Cold comfort

I’ve been aware of the positive effects of even brief exposure to cold water since 2012 when five friends and I flipped our raft on a white-water rafting trip. As we drifted downstream in the icy river, I discovered regained capabilities not exercised in the over seven years since, at the time, my PD diagnosis. I attributed the effect to adrenalin but had a hunch that something else was in play.

It wasn’t until 2014, during my search for the Lost Intruder, that I could apply a touch of scientific method to the cold water’s temporary restorative powers. I discovered through trial and error that whenever boat engine maintenance became too difficult for my clumsy fingers, that if I spent a couple of minutes treading water in Washington State’s cold year round Salish Sea, then I could complete the work effortlessly. The improvement in dexterity only lasted between five and fifteen minutes, but a mild euphoria would stay with me for the entire day, and occasionally into the next.

Still, the feelings were not tangible, leaving me to assume that they must have been a fluke. Otherwise, why wasn’t it being offered up as a free treatment option?

Although now convinced of the short-term effects of cold water on Parkinson’s symptoms, it wasn’t until 2017 that I learned of the long-term positive health impact of cold-water immersion after reading The Wim Hof Method. Wim Hof held the world record for ice water immersion for quite a while. The Wim Hof method targets the body’s biochemistry to develop what most would consider super-human abilities through regular cold-water immersion and daily breathing exercises.

The possibility of extreme temperature slowing Parkinson’s progression was not new to me. About ten years ago, I started practicing hot yoga. Regular, “cold” yoga still helped with my symptoms, but not nearly as much as the hot version. Something about extreme temperature creates what I like to think of as “good” stress, not to be confused with ordinary, societal life stress—like being stuck in traffic—which is well known for exacerbating PD symptoms.

The topic of extreme temperatures and PD has come at me in many forms. In a synchronistic coincidence, I was introduced to Mike McCastle in 2015 after a lunch arranged by a local restaurant owner who was aware of our extraordinary Parkinson’s related accomplishments. Mike had recently started the 12 labors project, working to achieve 12 strength and endurance world records to raise money and honor his father, who had died of Parkinson’s disease complications in 2014, the same year I started looking for the lost Intruder. Mike earned his 6th world record, the longest immersion in ice in 2021, spending 2 hours 40 minutes in a full ice bath to raise money for Parkinson’s related issues. 

The Wim Hof method dedicates the last two minutes of a daily shower to the coldest water the spigot will allow. To stick with this program requires mental discipline. I tried the program two years earlier but failed, in retrospect, because I was starting to dread showers. In short, I succumbed to a victim mindset. If the victim terminology is unfamiliar to you, please look at my blog of December 22, 2023. Here it is on my website:

This time I’m cautiously optimistic. So far, after just 13 days, my energy level and sleep quality improvements are noticeable. I don’t want my final days on this earth clouded in ambiguity, not having tried everything I could to beat this fucking disease.

Incorporating cold water immersion into your treatment plan will without a doubt be challenging. If it turns out to be as effective in halting, and perhaps reversing PD, as I suspect it to be, then this is your opportunity to discard the victim role and take charge of your treatment: your life might literally depend on it.

I am fortunate beyond words to have such a high-powered tool untested eighteen years into my relationship with Parkinson’s, and making the most of it is exciting and satisfying. Who knows where it will lead? Please join me as I find out.

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