Have you ever tried to take a cold shower?? If so, you’ll know that it’s hard because it’s simply uncomfortable. So what do you do? You switch to hot water of course. But did you know that many people have found success by using (gradual) cold exposure and breathing techniques to improve overall health and well-being? There are a few things you should know before start exposing yourself to cold. This post will tell you what you need to know to make sure you have a proven roadmap that will let you successfully undertake the cold as your new ally in the fight for health, productivity, and overall awesomeness! :)
 What you will learn in this article:
  • Why the modern human is weak
  • The pleasure principle
  • Downsides to the comfortable lives modern humans have created
  • One solution to fight homeostasis: Environmental stress, mainly cold exposure
  • 12 Benefits of cold exposure
  • The Modern Pioneer of cold exposure
  • The Vagus Nerve
  • How to start Cold Exposure

Why is the modern human weak?

Today we spend most our life in homeostasis (in perfect balance), we are in the comfort of our homes/offices/cars where the temperature and lighting and other modern inventions are designed to make us feel comfortable. And what has happened? We sit still, we get fat, we break down. What does this tell us? We are soo smart that we have created the perfect environment, with perfect temperature and we are never physically challenged at all. Humans are pre-programmed to longe for comfort. This is a mirage. If we just have a look at a person who always stays in their “comfort zone”, never move, relax and eat whatever their minds crave. They are in chains of comfort, and they have become weak in all aspects. It’s time we realize that we live in a cocoon of comfort and technology that does not challenge us.

The pleasure principle

In Freudian psychoanalysis, the pleasure principle (Lustprinzip in German) is the instinctual seeking of pleasure and avoiding pain in order to satisfy biological and psychological needs. This instinct is the driving force and the motivation for of the survival of all creatures to overcome the challenges in the environment around it. The two drivers for the pleasure principle are the immediate rewards of feeling:
  • Comfort and
  • Pleasure

Our species has been here about 200k years, and we are the results of our ancestors constant, neverending biological adaptations, through a process called natural selection. Which means that our species adapts (extremely well) to the challenges of our environment and pass on favorable traits to our offspring (our children). These adaptations have made our lives incrementally easier. This process is known as evolution. 

Comfort is taken for granted

Until very recently there has never been a time in our history where we have been able to take comfort for granted. 

There has always been a balance between the effort and the downtime (RnR – Rest and Relaxation as the army call it) we earned. For a majority of our time on earth, our ancestors managed to adapt to the environment and thrive without the use of modern technology. Instead of relaxing all the time, they were “strong” and they had to challenge themselves on a daily basis just to survive. We are the first of our kind that can completely ignore our natural obstacles for survival. The reason why we “automatically” seek comfort is that it was never the normal state for our ancestors. 

The Dark side of comfort

Very few humans are routinely chased by bears. Most of us have no “real” challenges at all. We are overstuffed, overheated and understimulated. This “victory” over the natural world hasn’t made our bodies stronger. In fact: effortless comfort has made us fat, lazy and resulted in an overall decrease in health. To verify this claim look in any health journal or just walk into any major city and study the majority of people.

Pain is now a commodity

But still there are some humans that try break out of homeostasis. Our Friend and podcast Guest (TFP 052)  Ludvig Sunström wrote a whole book on the topic called just: Breaking Out of Homeostasis. You can listen here and buy his book here.

Actually, today, we can notice a change in society in the last years. The change is that people actually volunteer to experience pain. A lot of people pay huge amounts of money to do “hard” races, like OCR (Obstacle Course Race), Marathons and so on. And more and more people are joining in more extreme forms of training regimens like CrossFit, Swimming, SwimRun, Running and so on. They have realized that the true way to achieve real comfort and pleasure, is overcoming challenges. Since we are almost always comfortable, we have made our bodies weaker. 

Solution: Environmental stress: Cold Exposure

We know that muscles, organs, nerves, fat tissue, and hormones all respond and change due to input from the outside world. We also know that some external signals sometimes skip the conscious parts of our brains and create physical reactions: “fight-or-flight” responses. For example, ice-cold water triggers a number of processes to warm the body, but it also adjusts the insulin production, tightens the circulatory system, and increase mental awareness. To verify this you actually have to get uncomfortable and experience the cold if you want to initiate those responses  One of the best and easiest ways to unlock hidden potential is to voluntarily expose ourselves to cold. 
The solution is simple and elegant: to reintroduce environmental stressors to our daily routine will bring back our evolutionary vigor.

 12 benefits of Cold Exposure

  1. Cold Exposure Aids Fat Loss
  2. Cold Exposure Fights Inflammation
  3. Cold Exposure Increases Lifespan
  4. Cold Exposure Strengthens the Nervous System
  5. Cold Exposure May Heal Injuries and Speed Recovery
  6. Cold Exposure Regulates Blood Sugar Levels
  7. Cold Exposure Improves Sleep Quality
  8. Cold Exposure Strengthens the Immune System
  9. Cold Exposure Enhances Detox Pathways
  10. Cold Reduces Pain
  11. Cold Exposure May Increase Bone Health
  12. Cold Exposure Increases Will Power

Cold exposure. This sure sounds uncomfortable! Are there really any science behind this? Yes! Actually, there is soo much science that we will just cover some of the benefits for the moment. You can read more about it all over internet. I personally like this article Self Hacked, and I you can visit them if you want to dig deeper! :)

Cold Exposure Aids Fat Loss 

The history and science of “BAT”

  • In 2002, Theodore Steegman, a professor in New Orleans, made a study that proposed new way to think about how  Neanderthal survived the cold, what strategies did they use?
  • He suggested that Neanderthals used Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT), aka brownfat, to keep themselves warm. This suggestion could be considered the starting point of the modern”cold revolution”. 

What is BAT? 


Location and control of brown adipose tissue

  • There are two classic adipose tissues in mammals, white adipose tissue (WAT) and brown adipose tissue (BAT)
  • White fat stores caloric energy from food difficult to burn since body is built to store fat.
  • BAT looks like ordinary fat (white fat), where most mammals store excess energy (calories)
  • BAT has an active role to burn white fat to generate body heat. 
  • BAT is the ONLY tissue where the main purpose is to make heat (this is called: thermogenesis
  • When BAT starts to work the Mitochondria sucks white fat through the bloodstream and metabolize it directly to generate heat.
  • Most people avoid cold environment and therefore never develop brown fat.

Before the study, BAT was only considered important in newborn babies.

  • Once humans are born, our first challenge is to fight for a stable body temperature (usually around 37,5 C).
  • But babies have a relatively high body mass (Surface to area ratio) and babies lose heat much faster than adults.
  • The simplest way for an adult human to increase their core temperature (rapidly) is by shivering to create heat
  • Newborn babies don’t have much musculature so they canshiver themselves warm.
  • Instead, they are born with a layer of chubby rolls of insulating white fat.
  • When their core temperature begins to drop, BAT turns onsucks white fat from their system, and release heat energy. 
  • By the time theyre adults, most of us have little BAT left
  • Steegman noticed that BAT levels vary (with seasons) and that if we regularly exposed ourselves to the environment we can build up deposits of BAT in cold weather

Summary cold exposure and fat loss 

Brown fat is a type of fat tissue that is able to release energy directly (unlike white fat, which stores energy). Resulting in the production of heat.  During this process when brown fat starts to work the Mitochondria suck white fat through the bloodstream and metabolize it directly to generate heat. This means that when you are cold (and have BAT) you metabolize the White FAT (WAT).  The results are that brown fat contributes to heat production. BAT can be retained with low-temperature training, regardless of age.

  • Some claim that cold exposure could be an acceptable and economical way to solve the obesity epidemic. (R).
  • Lack of BAT has been linked with obesity (R).
  • Exposure to cold temperatures leads to increased levels of adiponectin, a protein that increases fat burning. Low levels are associated with obesity (RR2R3).

Cold Exposure Fights Inflammation

  • Exposure to cold temperatures raises adiponectin, (as mentioned above) which helps prevent inflammation (R).
  • Exercising in the cold reduces the inflammatory response seen in regular temperature environments. Beware! Too much exercise in the cold can be bad, and increase the inflammatory response (R).

Cold Exposure Increases Lifespan

  • Science is not sure as to why cold increases lifespan. It might be due to hormesis (the adaptation that makes animals stronger and more efficient if exposed to environmental stressors) (R).
  • Or that it is because that lower temperature slows down the rate of metabolic processes (called the “rate of living” hypothesis), with fewer by-products (such as ROS – Reactive Oxygen Species) (R).

Cold Exposure Strengthens the Nervous System

  • Cold exposure is a mild workout for the nervous system, which in turn adapts and strengthens.
  • The increase in fat burning during cold exposure is influenced by the sympathetic (Fight-or-flight) nervous system (RR2).

Cold Exposure Regulates Blood Sugar Levels

  • Exposure to cold temperatures can increase levels of adiponectin.
  • Adiponectin levels can increase by 70% after cold exposure.
  • Adiponectin is a protein involved in blood glucose regulation, with low levels found in insulin resistance (RR2).
  • Cold exposure can enhance the body’s response to insulin, allowing glucose to be cleared from the blood quicker (R).
  • A cold bath is one of the quickest ways to lower blood glucose and increase insulin sensitivity.

Cold Exposure Improves Sleep Quality

  • Daily temperature changes are important in regulating sleep cycles (R).
  • Cooling core body temperatures,  you can double the restorative, slow wave sleep (R).

Editors note: Huge thanks to:  Self Hacked who provided most of the science references above! Check them out if you want to dig deeper! :)

Modern cold pioneers

Wim Hof

The person who pioneered the recent explosion in cold exposure (and breathing) is without a doubt Wim Hof. The first time I personally heard about “the Iceman” was in the beginning of 2014 on the Ben Greenfield podcast. Wim was not a “household” name at the time, and the podcast fascinated me and I started to investigate a bit more about cold exposure, and how our bodies can generate heat from cold (called Cold Thermogenesis or CT for short). One year later (in 2015) he re-appeared on the Ben Greenfield podcast and even further caught my interest and took me down the path of gradually increasing my own exposure to cold. But who is this “Wim” guy anyway?
The cliff notes of Wim:
  • Wim Hof first caught the attention of scientists when he proved he was able to stay submerged in ice for 1 hour and 53 minutes without his core body temperature changing.
  • In 2007, Wim attempted, but failed (due to a foot injury), to climb Mount Everest wearing nothing but shorts.
  • In 2009, he reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro only wearing shorts within two days.
  • In 2009, Wim also completed a full marathon above the polar circle in Finland, in temperatures close to −20 °C (−4 °F) – once again only wearing shorts. He finished the marathon in 5 hours and 25 minutes.
  • In  2011, Wim ran a full marathon in the Namib Desert without water. 
  • For many the most fascinating thing with Wim is when he scientifically proved (what previously was considered impossible) that he can control his Autonomous nervous system with breathing. The study was made in 2007 at Feinstein Institute in New York and then In 2011, the University Medical Center St. Radboud in Nijmegen really got the ball rolling. published in PNAS and Nature.
  • Wim has created Wim Hof Method (WHM) which is a combination of Cold Therapy, Breathing and commitment.
  • Videos:
  • Wims Website
  • WIMs app: Innerfire

After hearing about Wim Hof over and over, and also from a guest on my own podcasts (Valerie Hunt, Carl Paoli and more). I decided to take Wim Hofs Online course. It  is a 10 week online course, highly recommended.

KAA -Konsten Att Andas

The benefits and realizations for me where great. I started to understand that breathing and cold exposure are both skills that can be learned and practiced. I thought this was so fascinating and groundbreaking that I joined forces with Anton and we started KAA (Konsten Att Andas)  in 2017. KAA is a workshop with a systematic approach to breathing, breathing mechanics and cold exposure. Check out KAA to sign up for our next workshop

Vagus Nerve

What exactly is the vagus nerve?

  • The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body.
  • It connects your brain too many important organs throughout the body, including the gut , heart and lungs.
  • Vagus” means “wanderer” in Latin, which represents how the nerve wanders all over the body and reaches various organs.
  • This nerve is a major player in the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) , which is the ‘rest and digest’ part, which is opposite to the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which is ‘fight of flight’.
  • It influences your breathing, digestive function, and heart rate, all of which can have a huge impact on your mental health.
  • But what you really need to pay special attention to is the “tone” of your vagus nerve.

Vagal tone

Vagal tone is the internal biological process that represents the activity of the vagus nerve.
  • Increasing your vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and having higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress.
  • Vagal tone is measured by tracking your heart-rate alongside your breathing rate.
  • Your heart-rate speeds up a little when you breathe in, and slows down a little when you breathe out.
  • Higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress.
  • In 2010, researchers discovered a positive feedback loop between high vagal tone, positive emotions, and good physical health.
  • In other words, the more you increase your vagal tone, the more your physical and mental health will improve, and vice versa
  • Your vagal tone can be measured by tracking biological processes such as your heart rate, your breathing rate, and your heart rate variability (HRV).When your heart rate variability (HRV) is high, your vagal tone is also high.
  • Higher vagal tone is also associated with better mood, less anxiety and more stress resilience. 
One of the most interesting roles of the vagus nerve is that it essentially reads the gut microbiome and initiates a response to modulate inflammation based on whether or not it detects pathogenic versus non-pathogenic organisms.
In this way, the gut microbiome can have an affect on your mood, stress levels and overall inflammation.

How do we increase vagal tone?

 To some degree, you are genetically predisposed to varying levels of vagal tone, but this still doesn’t mean that you can’t change it.
  • If your vagal tone is low, don’t worry – you can take steps to increase it by stimulating your vagus nerve.
  • This will allow you to more effectively respond to the emotional and physiological symptoms of your brain and mental illness.

How to increase vagal tone? You guessed it:

Cold exposure has been shown to activate the vagus nerve

  • Researchers have found that exposing yourself to cold on a regular basis can lower your sympathetic “fight or flight” response and increase parasympathetic activity through the vagus nerve.

Here are some ways to tone the vagus nerve:

  1. Slow, rhythmic, diaphragmatic breathing. Breathing from your diaphragm, rather than shallowly from the top of the lungs stimulates and tones the vagus nerve.
  2. Humming. Since the vagus nerve is connected to the vocal cords, humming mechanically stimulates it. You can hum a song, or even better repeat the sound ‘OM’.
  3. Speaking. Similarly speaking is helpful for vagal tone, due to the connection to the vocal cords.
  4. Washing your face with cold water. The mechanism her is not known, but cold water on your face stimulates the vagus nerve.
  5. Meditation, especially loving-kindness meditation which promotes feelings of goodwill towards yourself and others. A 2010 study by Barbara Fredrickson and Bethany Kik found that increasing positive emotions led to increased social closeness, and an improvement in vagal tone.
  6. Balancing the gut microbiome. The presence of healthy bacteria in the gut creates a positive feedback loop through the vagus nerve, increasing its tone.
  7. The implications of such simple and basic practices on your overall health, and in particular on inflammation are far-reaching.
  8. If you suffer from an inflammatory condition, digestive upset, high blood pressure or depression, a closer look at vagal tone is highly recommended.

Next steps?

OK. I think there might be something with cold. Now What?

  • Try finishing your next shower with at least 30 seconds of cold water and see how you feel.
  • Then work your way up to longer periods of time.
  • It’s painful to do, but the effects are worth it.
  • You can also ease yourself into it by simply sticking your face in ice-cold water.
  • RoadMap for starting cold showers

Next level:

  • Recovery run – Run with as little clothes as you can (ofc nose-breathing)- all year round. But remember – don’t push too hard too soon!
  • Combined the cold exposure with breathing protocols that suits your lifestyle.

I want more!

Then you are ready for KAA workshop! See events site or Facebook


Now that you know why we are weak by default due to our programming. You have learned the benefits of environmental stress. You have the roadmap to start integrating cold (and other environmental stressors) in your life.
Yep, that’s it! Pretty simple, eh?


Scott Carney – What Doesn’t Kill Us

Other Pioneers worth mentioning:

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