I played football in college where I was very often one of the smallest players on the field. The macho phrase "what doesn't kill me will only make me stronger" was repeated many times in my head over those years. Between the pain of the game and the pain of the preparation, I needed something to get me through it. I am not saying anyone should decide to hurt themselves physically in pursuit of health or well being but what I hope to illustrate is that a little bit of stress exposure will better prepare you to withstand greater stressors later in life.
Within the last year or so, I have learned of the word Hormesis. Stephen Guyenet defines the word like this:
Hormesis is the process by which a mild or acute stressor increases resistance to other, more intense or chronic stressors.This is the most succinct and accurate definition I have found. Common forms of hormesis are vaccination and exercise. Although all exercises and vaccinations aren't terribly effective, most people have subjected themselves to these forms of stressors with the hope of making themselves stronger.
Cold exposure is one form of stress that has been reported to have many health benefits. I had read about it here, here, and here. Some of the reported benefits are increased calorie burning, strengthened immune system, improved mood, improved circulation, and increased testosterone. For the last year or so, I have been taking cold showers where essentially my warm shower is ended with a few minutes of the coldest water I can get to flow. The two benefits I can speak of are I feel great after I get out of the shower and my tolerance for cold has gone way up. The cold winters in Northeast Ohio are no big deal to me anymore.
So based on my reading and my new found enjoyment of cold I decided to take it a step further. I searched for a polar plunge to participate in. This is where a group of people gather in the winter at a body of water and go in that cold water for the fun of it. I can assure you that most people who participate are not doing it for hormesis. Well, I found one of these events and I committed to doing it.
Honestly, I really wasn't doing it for the health benefits, it just seemed like a fun thing to do. Plus, I wanted to see how I would tolerate being submerged in such cold water. I did this on February 26th and I can say it was an incredible experience. There were about 2,000 people there with about 400 crazy enough to jump into the 37 degree F water. It was the 8th year they did this event and they raised $36,000 for a local food bank. I personally raised $240 and I have to thank those who donated and came to watch.
As you can see in this photo, even when jumping off the platform, I had second thoughts. I attempted to jump over the water but as you can tell from this video, I didn't make it. By the way, I am not the one in the speedo.
The weirdest thing was that after I got out of the water into the 35 degree air, I did not feel an urge to bundle up. I attribute this to norepinephrine, a fight or flight hormone that made me feel warm and elated. This experience was a lot easier than a 5k which seems to be more widely accepted as normal and fun. Sure those 5ks can be fun for many but they are certainly much harder than this was. I highly encourage you to find an event like this in your area. I know there are similar fund raisers around the country this time of year. Find one and take the plunge. It won't kill you but you are sure to have a blast.