and basically being soft, and I wanted something to test my resolve and force me to get comfortable with being uncomfortable again. So when I got sick I just continued my program every day, three rounds of Wim Hof breathing and an ice bath. The ice bath started at 2 minutes on day one and I was adding 5 seconds each day. About the third day of being sick and getting in the ice, I actually did some research. I looked up, “should you do cold exposure when sick”, the answers I found were all resounding, “NO”. Everywhere I looked though I was finding just other regular people. Granted they were all others that did a lot of cold exposure as part of their lives but still, not doctors or scientists. Although I’m sure they would agree with the consensus here and also say no. From what I could find Wim Hof himself was silent on this issue. I think it’s just assumed, you don’t go out in the rain when you are sick, cold weather will give you a cold, and so on. One of the things I saw a lot of was the idea that when you are sick your body is fighting the illness, and you shouldn’t stress it out with cold exposure and thus take away energy from the fight with the illness. This honestly made sense to me, but, I had made a commitment. So I continued to get in the ice every day.

Here is what I found. I felt amazing after the ice. A couple of the days I felt as if I could go running into the forest and smash right through a tree, cold and brittle as my bones felt, I felt exhilarated and euphoric. I did not test out the smashing of any trees. I did continue to get in the ice, 3 minutes, shivering, often in the dark. And then into a hot shower. I don’t often do a hot shower after the ice but while I was sick I did feel this was a good idea so as to not make my body work too hard to warm back up. I am not going to recommend this to you. But I will explain why I think it made me feel so much better and why I’ll continue to do cold exposure even when I get sick. I know that the benefits of all the hormones, endorphins and more that are released when you get into freezing water are positive. Spurring your body and mind into the fight or flight response and forcing it to fight can’t help but leave you feeling alive, invigorated, renewed. I think that the positive effects of the cold far outweighed any negatives that exist. In addition to that it’s a good reminder to the brain and body that regardless of current health or circumstances, I might call on them to fight, to suffer, to endure. That they should be ready at all times, not just when they are functioning well. On that note, I’m going to get in the ice now.

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