Blowing Hot and Cold 

Hot and Cold Tap heads cross design with chrome

“On the off-chance that anyone fancies a cold dip and hot sauna after, bring towel and swimmers” emailed my yoga instructor, two days before Christmas.

With cabin fever already beckoning,  I dug out my least awful swimsuit without giving the cold/hot message too much thought.  Until  I arrived at the local unheated lido to see that the water temperature was six degrees.

Exactly how cold is six degrees Celsius?

I know now that it’s colder than wading into the North Sea any time in March, when the temperature hovers around seven degrees.  I’d once swum off our eastern shoreline in December (when it’s weirdly a few degrees warmer) when I’d  been tasked by the Today newspaper in 1992 with finding Freddie the Dolphin. Injured and hanging out in Amble Harbour, north of Newcastle, he was apparently lonely and up for visitors.  I hired a boat whose skipper gave me a half wetsuit and pushed me into the freezing sea where the photographer kept me for 25 minutes,  first waiting for Freddie to appear from the inky depths (one of the scariest moments of my life) and then while he barked  “smile, smile, smile” while my shaking hands tried to stroke Freddie’s shammy leather back.

My only defence is that it was the Nineties.  Today’s millennials would have flatly refused, citing health and safety regulations. The whole extraordinary episode evidently sharpened my senses, a common side effect of cold water therapy,  because I  recall writing up the piece extremely quickly in a local pub and filing it over the phone.

Anyway, back to the waters of London’s Parliament Hill Lido which on that sunny December morning looked so very blue and so very freezing.  We followed the example of our north European cousins and went into its new sauna first for a quick warm-up, where the temperature was a cosy 80 degrees.  The bodies inside were as pink as newborns and one man was physically shaking, having  just completed twenty lengths in the icy waters of the 60 metre pool.  Mad.

I intended to do no more than jump in and scoot up a steps within seconds.

Geronimo!

The effect on the body of immersing it in freezing water is instantaneous, regardless of how much body fat you hold, and is one of the biggest jolts you can ever give it.   Otherwise known as the cold shock response, cold receptors in your skin are suddenly stimulated, causing an involuntary gasp, several in my case, followed usually by hyperventilation or very rapid breathing.  Your heart rate rapidly shoots up too – so step away anyone with high blood pressure or heart disease – as blood is diverted from extremities to your main internal organs.  Yet after less than ten minutes back in the sauna I wanted to repeat that surge of exhilaration.  So we plunged in one more time and then ran into the changing rooms, savouring that delicious feeling of your blood returning to the outer edges of your body as you warm up.

I felt invincible for the rest of the day and was back for more in the new year.  This time it was busier and everyone in the sauna seemed to be talking about cold water therapy.   Three young women were chatting to ‘James’ about their new addiction.  “I dreamt about it recently,” said one.  “It’s really helping me get over my broken relationship,” confessed another.  All three took cold showers at home (tap water comes out at around seven degrees) which prompted queries from  James about where they got their power showers, obvs, until the conversation switched to cold water therapy podcast recommendations.

I blame Gwyneth Paltrow and Hugh Fearnly-Wittingstall, both of whom have relayed  the wellness benefits of cold water in the last few weeks. Our favourite double-barrelled named chef tried it out on the TV show Easy Ways to Live Well  in a bid to tackle his anxiety.  He joined a group of cold water converts in a painful 4.3 degree lido and in between loud gasps for breath, was the only one screaming: “OH MY GOD this is so unbelievably cold, it’s SO cold”, while a gaggle of 60 year old matrons, casually treading water, giggled from afar.

There was less laughter but better swimwear on display when Gwyneth Paltrow sent her minions out to Lake Tahoe for The Goop Lab’s Cold Comfort episode on Netflix, which also aired in January (BTW you have to watch the one on female orgasms).  Could freezing  water stop their LA whining and general malaise?  With them to the lake went one of the world’s leading cold water protagonists, a Dane called Wim Hof, aka The Iceman.  He looks like the wild man of Borneo and has done some pretty wild things in his time, including running a half marathon on his bare feet in the snow and climbing Mount Everest in his shorts.  Within a few days, his deep breathing technique had turned a bunch of strung-out goopsters into hardy cold water swimmers who barely gasped as they came up from the freezing lake for air.

So how exactly does the cold-water therapy help? TV personality Dr Zoe Williams said on Fearnley-Whittingstall programme: “One way to think of it is that our stress ‘alert system’ has become over-sensitive in today’s world, and a short blast of freezing cold water every morning reminds it what a real threat feels like, and makes those everyday irritabilities less likely to trigger the full stress response.”

My second plunge into the lido, by now a balmy eight degrees in January, saw me jump into the middle of the pool and swim ten metres to the steps. Initially, all I could think of was that frozen water scene in the film Titantic. On the night of the real disaster, the water was something like minus two degrees and Kate Winslet’s Rose would have frozen solid alongside Jack with his memorably blue lips.  But puffing through that ten metre swim to the ladder felt totally doable. In fact I did the hot sauna/cold plunge routine three times and then strode across Hampstead Heath afterwards with wet hair plastered to my head, but feeling like I was luminous. That night I fell asleep instantly and woke up at 5 am instead of the usual 4 am. Result.

Apart from being mood-enhancing, cold water plunging can help achy joints by  constricting blood vessels and reducing inflammation. It also releases brain positive endorphins,  which is good for depressives,  triggers the aforementioned sleep hormones, and there is even talk of it generally making you live longer.  Biologist and Harvard Professor David Sinclair, who looks a very young  51, explains that slowing down the ageing process may be connected with the cold turning bad white fat into good brown fat.

“Specifically, the sirtuin-3 gene gets activated by cold, which promotes the browning of fat, which we believe is good for us.  Brown fat is full of mitochondria that use energy and speeds up the metabolism.”

I am contemplating daily cold showers and in the meantime dunk my head into a sink of cold water after washing my hair in a bid to leave it super shiny. Add that to the cold pool therapy and I’m slowly getting there.

Wim Hof has said:  “At one point the cold will feel just as comfortable as wearing your favourite pyjamas.”

Well, maybe.  I’m just not sure Gill would ever agree.

Trinny & Shabir Live On Immunity

Trinny & Shabir on Immunity

Currently there is a lot of confusion as to how we can all keep our immune system healthy and primed.  But what exactly is our immune system?

The immune system, unlike any other bodily system, comprises of a complex series of interactions between various glands, such as the thymus gland and tonsils, proteins, chemical compounds, hormones, white blood cells and probiotics that all work in synergy to try and make our bodies less susceptible to infections. Many of these chemical compounds require nutrients in order to work effectively, for example a deficiency in vitamin D3 may result in dormancy of white blood cells which are normally required to engulf and eradicate bacteria and viruses that enter the bloodstream. Read More…

The Benefits Of 43 Minutes Of Extra Sleep

sleep

The NHS recommends anywhere between six and nine hours of sleep a night for adults. Most of us aim for somewhere between seven and eight. While it goes without saying that regularly getting less than six hours of shut-eye a night can leave you feeling bleary eyed, tired and grouchy the next day, there could be other benefits to getting more sleep.

New research from Penn University found that getting 43 minutes of extra sleep has the potential to not only ensure you feel less sleepy the following day, but could also help lower blood pressure. The two week study focused on 53 students. They were deemed the best candidates as it’s thought that over a third of young adults get less than seven hours of sleep a night. The students were asked to wear wrist sensors to monitor their sleep patterns and were tasked with trying to squeeze in an extra hour of sleep every day. Researchers concluded that 43 minutes was the sweet spot in terms of maximising the health benefits, as well as being realistic to fit into busy schedules.

While the results could be more prominent in this age group compared to older generations considering the lower levels of sleep to begin with, it is yet another study highlighting the importance of slowing down and prioritising sleep. As the festive season begins it’s definitely something to keep in mind as your schedule begins to fill up. And for those who struggle to get their forty winks, there are a few things that could help.

How to get more sleep

Sleep is big business – in fact, in the US the market is estimated to be worth $28.6 billion – and unsurprisingly there are plenty of products that promise to help you get more. While some products can make a notable difference, it’s important to look at your lifestyle as a whole if you are someone who rarely gets the full eight hours. Reducing your stress levels, sticking to a regular routine and cutting back on sugar and alcohol are some of the key changes that can help.

Set the scene: There’s a reason why This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray is a bestseller, the clever blend has been shown to help speed up the time it takes you to fall asleep. Simply mist your pillow just before you hit the hay and take a couple of deep breaths. It won’t be instant, but you should drift off more easily than usual. It also helps to block out any natural light in your bedroom, keep the temperature below 21°C and ban any screens and blue light.

Top-up essential minerals: Magnesium is a key mineral and is especially important when it comes to sleep as it helps us to relax. Magnesium deficiencies are surprisingly common and a lot of us can benefit from taking a magnesium supplement regularly. However, it’s thought that bathing in the mineral is one of the best ways to absorb it. Better You’s Magnesium Oil Original Flakes are particularly effective because it contains magnesium chloride, which is easier for your body to absorb.

Sleep aides: There are plenty of sleep specific supplements to help you unwind, relax and drift off. There are two that Shabir recommends time and time again, InsoZia by Viva Nutraceuticals and Viridian’s Cherry Night. The former is a blend of herbal extracts which help to regulate your sleep patterns and calm a whirling mind, while Cherry Night is a natural source of melatonin (sleep hormone) that you mix into milk or water and drink just before bed.

Getting Up Early Doesn’t Work For Everyone

5am alarm clock

While Michelle Obama and Anna Wintour both wake up before 5 am to squeeze in their workout routines, Mark Wahlberg famously takes things to extremes and rises at 2.30 am to complete his brutal daily schedule. With some of the most successful people on the planet claiming that getting up early has played a part in their success, it’s easy for genetically predisposed night owls to feel slightly inadequate. 

There are plenty of books, blogs and probably a handful of apps that will promise to take you from night owl to early bird with a few simple steps. However, before you start trying the back-breaking task of moulding your body clock to Michelle Obama’s take note of the results of a study by the University of California. After monitoring the sleep data of 2,422 people, Louis Ptacek, professor of neurology at the UCSF School of Medicine found that only one in 300 people can function on an very-early-to-bed, very-early-to-wake schedule and it is coded into their genes.

“While most people struggle with getting out of bed at 4 or 5 am., people with advanced sleep phase wake up naturally at this time, rested and ready to take on the day,” said the study’s senior author, Louis Ptacek, MD, professor of neurology at the UCSF School of Medicine. “These extreme early birds tend to function well in the daytime but may have trouble staying awake for social commitments in the evening.”

They’re also more prone to migraines and SAD, so it’s definitely not all roses for extremely early risers. So, rather than trying to change your natural sleeping pattern, a wiser move would be to align your bedtime and wake-up call to ensure you’re getting enough sleep.

How can you get your sleep routine on track? First and foremost, it’s important to stick to a routine – yes, even at the weekend. If you go to bed at 11 pm and wake up at 7 am during the week, don’t be tempted to slip in a lie-in on a Saturday. Keeping your bedroom cool, dark and screen-free are tips that you will have read over and over again, but it’s because they work.

For those who struggle to calm a whirling mind, try taking a warm bath with magnesium flakes about an hour before you want to sleep. Magnesium is an essential mineral and is key for helping us to relax, yet a lot of us are deficient. If you don’t have time to bathe, incorporate ashwagandha into your evening routine. The ancient herb is a renowned adaptogen and helps to ease anxiety – Wild Nutrition’s KSM-66 Ashwagandha Plus is particularly good.

Morning Anxiety: Five Tricks To Help You Feel Less Frantic First Thing

White Analogue Clock on Blue Background

If you’re not a morning person, you’re not alone. What most of us would give for a few more hours’ sleep during the working week. However, while most feel lethargic and a bit sluggish when their alarm goes off, there are others who wake up to quite the opposite scenario – a racing heartbeat, serious sweating and a whirring brain that refuses to slow down. Up until three years ago, I fell into the latter category, with my daily pangs of morning anxiety leaving me drained before I’d even gotten out of bed. Read More…

Why You Should Become A Tea Drinker

Tea

How many times has someone offered to make you a cup of tea when it feels like your world is coming crashing down? In the UK, a warm cuppa is seen as the answer to many of life’s perils and there is plenty of research to back up this assumption. Over the years studies have revealed that tea can help to not just improve our mood, but also support our heart and our mental health. Recent research by the National University of Singapore has found that drinking tea regularly could also help protect against cognitive decline as we age. Read More…