February 10, 2024
I never put much stock in Groundhog Day. Having spent the last 31 years in Southern California, we never really worried about our winters being too long. So, the idea of whether or not the sun is shining when a fairly obscure rodent emerges from his burrow has been pretty much a big “Whatever” in my book. I do like the fact that some of those who live in climates where the winter actually hurts make a big deal out of it all. I get it. They’re shoveling snow and they can’t play golf or pickleball. They are wearing a boatload of layers. Their weather vocabulary includes witches’ body parts. I was back in Arkansas recently, and it was 15 degrees. Miserable.
For some in those climates, the closest they come to winter sensations of warmth is when they watch the Rose Bowl on TV and almost feel the 75 and sunny Pasadena weather. And any excuse to dream of it all ending soon, no matter how silly, particularly when it’s associated with some kind of community celebration, is something I admire. To paraphrase Hansel from Zoolander, “The Groundhog Day celebrations they have every year, I don’t really pay attention to it, but the fact that they do it, I respect that.”
Regardless of my feelings about the day itself, I do put a whole lot of stock in the Groundhog Day movie. Since the film was released in 1993, it has changed the meaning of the day. I think there are far more people who say “Groundhog Day” referring only to the idea of something unwanted happening over and over again, like it’s some kind of freaky endless loop, than there are people who talk about the day as a predictor of winter’s merciful end. Groundhog Day is solidly on my favorite rom-com list. And as I was thinking about that list, I realized that there’s not much recent on it – nothing from the last 25 years in fact. My other favorites, not necessarily in any kind of order, include, You’ve Got Mail, Bull Durham, Sleepless in Seattle, Office Space, Moonstruck, Princess Bride, and High Fidelity. So many others are fantastic, but these are the ones I enjoy cycling through again and again.
I started thinking about all of this as I was dealing with a cold that I caught last week, just before Groundhog Day. As you may remember, I keep track of my colds. I thought it had been about a year since I was last slammed by the low energy, sniffles, and congestion – and, looking it up on Evernote, I saw that it had been exactly a year. Damn you, Groundhog Day! Now I will be aware of an impending attack this time next year. How will I ward off the chucks of this woodchuck/groundhog/marmot?
To build my defense, I need to figure out how I got this cold. My first response is always that I was mentally weak and had my defenses down. But what am I defending myself from these days? Certainly not stress. I’ve even made a few strides in getting good sleep. It’s not where it should be, but it’s better! I’ve been traveling a little bit, and I am meeting in person with a variety of people, so maybe that’s what it was. But I don’t think that’s it. I need a better culprit.
As I have pondered, I have decided that the blame lies with Thor, the God of Thunder.
Stick with me – it will make sense.
At the recommendation of two different friends, Jill and I started watching Limitless with Chris Hemsworth, the fantastic and educational 6-part National Geographic series on how to increase our longevity. If you’re a regular reader, you know that is right up my alley. The series features a whole lot of Peter Attia, whom I just wrote about in depth a few posts ago. But it mostly features Chris Hemsworth.
If you haven’t seen Chris Hemsworth as Thor in the Avenger series, you’re missing out. He’s a god, he’s funny, he deals with a pain-in-the-neck brother, and he looks good. Really good. He has muscles on his muscles. And his deep voice is so godlike that actor Chris Pratt was busted for trying to sound like Thor when he talked. In Limitless, we hear that voice telling us how to be almost as awesome as him, and, as an additional bonus, he takes his shirt off at least once per episode.
Of course he does.
So, back to the real point of the National Geographic series: how do we live longer? Each of the episodes focuses on a well-researched longevity technique, and in each episode, Chris is assigned a task that most mere mortals could not accomplish but which he, being Thor, successfully completes.
So back to blaming Thor – In episode #2, we learn about the benefits of immersing your body in very cold water. Chris’s challenge was to swim 250 yards (10 lengths of a normal pool) in the frigid 36-degree Norwegian North Atlantic Ocean (36 degrees Fahrenheit, of course – 36 degrees Celsius would be a balmy and pretty wonderful 97 degrees Fahrenheit). It looked brutal. Chris explains why he is subjecting himself to this torture: “Enduring extreme conditions could help me fight inflammation, manage pain, and boost my immune system,” he says. “It can trigger repairs inside my cells, and even improve my mental wellbeing. This isn’t a battle against cold, it’s a battle against what time could do to me.”
Someone suggested that if I watched this episode, it would help me embrace cold-water ocean swimming. Not yet. I do love swimming. But I swim in a pool where the temperature ranges somewhere between 78 and 80 degrees. I have many friends who swim in the beautiful Pacific Ocean, located just over a half a mile from my house. Not me. I love the ocean, but the bodies of open water in which I swim – only in the summer mind you – are the very warm Gulf of Mexico and even warmer Arkansas lakes. Here in California, I will typically brave the Pacific ocean when it hits 68 degrees or higher, which sometimes happens in August or September.
I have heard about the magical healing powers of ice baths from Kobe, LeBron, and my friend Merlin. Merlin (whose calves are actually more impressive than Thor’s) does at least one cold plunge (49 degrees) every day. Now Thor was piling it on. So what did I do? I decided to try it. I took a 58-degree ice bath (cold water and way less ice than Kobe, LeBron, and Merlin use), and the next day, in late January, during a sunny 70-degree afternoon, I swam in the 58-degree Pacific Ocean for about 20 minutes. I have to admit, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. And my stupid, always-swollen, and constantly painful arthritic knee loved it. (I sound pretty old there, don’t I?)
So, I started thinking, maybe Chris is right and I should make this a ritual. I’m no God of Thunder, but maybe in this small way, we can have something in common to discuss if I ever see him in the Starbucks line one day. And maybe I can join my friends who so, so, so, so love swimming in the ocean. It seemed like I was opening a whole new chapter in my comfortable 78-degree life.
Two days later, I was down with my Groundhog Day cold. Coincidence? Maybe. My body tends to fight back when I push it in new ways. It’s pretty smart that way.
But why blame myself, when I can blame the God of Thunder?
I’m not giving up, but I’m kind of dreading trying it again. Even though my cold water is so much warmer than the Norwegian Arctic, and I’m not swimming in a blizzard, there’s so much that my head needs to overcome if this is really going to become a life habit.
I’ll work on it.
But you can believe that as Groundhog Day 2025 approaches, I’m going to keep sleeping and avoiding stress – and I’m not trying anything new. I’ll be ready for you, my evil repeat-cycle friend.
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Post #101 on www.drmdmatthews.com
- Picture of Bill Murray from The Wrap
- Cover Image of Lake Louise by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay
- Chris Hemsworth Photo from Limitless with Chris Hemsworth, by National Geographic