Is the Wim Hof method really as effective at improving health and longevity as people, including Wim Hof himself, make it out to be?
What did they test? The researchers looked at the effectiveness of the Wim Hof method on a plethora of variables pertaining to psychological and physiological well-being.
What did they test? The Wim Hof method did not result in meaningful improvements in physiological or psychological parameters compared to a control group.
What did they find? The Wim Hof method did not result in meaningful improvements in physiological or psychological parameters compared to a control groupIf you want to improve your physiological and psychological health, the basics are still king, while the Wim Hof method requires more research before we declare it useful or useless. That said, given the lack of adverse effects noted in the study, if the Wim Hof method positively affects your well-being, then feel free to experiment with it.
What’s the Problem?
Cardiovascular diseases pose a significant global health threat, causing millions of deaths each year and despite existing prevention and treatment methods, cardiovascular diseases remain a leading cause of health problems. Alongside conventional approaches, unconventional methods such as mindfulness, cold water immersion, and breathing exercises are gaining attention for their potential to improve cardiovascular health. A famous method called the Wim Hof method has taken the world by storm in the last few years, popularizing the combination of the above “unconventional” methods.
The Wim Hof Method, developed by Dutch athlete Wim Hof, combines breathing exercises, cold exposure, and meditation techniques. Wim Hof, also known as "The Iceman," gained international attention for his ability to withstand extremely cold temperatures and his numerous world records related to cold exposure. The method is intended to improve physical and mental well-being and is actively promoted as a surefire way to improve health and wellbeing. The Wim Hof method has gained so much traction that Wim Hof’s YouTube channel has over 2.5 million subscribers and a total of 200+ million views, including 75 million views on a single video where Wim Hof himself explains how to breathe based on the Wim Hof method.
The Wim Hof method combines cold exposure, breathing exercises, and mindfulness meditation. Despite its popularity and claims of various health benefits, scientific evidence supporting these claims is limited with some early studies suggesting potential benefits in areas like inflammation and mood regulation 1. However, the effects on cardiovascular risk factors, beyond blood pressure, remain unexplored.
This study looked to explore exactly that + a bit more. I present to you “The effectiveness of the Wim Hof method on cardiac autonomic function, blood pressure, arterial compliance, and different psychological parameters” by Ketelhut et al.
Purpose & Hypothesis
This study aims to investigate the effects of the Wim Hof method on blood pressure, pulse wave velocity, and heart rate variability. Additionally, the study explores how the Wim Hof method influences the cardiovascular stress response, a crucial factor in predicting future cardiovascular health. The study builds on the potential positive effects of the Wim Hof method's three components: cold exposure, breathing exercises, and meditation.
FYI, pulse wave velocity is a measure that tells us how fast a pulse wave travels through the arteries in the body. Simply put, if one’s arteries are more rigid or stiff, the pulse wave travels faster. On the other hand, if the arteries are more flexible and elastic, the pulse wave travels at a slower pace. Doctors can use pulse wave velocity to assess the condition of someone's cardiovascular system with generally, more flexible arteries being considered healthier, while increased stiffness may be associated with conditions like high blood pressure or other cardiovascular issues. In other words, measuring pulse wave velocity can give insights into our blood vessels and cardiovascular system health.
Heart rate variability measures the variation in time between successive heartbeats. Put simply (vol. 2), it's the changes in the time intervals between your heartbeats. When we talk about a "regular" or "steady" heartbeat, it might seem like the time between each beat is the same. However, in reality, there are slight variations in these time intervals. HRV looks at these tiny variations and analyzes the pattern with a higher HRV generally associated with better health and fitness as it suggests that your body can adapt to different situations and stresses. On the other hand, a lower HRV may indicate that your body is less able to adapt to stress or may be under more strain.