Franco Berrino at FqMagazine: “Breathing, cold and meditation have great potential for our health. It is time for medicine to take care of these natural methods”

He climbed snow-capped mountains barefoot, swam the Arctic wearing only a bathing suit, and swam a hundred meters below zero degrees in Finland. She states that she can hold her breath for more than six minutes. And above all, you have developed a program for healthier living, the “Ice Method” followed by thousands of people around the world. IS Wim Hof, Dutch naturalist also known as Ice Man, whose book has recently been published by Mondadori The ice method, where he states that our lifestyle has alienated us from the natural world. With serious consequences: we have forgotten some survival mechanisms that remain latent within us. His method would help us find and apply them. There are three pillars on which her experiences and beliefs about him in terms of health are based: breathing, exposure to cold and mental strength. It acts on breathing with a series of hyperventilation cycles; for the cold, center of his method, you can experiment with simple cold showers or baths (one of his recurring phrases that reshapes an old adage is “A cold shower a day keeps the doctor away “), even icy ones. Ultimately, they come into play meditation and motivational techniques with which he practices the ability to control impulses, emotions and thoughts. All this has positive effects on the immune response.

The benefits, as he himself reports in his book, seem numerous. They range from the prevention of cardiovascular diseases to problems with osteoarthritis and depression, up to saying that cancer can be beaten. “Using these simple breathing techniques,” says Hof, “we can suppress inflammatory markers in the blood. I challenge any doctor who is still skeptical, who thinks that all this is not real, to experience it firsthand ”. Over the years, several researches have been carried out on Hof himself, who offered himself as a guinea pig. And also some pilot studies on his Ice Method, “which have shown an improvement in the immune system’s response to endotoxin and in cases of spondyloarthritis”, says researcher Elissa Epel, author of the preface of Hof’s book, “which suggests that it is able to reduce chronic inflammation and related symptoms … I follow closely the increasing number of studies submitted for review on the Wim Hof ​​method. My conclusion is that we need a more rigorous examination of this method, because has a unique potential to improve health and slow the aging process“.

To convince us that we are faced with arguments with a certain validity we must consider that “therapeutic treatments with immersion in cold water were already practiced in the time of Hippocrates. In the Roman baths it was common practice to move to different rooms with hot pools and then finish the journey with a cold bath in the frigidarium “, he explains Franco Berrino, epidemiologist, former director of the Department of Preventive and Predictive Medicine of the Cancer Institute of Milan and founder of the La Grande Via association which offers health programs based on natural resources, including food, physical activity and meditation. “The tradition has continued to this day in many thermal centers and spas,” continues Berrino. “After the sauna, the Finns jump into the river or dive briefly into the holes made in the frozen lake. And in fact, several studies have shown that cold water immersion reduces muscle pain caused by strenuous physical activity. An experimental study conducted in the Netherlands found that a cold shower (at room water temperature, 10-12 ° C) every morning is associated with a significant reduction (-28 percent) in sick leave. Other clinical trials have found a significant reduction in inflammatory state, a better quality of sleep, a reduction in pain caused by arthritis and an antidepressant action. It is hypothesized that cold baths are also useful in chronic fatigue syndrome “.

Doctor Berrino, what reactions does cold cause in our body?
“A reaction of the sympathetic nervous system, which leads to a contraction of the muscles and a constriction of the blood vessels; if we are able to activate the parasympathetic system through controlled and deep breathing, the blood will return to supply the peripheral parts. This alternation between vasoconstriction and vasodilation generates heat and can make us feel good “.

Do you therefore confirm that the effects multiply by acting on cold and breathing?
“Actually, both intense cold and meditation work by clearing the mind (when you are immersed in the frozen lake you do not think!) and it is reasonable to believe that their effect can be synergistic, for example, in the turn off some inflammation genes. Further studies are needed but preliminary results already suggest that these exercises are able to interact with the autonomic nervous system and the immune system. The prevention effect of altitude sickness is also very interesting “.

What is over-emphasized or that deserves further confirmation in Hof’s method?
“The enthusiastic emphasis with which Wim Hof ​​magnifies the first scientific results and some evidence of improvement / healing of autoimmune diseases is premature, but it’s time for medicine to address these natural healing avenues and does not remain perched in the artificial castle where it was confined by the pharmaceutical industry “.

Could resorting to cold therapy and even deep breaths have contraindications?
“One must not abuse oneself. These exercises are from introduce with careful gradualnessespecially in frail people “.

In the programs of the Great Way, you also propose to have experiences with the dimension of the breath, in the adaptation to lower temperatures and with meditation. How and with what results?
“We propose the ‘Way of the forests’ a return to nature, in contact with nature, from which the organization of society in urban environments has distanced us. We suggest the cold shower, yoga practices at dawn, paths in the icy mountain streams (only in July and August), breathing exercises with hyperventilation and apneas similar to those proposed by Wim Hof, immersion experiences in the forest with challenging walks and sleeping in hammocks, meditation and prayer, recitation of the mantras of oriental cultures, exercises in poetic writing. And we eat healthy foods, nothing industrial ”.

And what effects are produced?
“We found a significant reduction in blood pressure and salivary cortisol and an increase in heart rhythm variability (subtle changes in rhythm that allow the heart to adapt rapidly to environmental changes). In the ‘Way of Happy Longevity’ program we work with elderly people with health problems to whom we propose the three ways of ‘The Great Way’: the way of food, exercise and meditation, with surprising results, in just fifteen days, on cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, blood pressure, abdominal adiposity, but above all on the rediscovery of the will to live, the meaning of life, respect for one’s body. And on the confidence of being able to regain flexibility, efficiency, serenity, without drugs “.

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