It’s 04:30 Monday morning. I jump out of bed, ready to start my day.
I walk across the hall to the bathroom, turn the shower on to the coldest setting and hop in. For the next few minutes, I fight the urge to get out as ice cold water beats down on me.
You may be asking yourself, “Why would he do that?”
On the face of it, it does sound crazy. Why would I want to expose myself to freezing cold water first thing in the morning? Or at any time of the day for that matter?
In today’s post, I’m going to walk you through the major health benefits of cold showers.
You see, I’ve been using cold showers as a part of my practical self-improvement for quite a while now. Though it wasn’t a regular practice until about a month ago.
Once I became aware of the potential health benefits of cold showers, I fully integrated it into my regular routine. Though I typically refrain on weekends, every weekday is started with a blast of icy cold water.
So, why do I do it? What could I possibly gain from taking the cold plunge almost every morning?
Why Cold Showers?
I first learned about the power of cold exposure therapy from a book called What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney.
In this book, he talks about the various lessons he learned from a man called Wim Hof.
In case you’ve never heard of Wim Hof, here’s a brief summary of who he is:
Known as the Ice Man, Wim Hof is a Dutch extreme athlete who is widely known for his ability to withstand extreme cold. To summarise how much of a badass this guy is, during a 180m swim underneath a frozen lake with nothing on but swimming trunks, his eyes froze over. He somehow came out of the scenario alive and did it again the next day (with goggles this time) and set a world record for the longest underwater swim in such extreme conditions.
In the book, Carney talks a lot about the benefits of cold water exposure. It was enough for me to give it a try.
Sure enough, I felt better than ever. I was at university at the time, so finding something which was more effective than coffee at waking me up was astonishing.
Since then, I dabbled in cold showers.
However, about a month ago, I challenged myself to make it a normal part of my daily routine (at least on weekdays) and I’ve seen for myself the amazing benefits it can have.
So, what are the health benefits of cold showers?
The Health Benefits of Cold Showers
The Big Myth:
Before I continue, I think it’s important to address one big myth.
Cold showers boost testosterone!!!
Sadly, this is not true. Cold showers do not directly boost testosterone as studies have shown.
Sorry, gym rats and bodybuilders. I wish it were true, but it isn’t.
Ok, let’s jump into the real benefits of cold showers.
1) Reduces Stress and Relieves Depression
According to Dr Peter Bongiorno, cold showers are positively associated with reduced stress, depression and also anxiety.
In a Psychology Today article, he suggested that it could be working in the same way that electric shock therapy does. And trust me, it is definitely a shock the first few times that you do it.
Whilst it might not be as effective as drug therapy, it can work and with no negative side effects.
In fact, a case study from the University of Portsmouth has reported that even swimming in cold, open water can help individuals with depression.
So, it’s definitely worth a shot – what’s the worst that can happen?
2) Promotes Fat Loss
Did you know that there are two types of fat in the body?
There is white fat – the kind that you may see around your belly and thighs – and then there is brown fat.
Brown fat is a secret weapon that very few people are aware of. Most think all body fat is bad. But, here’s the thing: when brown fat is activated or stimulated, it burns away white body fat like a plasma torch to paper.
Cold water exposure activates brown fat in the body. These fat cells work to bring your body temperature back to normal and the most effective fuel to burn for that is white fat.
I’m not saying that taking a daily cold shower will give you those chiselled abs you’ve always wanted, but it will certainly help.
3) Improves Immunity and Circulation
One of the health benefits of cold showers is improved blood circulation. Since your blood circulation is elevated during a cold shower, demand for oxygen is increased.
Your body will naturally want to take deeper breaths which will provide more oxygen-rich blood for your brain and body. This is what gives you a sudden feeling of alertness during a cold shower.
As an added bonus, the cold water and then warm contrast after the shower constrict and dilate blood vessels which can improve your immune system.
4) Reduces Muscle Soreness and Aids Recovery
Professional athletes have been using cold water therapy as a tool for recovery for a very long time.
Experts believe that cold water reduces muscle soreness by reducing inflammation in the muscles. No inflammation, no soreness. No soreness, no severe glute pain after over-stacking the leg press at the gym.
Now, there are certainly better ways to boost recovery time and prevent muscle soreness, but the benefits of a cold shower or taking an ice bath go beyond just reducing muscle pain.
Give it a try next time you feel a little sore after a heavy workout. You may surprise yourself.
5) Better Skin and Hair
Hot or warm water often removes the oils which are necessary to give hair it’s natural gloss and shine. This can lead to dry hair (and also dry, tight skin) which can be less than pleasant.
So, on top of reducing depression and stress, stimulating fat loss and improving your immune system, it can also make you look and feel better too.
How To Get Started With Cold Showers
This could be an entire article on its own, but I’ll keep these tips as short as possible.
1) Try It Out For At Least 7 Days
The first time you take a freezing cold shower, it will be hell. You will hate it – I promise you that.
But, once you get out of the cold water, you will feel amazing. Your oxygen levels will be higher and endorphins will be flooding into your brain. It will feel like you’ve just had a triple espresso but without the immediate regret and slight dizziness.
The second day will be easier, so will the third and onwards. By the seventh day, you’ll know if it’s a viable tactic for you.
2) Try It For At Least Two Minutes
This should be enough time to regain control of your breathing which is the key to getting through the cold shower.
3) Resist The Urge To Get Out
Your body will scream at you to get out of the cold water. Relax. Such a short exposure cannot hurt you. You are in control of yourself. Try and wait out the two minutes.
4) Slowly Extend The Amount of Time Spent
Once two minutes is easy, make it three, then five. Just be careful not to spend too much time under the cold water. Know your limits.
I’m a big fan of gradual exposure to improve resilience, but take your time with it.
5) Get Your Head Under The Cold Water
At least for some of the time, get your head under the stream of cold water. It’s good for your hair and you’ll have to focus on your breathing a little more.
6) Take Deep Breaths To Relax Your Body
Deep breaths are the key to relaxing your body during the cold shower. You will naturally want to take sharp, short breaths. Resist this urge.
Take long, deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth – just be careful not to inhale ice cold water.
7) Don’t Wait! Turn On The Shower and Get Straight In
Bonus points if you get in the shower first and then turn the cold water on for a direct first hit.
If not, use the 5-second second rule.
Turn the shower on to cold and then count down from 5. On 1, just jump into the shower and embrace the cold.
Taking a cold shower is by no means a miracle cure. However, there are definite health benefits of cold showers which can improve your life.
It’s a hard thing to do first thing in the morning. However, you will find that getting something difficult done first thing in the morning can set you up to conquer the whole day.
As the saying goes, eat that frog.