There are many things we can do to live a healthier lifestyle, and whilst some are logical, some sound whacky, and some are whacky – the concept of having daily cold showers might tick all three categories.
The idea of replacing a long, warm, steamy shower with a short blast of icy cold water – particularly first thing in the morning, is not a thought that many relish. However, the long term health benefits appear to outweigh the short term pain. Indeed, whoever said “no pain no gain” would love the concept of having a cold shower in order to boost physical well being, productivity, and one’s mental fortitude.
This article is going to look at some of the health benefits of cold water therapy, but before we get into that, the first thing you’re going to need is a decent shower. There are many walk in shower choices available, but what you’re really looking for in terms of cold water therapy, is one that has sufficient flow to fully immerse your body in the cold water (think of how in some countries within Eastern Europe people chuck buckets of ice water over themselves) as if it’s just a dribble of a jet stream, it probably won’t be sufficient enough.
It’s easy to imagine how taking a cold shower in the morning would leave you feeling more alert, but there’s a lot going on beneath the surface of the sheer horror and shock pouring cold water over yourself is bound to create. In response to your body’s shock, the depth and rate of your breathing will increase, thus your oxygen intake will increase dramatically. Your heart rate will also increase, meaning fresh oxygenated blood will be pumped around your entire body.
There’s a lot of recent hype in terms of the benefits of cold showers, yet this has been practiced by the cognoscenti for hundreds of years. Katherine Hepburn apparently took ice-cold baths during childhood and kept with this practice for the rest of her life — due to the high level of energy she reported having.
There is also a spiritual aspect to taking a cold shower. We all carry around a lot of stagnant energy in our auras – this ice cold blast, each morning, is a fantastic way to clear away the dross that stagnates in our energy field.
REPLENISH HAIR AND SKIN
Hot water has a tendency to dry skin out which is why professionals recommend splashing cold water on your face (in order to close the pores) after exfoliating, in order to prevent your skin from getting clogged which leads to blackheads. Cold water is equally effective when it comes to sealing the pores in your scalp, and tightening the hair cuticles, preventing dirt from getting in.
Even lukewarm water, rather than the hot water we often feel we require, can help prevent the skin from being stripped of its healthy natural oils. When it comes to hair, cold showers can make your hair appear healthier, it also stimulates circulation around the hair follicle, meaning it could go some way to preventing baldness.
IMPROVES IMMUNITY & HEART HEALTH
When you immerse yourself in cold water, blood will rush to your vital organs in order to protect them – nourishing them with vital nutrients that are immediately transported to vital areas, as the body goes into ‘emergency protect’ mode. When cold water hits your body, the heart has to pump blood through the arteries more efficiently, therefore, boosting overall heart health. The benefits of taking a cold shower each morning have been known to lower blood pressure and clear blocked arteries. However, these benefits are normally only associated with long-term exposure, unfortunately, one quick shower, isn’t a panacea for all ills.
STIMULATES WEIGHT LOSS
This might, at first glance, sound like a gimmick, but cold showers can assist weight loss in an unexpectedly effective and scientifically reliable way. There are two types of fat; white fat and brown fat. White fat is the “bad fat” that is often accumulated around our waist area when we consume more calories than our bodies need. Brown fat, on the other hand, is the “good fat” which our bodies need to generate heat in order to keep our internal organs warm; this particular type of fat production is stimulated by exposure to cold water – therefore, this healthy fat is being produced as a result of said exposure.
The particularly good news is that when brown fat is activated due to extreme cold, you burn calories in order to keep warm, and more importantly, it increases your metabolic rate, which means that when your heart is beating at its resting rate, you will burn more calories from essentially doing nothing.
SPEEDS UP MUSCLE RECOVERY
It’s common to see athletes taking ice baths after intense training in order to reduce muscle soreness, but a quick cold shower, can be just as effective in terms of stimulating one’s metabolism and relieving the aches and pains associated with delayed-onset muscle soreness. Apparently, 24 minute cold water baths at a temperature of 10 to 15 degree celsius (50 to 59 degrees fahrenheit) are the optimal conditions.
Cold water therapy works by redirecting blood flow from the superficial blood vessels to deep blood vessels, thus limiting inflammation and swelling and improving venous return – which is the amount of blood returning to the heart for re-oxygenation that removes waste from your body (i.e. lactic acid caused by exercise). An ice bath would be more ideal, but spending eight minutes under a cold shower, should have a similar effect.
There’s a sense of personal pride and power that comes from running into the cold ocean, it feels like you are taking on the world, and nothing can stop you… admittedly, we all know that isn’t the reality of getting into cold water, there are often far more shrieks and yelps than we would care to admit, but in essence, taking on the challenge increases our tolerance to stress and boosts self-esteem.
Cold showers have been proven to help with depression due to the stimulating impact on cold receptors in the skin, which send an overwhelming electrical impulse from the nerve endings back to the brain; thus producing an anti-depressive effect that boosts low mood. A study published by a molecular biologist called Nikolai Shevchuk found evidence cold showers can help alleviate the symptoms of depression, and, if used regularly, might be more effective than antidepressants — as exposure to cold water can help flood your brain with neurotransmitters.
There is evidence to suggest that cold showers also have an analgesic effect on the body, which if someone is suffering from severe pain, can help alleviate the negative mental spirit associated with being plagued by pain. Cold water showers are particularly good for relieving tension headaches due to the blood that rushes to the brain in order to protect it from the extreme cold water.
The mental, emotional and spiritual benefits of cold water therapy are substantial. Russian Orthodox Christians have a tradition to go cold-water swimming every January, for religious purposes, to purify their souls. The idea of a polar bear plunge, at New Year, whereby people will jump into a frozen lake, explain it gives them a shot of adrenaline that leaves them feeling renewed and invigorated.
Productivity has two aspects, the things we do physically, in the sense of the actions we take (or fail to take) and the way we approach things mentally and emotionally. Mind and body are linked – the two affect each other much more than most people realise, and if you are in a strong mental and emotional state (having taken on the challenge of cold water exposure) the actions you subsequently take to get you toward your goals are likely to be significant.
BOOST TESTOSTERONE LEVELS
Depending on your intention, boosting your testosterone levels, can be a desirable or unwanted effect of cold water showers. The benefit, irrespective of gender, means that it will increase your metabolic rate, burn fat, improve mood, tolerance and competitive spirit.
To sum things up, the health benefits of having regular cold showers are substantial, but whilst getting up in the morning to immerse yourself in cold water will help combat lethargy and fogginess of the mind, it doesn’t sound particularly comfortable – and the truth is it’s not. It’s going to push you beyond your comfort zone. It’s going to make you shiver. It’s going to make you crave a nice warm shower… but if you bear with it, then the health and productivity benefits are huge.
One last thing to bear in mind, is that for centuries, and even today, many people around the world have cold showers – they use what water is available to them, and when the Ancient Greeks invented the concept of hot water to wash one’ body, many chose to use cold water, due to the health benefits associated with this practice.