The Benefits and Mechanism Behind the Wim Hof Method: Explained by a Holistic Doctor

In this video, Dr. Sten Ekberg explains the science behind the Wim Hof Method, which includes breathing exercises, cold therapy, and mind focus. He discusses how these practices affect the autonomic nervous system, which controls functions like blood pressure and digestion. Dr. Ekberg explains that the Wim Hof breathing technique can stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, while the cold therapy increases sympathetic drive and stimulates the release of growth hormones. However, he also suggests that similar benefits can be achieved through other methods, such as fasting and high-intensity interval training. He advises individuals to adapt the method to their own preferences and health conditions.

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Key Insights:

  • The Wim Hof method includes three components: breathing, cold therapy, and mind focus.
  • Wim Hof breathing involves 30 power breaths followed by exhaling and holding the breath.
  • The autonomic nervous system, which controls functions like blood pressure and muscle tone, is divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches.
  • Sympathetic activation occurs during fight or flight situations and increases heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones.
  • Parasympathetic activation occurs during rest and digest situations and lowers heart rate and blood pressure.
  • The Wim Hof breathing technique is not a relaxed breath and can lead to dizziness and lightheadedness due to blowing off excess carbon dioxide.
  • Heart rate variability (HRV) can be improved with rhythmic breathing, promoting a state of coherence and relaxation.
  • The Wim Hof method incorporates cold therapy to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and trigger a hormonal response.
  • Short-term physical stress, like that induced by the Wim Hof method, can be adaptive and beneficial for the body.
  • Chronic stress, on the other hand, is destructive and can lead to negative health effects.
  • While practicing the Wim Hof method is beneficial, it is important to consider one’s health, duration of exposure to stressors, and limitations.
  • Fasting and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can also stimulate growth hormone production and activate survival circuits.
  • Incorporating a relaxed breath and alternating warm and cold showers can provide similar benefits as the Wim Hof method.
  • For those with access to sauna facilities, combining sauna sessions with cold water immersion can enhance the benefits of the practice.


Hello Health Champions. Wim Hof, also known as The Iceman, is known for a certain breathing technique and also for being able to withstand extreme cold. They’ve done some studies that suggest there are some health benefits to the Wim Hof method, but I haven’t found anywhere where they talk about how these benefits would come about. So today I’m going to talk about the mechanism and what really happens in the body when you do that type of breathing and when you do ice baths, so that when you understand the mechanism then you can adapt the method to fit your lifestyle and you can get all or most of the benefits without having to become an Iceman. Unless, of course, that’s your idea of fun.

Coming right up, I’m Dr. Ekberg, a holistic doctor and a former Olympic decathlete, and if you want to truly master your health by understanding how the body really works, make sure you subscribe, hit that bell, and turn on all the notifications so you never miss a life-saving video.

The Wim Hof method, according to the founder, includes three things: breathing, cold therapy, and mind focus. The Wim Hof breathing starts out with 30 power breaths. This is where you breathe in as much as you can, blow it all out as much as you can, and repeat this forcefully. You might get dizzy or lightheaded, and you might even pass out, so it’s a good idea to lay down or be in a recliner so you don’t fall anywhere if you pass out.

After the 30 power breaths, you exhale and hold your breath for as long as you can. When you can’t hold your breath anymore, you take a deep breath in, hold it, and then exhale and hold. You repeat this up to 10 times.

To understand the Wim Hof method, we need to understand the autonomic nervous system. Wim Hof has been known to control his autonomic nervous system by will, and this is the part of the nervous system that controls things you don’t have to think about normally, like blood pressure, digestion, and muscle tone. These functions are managed automatically. The two branches of the autonomic nervous system are the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which function like a see-saw.

The sympathetic system is the fight-or-flight system, and it allocates resources to defend you. When you’re in an alarm state, your body mobilizes resources to increase heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tone to help you get out of danger. On the other hand, the parasympathetic system is the rest-and-digest system. It lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones, and it’s involved with functions like digestion, immune system, and reproduction.

Your breathing is tied to the balance of your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. When you breathe in, your heart speeds up, and when you breathe out, it slows down. This is because when you breathe in, there is more oxygen in the lungs to be absorbed, so the body speeds up the heart to send more blood there. When you breathe out, the body slows down the heart to conserve energy. This is known as heart rate variability (HRV).

The breathing pattern I usually propose is an even five seconds in and five seconds out, with maybe a little bit longer on the out breath. This helps create balance and homeostasis in the body. Most people breathe in for 2 to 3 seconds and then breathe out really fast, which keeps them stuck in a state of stress and anxiety.

The Wim Hof breathing technique is not a relaxed breath. It is stressful and unnatural. By forcing the breathing, you blow off more carbon dioxide, which leads to alkalinity in the blood. This makes you feel dizzy and lightheaded, and your oxygen levels increase while your CO2 levels decrease. When you hold your breath after the power breaths, your body becomes even more alkaline, making it easier to hold your breath for longer periods of time. Holding your breath also increases growth hormone levels.

Cold therapy, such as ice baths, is an extreme stress that activates the sympathetic nervous system and increases the release of stress hormones. This causes vasoconstriction and a temporary increase in blood pressure. It can also stimulate the production of growth hormone, which helps the body adapt to the stress.

When it comes to stress, short-term physical stress is normal and adaptive. It gives the body a chance to adapt and get better for when it happens again. However, chronic stress is destructive and can lead to breakdown and degeneration. Emotional stress and excessive physical stress can also be detrimental to the body.

The Wim Hof breathing and ice baths can provide benefits, but they may not be necessary for everyone. Fasting and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are alternative methods that can also stimulate growth hormone production and challenge the body’s adaptive mechanisms. Saunas and alternating hot and cold showers can also provide similar effects to ice baths. It’s important to consider your health state and the duration of the stress when practicing these methods.

In conclusion, the Wim Hof method can offer various health benefits, but it’s important to understand the underlying mechanisms and consider your individual health needs. Finding a balance that works for you is key in adopting these practices into your lifestyle.