Harnessing the Power of Thermal Stress — Applications

In the theory post, we outlined how the application of reverse thermal stress, when executed with the right magnitude and duration, can help eliminate targeted stress, while at the same time provide hormetic effects, ultimately triggering favourable functional adaptations in the body.

Let’s get started then! As a blueprint, the reverse-temperature method generally proceeds in two stages:

  1. Normalization Stage — The relatively-casual application of reverse temperature, leading eventually to the complete relief of targeted stress. The normalization process operates primarily in accordance to Newton’s Law of Cooling and Heating, which applies to both animate and inanimate objects.
  2. Hormesis Stage — The mindful application of reverse temperature via the systematic control on the magnitude and duration of stress, triggering homeostatic thermal responses and the resulting thermal resistance. This also prevents the temperature from going out of bound, which can then induce deleterious damages to the body.

In what follows, we present several applications of the reverse-temperature method.

Application 1: Shower

Targeted Stress = Heat Stress

Physical activities and high ambient temperatures can act independently to induce unwanted heat stress. Such stress can be relieved (and taken advantage of) by showering under incrementally-cooler temperatures, as follows:

  1. Start with a neutral temperature (surprise!).
  2. After one minute or so, as the water pierces through the skin, rapid thermal adaptation will take place. At this point, shift to a slighter cooler temperature and observe how the body reacts to the change.
  3. Wait for around 10 seconds, if the temperature turns out to be rather refreshing, stay there for a while. On the other hand, if the temperature generates acute responses (e.g. clear goose bumps, breathing difficulty), revert back to the warmer temperature for a while.
  4. The goal is to constantly aim for the maximally-cool temperature (i.e., the most refreshing temperature that does not induce acute responses). As the body adapts to the increasingly-cooler temperatures, our thermal tolerance threshold might fluctuate slightly as well — what’s previously cool can turn warmer over time, and what’s previously warm can turn cooler over time. Repeat Step 3 as one sees fit.
  5. When done, finish the shower under cool water — to prevent any residual burning from taking place.

After weeks of showering this way, one can expect much less unwanted heat stress, and some side benefits such as clearer thought, increased heat resistance, and reduced inflammatory responses.

In case you’re more adventurous, performing moderate physical activities immediately before showering provides further detoxification effects, and proves to be remarkably invigorating as well. Give it a try!

Note: Showering with cooler water is also more energy-efficient and environmentally sound. Two birds with one stone there. 🙂

Targeted Stress = Cold Stress

Sedentary activities and low ambient temperatures can act independently to induce unpleasant cold stress, as exemplified by clear goose bumps and chronic cold hands/feet. In such cases, showering can be modified to eliminate these unwanted stress, while continuing to boost thermal resistance, enhance performance and promote cardiovascular health:

  1. Start with a neutral temperature (which should be much warmer this time).
  2. After one minute or so, thermal adaption will kick in. When it happens, adjust water to the maximally-warm temperature (i.e., the warmest temperature that does not induce painful responses). Stay there for a while.
  3. At some point, what’s previously warm will become too hot. Once there, turn down the temperature slightly and stay there for a while. Repeat the same process over and over again as one sees fit.
  4. If everything goes well, the cold stress should have been completely relieved near the end of this process. Finish the shower under cool water — to eliminate any residual burning.

Since we live in a temperature range of 0 to -30°C during the winter, we find this way of showering tremendously soothing (and refreshing near the end). Potential side benefits? The eliminations of blisters, frostbites, headaches and joint pain!

Application 2: Limbs

Staying in the cold non-stop, together with the lack of physical activities, could help accelerate muscular atrophy (a condition known as sarcopenia), which is detrimental for individuals with low muscle mass — as they require a certain amount of muscular strength to function properly.

Due to their constant exposure to the external environment, the hands and feet tend to be very susceptible to suboptimal ambient temperatures. As such, they need to be taken care of judiciously. If you experience cold hands or cold feet for hours non-stop, watch out! Similarly, we can burn our limbs without even being aware of it.

  • When it comes to hand washing, start with warm water and gradually decrease the temperature so that one finishes with cool/cold water near the end.
  • When it comes to dish washing, avoid soaking the hands in hot water. Instead, run the hot water on the plate only, and rinse the dishes under incrementally cooler temperatures (remember, the combination of heat, water movement and friction can add up — and you could be rubbing off your skin before you know it). When done, soak the hands in cool/cold water for a few seconds.
  • During freezing weather, keep the hands and feet covered when outside. When at home, instead of turning up the heater, opt for a more sustainable approach by dressing in thin layers, and… just heat yourself up manually through moderately-intense exercises (especially the isometric ones)! A word of caution though — make sure that your knees are well-covered to avoid injuries (see the knee osteoarthritis study in the theory post).
  • During hot (and potentially dry) weather, consider dressing in thin layers and avoiding wearing clothing unnecessarily. By the way, soaking the limbs in cool water, followed by exposure to strong wind (either naturally induced, or artificially induced via movement or ventilation), can drastically cool down our skin through rapid evaporation!

As a general rule of thumb, try to apply reverse temperature only to the affected body parts. For example, if only your hands are cold, consider wearing a pair of gloves for a couple of minutes. Similarly, socks and knee braces can be used to keep the feet and knees warm. Use your imagination!

Other Applications

Mouth Rinsing

As heat gets dissipated constantly from the inside out, it’s no surprise that our mouth is perpetually under mild heat stress. We speculate that this could be responsible for the deteriorating gum tissues which, all too often, is attributed to the normal process of aging.

In medicine, attributing a disease process to aging or genetics is, more often than not,  a masqueraded form of appeal to ignorance.

With that in mind, we prefer to rinse our mouth only with cold water. In fact, we even have a cup of water in the refrigerator (plus a few drops of essential oils) just for that purpose!


Since sleeping forces us to remain immobile for a huge chunk of time, doing it under suboptimal conditions can significantly impact our sleep quality, which in turn can lead to irritability, lethargy, poor performance and attentional issues (and sugar craving in certain individuals).

When the night is hot (and humid), consider wearing minimal clothing while sleeping (or none at all, if circumstances permit!). Similarly, opt for thinner blankets and use them only when cold. While it might not be immediately apparent, sleeping in a refreshing environment allows one to obtain the same quality of sleep in less time — It might also help reduce some tissue damages and other inflammatory responses operating in the background due to chronic heat stress.

On the other end of the spectrum, people in the North usually have the opposite experience — some of them might even sleep under the cold without giving it much thought. If that’s you, you’d better keep yourself warm by sleeping in pyjama and tight pant, and by covering yourselves with 1 or 2 thin blankets (for the purpose of better thermal control). Also, take good care to cover the hands and feet in the process — as the cold can spread to other parts of the body from there.


Most of us are familiar with the relief associated with chugging a bottle of cold water after an intense workout, or, to use a less healthy example. the “freedom” of devouring a bowl of ice cream during a hot summer day. This is no coincidence — our body does enjoy occasional “cold shocks” to a certain extent.

Similar to the manner by which an unusual fever can compromise the structural integrity of the brain, when the internal organs are heat up for a long period of time, tissue damages can lurk in without anyone noticing. Seeping cold drinks and eating refrigerated food, therefore, are some of the ways to mitigate this risk.

In a similar spirit, fasting, which substantially reduces metabolism and caloric burning, can be used to cool down the body as well.

On the other hand, when the body is too cold, our thermo-regulatory mechanism can fall short in producing sufficient heat to maintain the internal core temperature (people usually know when it happens, as this insufficiency often translates into irregular body temperature distribution, involuntary shivering and joint pains). If that’s the case, consider seeping a cup of hot green tea, or savouring a bowl of some high-fat, high-protein minimally-processed food, such as the tremendously-nourishing bone broth!

Developing Relative-Temperature Skill

More often than not, experimenting with thermal conditioning forces one to step outside of their comfort zone. This can lead to one regaining their temperature awareness, which in itself is a great achievement with benefits potentially spanning a lifetime.

The refined perception of relative temperature is what we called the relative-temperature skill. Analogous to relative pitch in music, relative-temperature skill enables accurate association between perceived temperatures and relative-temperature terminology. As the name implies, this is a tactile-to-semantic association skill that develops with time and experience.

And here is a crude example of a typical relative-temperature terminology:

  • Cold
  • Cool
  • Barely Cool
  • Neutral
  • Barely Warm
  • Warm
  • Hot

As simple and trivial as it sounds, the payoff of developing such a skill is enormous, for effective applications of reverse temperature essentially relies on the accurate perception of relative temperature. And of course, there is also the obvious payoff of turning oneself into a (relative) thermometer, or potentially becoming a real one in the near future!

Note: At some point, one might just start to appreciate the irregularity of temperature throughout the body. In fact, it’s not uncommon for one to experience cold on the hand surfaces, while still enjoying a bit of warmth inside the wrists. Oh well, this just means that some of us have got more opportunities to refine our relative-temperature skill!

Concluding Remarks

In a sense, avoiding unpleasant thermal stress seems like the most natural thing we have been doing all along. If anything, the trick here is really just to move from the obvious to the less conspicuous, by becoming cognizant of the presence of chronic/unpleasant thermal stress, and the deleterious effects they silently exert below our threshold of awareness.

Since we have been all too often conditioned to stay within our comfort zone, it’s important to note that our first impressions of hormetic temperatures tend to be inaccurate (especially in the initial phase of thermal conditioning, where we tend to overestimate the harm and underestimate the benefit). However, these false impressions are bound to fade away over time, and, who knows, some folks might just start to long for those “cold/heat shocks” after a while. 😉

In light of this, the reverse-temperature method can be regarded fundamentally as a form of thermal de-conditioning, leading to the gradual normalization and refinement of relative-temperature perception. It provides us with a way of rediscovering that long-lost freedom — a way of restoring our thermal well-being. In addition, it exemplifies a philosophy that we refer to as the pendulum way of living, by perpetually moving from one maximally-tolerable point to the other, while staying most of the time around the equilibrium position.

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