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.

How To Embrace The Most Stressful Time Of The Year

festive

Edward Pola and George Wyle might have called it ‘the most wonderful time of the year’, but new research suggests that over 45 percent of us feel more stressed and anxious in December than any other time of the year. So much so, 16 percent of Brits would rather submit a tax return than see family at this time of the year and just over a quarter find Christmas Day more mentally draining than a job interview, according to a poll by Deichmann.

“It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but this research highlights how incredibly anxious people become in the run up to Christmas,” says Josephine Soei, marketing manager for Deichmann. “So much is expected of us and it’s a busy time of year. It’s ironic that we’re all supposed to be having a ball and yet nearly half of adults say it’s the worst time of the year.”

The spiralling cost of everything is the main source of stress for Brits. However, getting the right food in and making sure everyone is having a good time also add to our anxiety. So, how can you get everything done and keep your stress levels in-check?

Make a list: It’s one of the most simplest things you can do and yet when we’re up against it most of us forget to take a couple of minutes out and write a to-do list. Not only will it help you create a plan of action, but it will also ensure you don’t forget anything… as long as it’s on the list. 

Calm your nerves: In the most stressful moments our nervous system can be sent into overdrive. At this time of the year most of us aren’t getting enough sleep either, which makes us feel more jittery. While Magnolia Rhodiola Complex won’t cure this completely, the clever blend of herbs and extracts will help your body relax and manage spikes in your cortisol. 

Stock-up on magnesium: When we’re stressed and tired our magnesium supply can take a battering. While bathing in magnesium flakes might be one of the best ways to absorb the mineral, you can also take Neuro-Mag by Life Extension supplements or massage Better You’s dreamy Magnesium Oil Original Spray into the soles of your feet before your go to bed.

Embrace self-care Sunday: It’s a word we have heard a lot this year, but engaging in a little self-care each week, especially at this time of year, can really help calm your mind and refocus your thoughts. For this, we love nothing more than slipping on a Spacemask for 10 minutes. It lives up to its tagline and offers ‘interstellar relaxation’. 

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…

Do You Have Highly Functioning Anxiety?

Anxiety

At one point or another all of us have experienced stress and anxiety. In fact, according to recent headlines 82 percent of us feel stressed or anxious at least once during the working week. Would you regard yourself as having highly functioning anxiety though? While it’s not medically recognised, the term is becoming increasingly common. Read More…

Shabir and Trinny On Menopause

Shabir and Trinny

If you missed Shabir and Trinny Woodall’s Facebook Live this weekend, catch up on everything here. Themed solely around the menopause, Shabir offered advice on how to tackle the most common symptoms with natural remedies.
Read More…