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Cold showers, icy plunge pools, outdoor swimming – are you a fan, or does the very idea make you shiver? Today’s podcast is all about one of the biggest wellness trends of the past few years: cold water immersion therapy. My guest is Dr Susanna Søberg who is arguably one of the leading researchers on the topic.
Susanna studied her PhD at the University of Copenhagen, looking at metabolism and the role of brown fat. Her research on the physiology of deliberate cold and heat exposure is helping to back up what many cultures have known instinctively for thousands of years – changing our temperature is good for us. Her new book Winter Swimming: The Nordic Way Towards a Healthier and Happier Life is a beautifully illustrated volume, which looks at cold-water traditions all round the world and shares what incredible benefits they can provide for our health and wellbeing.
In this conversation, Susanna talks us through the many physical benefits, from increased metabolism, immunity and lowered insulin resistance, to the potential to reduce excess weight and ease muscle and joint pain. The key player in all these benefits? Brown fat, a type of healthy fat stored around the spine that acts as our body’s temperature regulator, boosts metabolism and can even aid blood-sugar response and weight control. The more we expose ourselves to the cold, the more brown fat cells we have. So it’s a case of use it or lose it.
There are also incredible mental health benefits from engaging with the cold. The very act of pushing out of your comfort zone and braving the cold can give you a sense of confidence and resilience. It releases mood-boosting hormones and exposes us to a form of ‘healthy stress’, building our resilience to modern life. It’s also the ultimate in mindfulness – a sensory experience that it takes you out of your head and into your body.
In 2021, Susanna published research setting out the minimum amount of time that we need to spend in the cold to receive all these incredible health benefits. It’s now been dubbed the Søberg Principle and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn it’s not nearly as extreme as you might think. Even just a cooler blast at the end of your shower is a very effective place to start.
I really was delighted and honoured that Susanna came over all the way from Denmark to record her first ever long form podcast. Whatever your view on the cold – whether you embrace it fully or whether you think this is a trend that is not for you – I really think you are going to enjoy listening and I’m pretty sure that after listening, you may well be tempted to give the cold a go.
CAUTION: If you have uncontrolled hypertension or heart disease it is not advised that you start practising cold water immersion. If you have any doubt at all as to whether you are fit enough to give this practice a go, please consult a qualified healthcare professional.
Disclaimer: The content in the podcast and on this webpage is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.*
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*DISCLAIMER: Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have heard on the podcast or on my website.
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