Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

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January 21, 2024 | Max Jenkinson

The Only Reason You Need to Get Into The Cold

As I am writing this it feels like decades ago I started my journey in an attempt to improve myself and my life. It all began with a heavy emphasis on health.

At the time I had moved to a new city to study Biomedicine. A new place means new routines. I was listening to Jock Willink and David Goggins so I decided to go hard on the discipline front.

I woke up at 5:30 every morning. I jumped out of bed and headed for the shower where I showered myself with ice-cold water.

After the shower, it was time to clear the mind and to get clear on the day’s objective. I sat down crosslegged in silence for 15 minutes and then ended it with my 5-minute journal.

Once my mind was clear it was time to attack the day. With a steaming cup of bulletproof coffee I once again sat down, but this time it was to read a book for an hour.

With a loaded brain of information, I did what I knew best, learning. I ended the morning with two hours of online courses.

By the time I was done none of my roommates had woken up yet. I felt like someone out of a comic book.

Years have passed since this time and I continue to look back at it with a smile on my face. The question that always pops up in my mind is: How did I find the motivation to do this ridiculous morning routine for months?

I always assumed it had something to do with the cold shower but I couldn’t figure out how. On and off I dabbled in cold water immersion (as they call it). Sometimes for weeks, sometimes months.


Cold Immersion Might Not Be Healthy

At some point, I stumbled across Ray Peat’s work. His ideas made me question almost everything I assumed to be true. One of which was the idea of hormesis.

Hormesis is the idea that we become stronger after being exposed to a stressor. Exercise is a stress to the body. If we don’t overdo it we will adapt and become stronger as a consequence.

Well, Peat’s main idea is that stress is bad. It is more complicated than that. For example, he believes exercise is good but not because of the stress it induces (the stress is just a necessary evil).

Extreme temperatures are stressful. Extreme heat like in the sauna or extreme cold like in a cold bath are both powerful stressors to the body.

If this is the case shouldn’t cold baths/showers be bad?

I think my ego (or whatever hates cold baths) enjoyed this idea. It’s nice when you have a theory to justify not doing something hard.

The touted benefits of cold water immersion might be exaggerated. Almost all interventions are studied on a population of sick people (we are all sick). Because of this, the results may not give a clear indication of the actual impact that, say, a cold bath has.

We are in the pursuit of improved overall well-being, not supreme physical health. Some things may be more optimal physically but they cause us to not live in a way that makes us feel as good as we could.

Let’s use intermittent fasting as an example. It was all the rage a few years ago. Now almost every one of its largest proponents has stopped. Mainly because new data suggests it might do more harm than good.

But, what is the tradeoff here?

For some, skipping breakfast gives them a clearer state of mind and allows them to do more work in the morning. This in turn makes them happier and more motivated. More motivated to the all the other things that keep them healthy.

If this is true, isn’t intermittent fasting a net benefit to them even though it might be slightly negative in isolation?

If the negative health consequences of seemingly suboptimal actions are outweighed by their positive impact on your life they are worth doing.


The Real Reason to Get Into The Cold

We have a dopamine problem. Our obsession with quick fixes, fast money, and constant stimulation all stem from or cause low dopamine function.

I truly believe the downstream effects of low dopamine function can explain almost all of the mental and physical health problems we have.

It clicked while listening to an episode about cold water immersion on the Huberman Lab podcast. I now had an explanation for why I was so happy and somewhat productive during my initiation into cold water immersion.

During a cold bath dopamine levels rise to similar levels seen with cocaine but without a crash. Dopamine remains high for hours and then returns to baseline. Some even suggest cold baths can increase our dopamine baseline over time.

Remember how dopamine links to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?

If you don’t want to read the post, here is the TLDR:

Dopamine controls our subconscious position within Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If it is low we will not, I repeat, we will not pursue things above our basic needs

Max Jenkinson

If we apply this to cold water immersion we’ll see that it is worth doing with or without its touted health-promoting benefits.

Let’s assume cold immersion is a stress, which is not good at the level of the cell. Our health is the sum of the function of our cells.

Well, what we are is an emergent phenomenon. We are what experiences experience, whatever that is. And, that is subjective. If we are after an improved well-being we need to take this into account.

Cold immersion improves our dopamine function for hours after the immersion. Going into the cold will give us a couple of hours where we are motivated enough to do the things we know would make our lives better.

That includes healthy decisions or at least avoiding unhealthy ones. If the win in healthy choices is larger than the potential loss, the cold plunge is worth it every time.


30 Days to Change Your Life

By the fact that you are reading this, I assume you’d benefit from something that increases your will to do. Cold immersion in any form is a simple and effective way to improve dopamine function.

I challenge you to do 30 days of cold exposure and report back if it is worth it for you. To get all the alleged benefits you need 11 minutes per week of uncomfortable cold.

That is not a lot. Right now me and my mates are doing three minutes a day (21 minutes per week). We are on the 24th day straight of going into the ocean.

If we can do it, so can you. Don’t do it for the health benefits, do it for the dopamine benefits.


Trade-offs is a great concept to keep in mind when we make decisions about if we should do something or not.

It helps us not put things into a good or bad category. Instead, it forces us to make context-dependent decisions that are unique to our lives. It helps us understand who we are better and in turn the lives of others.

We are complex beings that require complex solutions to complex problems. Some solutions seem simple. But, if you examine it, it would take you a book to explain why the solution is good and why it works for you.

If it works, it works. Pick your battles and design a life worth living. It is up to you to make your life awesome. Let’s start with your body and mind.

Until next Sunday, get into the cold and do what makes your future self proud.

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Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

Join others getting their entire idea of what health is shattered every Sunday while reading Health Decoded.