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A Book Review - Chill

As photographer/editor, I reserve the right to add the following picture, Mrs. Swaim

Ken & Abbey: Christmas Day 2023, Payette Lake, water temp 37'. 3 minutes BTW!

Ken & Abbey: Christmas Day 2023, Payette Lake, water temp 37′. 3 minutes BTW!

Book:           Chill, The Cold Water Swim Cure

Writer:         Mark Harper MD, PhD

Year:            2022

Pages:         239

Maybe you have noticed, maybe it is too insidious to notice, but we in the First World are all consumed with comfort. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but comfort is bad for your health. And when our entire society revolves around ever-increasing levels of comfort, is it any wonder we are losing ground in our “desire” to be healthy and live better, longer? Is it any wonder lifespan has leveled off, or some would argue, decreased in recent years in the western world? I once rented a car where the middle console, you know the place where you rest your elbow while the car practically drives itself, was heated! My elbow had its own heater! I laughed, and then I didn’t, and was slightly embarrassed about how far we have taken our comfort.

It is time we wake up and realize that constant comfort is not your friend. In fact it is an enemy.

This book gives an antidote to our societal addiction. Even if his prescription is not for you, looking for ways to challenge yourself regularly, intentionally, is imperative. Read on!!

This Book in Three Sentences:

Swimming in cold water (defined as below 68F) has a multitude of health benefits.

The most impressive health benefit is the effects cold water has on mental health. (Surprise but no surprise)

Acute stress (discomfort), meaning intentional stress of a short duration (hormesis) has the power to produce incredible adaptive changes which improve your health.

The Review:

I realize that this book, based on the title, will have limited appeal, particularly during the winter!  But don’t stop reading. This book is much more than an introduction to cold water swimming and the joys that come with it. Still with me? Dr. Harper, a practicing physician and cold-water devotee, has done a great job of challenging the existing medical paradigm without really trying. At least it comes across as if he doesn’t have an ax to grind. He uses mostly anecdotal case studies to show the power of cold water exposure. Exposure on a regular basis to that which is uncomfortable. Particularly, the results are very pronounced when it comes to mental health. Mental health strategists would do well to explore these case studies. Because really, there is no other kind of health than mental. (Try being healthy in body without being healthy in mind! It can’t be done)

Let’s briefly explore the 3rd point above and see the application for our daily lives.

Adaptation is the name of the game. If you are cold, you shiver. Adaptation. If you eat too much, you puke. Adaptation. If you are out in the sun, you tan. Adaptation. If you harbor a virus or bacteria, you spike a fever. Adaption.

Still with me?

On the other hand, dead folks have stopped adapting. To be alive is to be able to adapt to the environment. Strengthening this adaptive response is not only possible, but also non-negotiable for those wishing to be healthy.

When was the last time you were intentionally uncomfortable?

Adaptation can be either beneficial or harmful.

Acute exposure to difficult situations, stress, has the potential to make you stronger. This principle is hormesis. Hormesis in a nutshell is that anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The trick is to keep the exposure quick and powerful. Think 60 seconds of cold water at the end of a shower. An acute bout of stress has been produced, you respond by increasing your respiration rate and your heart starts pounding pretty quickly and you begin to think about how to get away from this discomfort. But for those who persevere, a strong life-giving, health producing benefit accrues.

Let’s say you stay in the cold water for an hour. Your ability to adapt will diminish over time and you potentially could become hypothermic and croak (unless of course you are well trained, like Wim Hof, look him up on YouTube, you won’t believe this guy. And no you don’t need to be this extreme!). Training yourself to tolerate discomfort is well worth pursuing. Introduce yourself to discomfort slowly, but deliberately.

Drive with your windows down. Go outside with your coat off. You won’t die. Take a cold shower.  Skip a meal. Say no to constant comfort regularly.

And if you are lucky enough to own a car so fancy that you have an elbow heater, put your coffee on it and find some other discomfort!

Hopefully this little rant, and the reading of the book, will inspire you to eschew constant comfort. It has me.

We have a copy of the book in the office that you can borrow. Or purchase here: Chill, The Cold Water Swim Cure – Amazon

And if you need ideas, let me know.

Keep it simple.



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