Cold showers are amazing. There’s proof!
Cold showers are intended to help in many ways, and we can see that in all of the well-researched papers and videos that are out there. Many influencers have even taken it into their own hands and challenged themselves to take cold showers for up to 30 days, like Matt D’Avella who tried it out in March of 2019. Wim Hof, also known as The Iceman, swears by cold exposure, having climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts, has run a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot, and stood in a container while covered with ice cubes for over 112 minutes (Why?! I have no clue!).
Maybe it’s his Dutch genes, or maybe there is actually something to these cold showers that I can only learn from participating in the wackiness. I’m not at all encouraging this type of behavior, but if the benefits really outweigh the temporary (albeit grueling) discomfort, I was willing to give it a try. So that is when I set off for my 30-days of cold showers!
Some rules I set for myself:
- The shower needs to last at least 5 minutes
- Do not turn on hot water. If you must, start with luke-warm water and then turn it to cold right after.
- Do it in the morning and get it over with.
These self-imposed rules helped a lot. Having strict guidelines helped me stick to the daily cold showers. A minimum of 30 seconds of cold exposure after a hot shower is enough to experience some of the benefits, so I figured 5 minutes of exposure would be enough but also challenge me a little bit more. If I started the shower with hot water, the likelihood of me switching to cold was slim to none, so I hopped straight into ice cold. Honestly, it takes too much mental energy to go from hot water to cold, so I saved myself that hassle. Lastly, I wanted to do it in the morning to see if a cold shower could really replace my morning coffee. Realistically, nothing would replace the taste of coffee in the morning, but I figured I’d try nonetheless.
Here are some of the main benefits of cold showers and whether or not I noticed them in the 30 days I experimented!
1. Cold showers can increase mental alertness naturally:
Coldwater does certainly alert your nervous system that it’s time to wake up! I took the shower before starting work or any workouts so that I could get myself pumped up. On days when I was feeling lethargic or hot around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, I’d hop in a cold shower for, dare I say, FUN!? I actually managed to switch to decaf while taking these cold showers. That is huge for me since I didn’t realize how reliant I was on caffeine. I still drink decaf coffee in the morning because I love the taste and the ritual.
2. It helps to reduce stress:
Obviously, exposure to too much cold can be an issue, especially if you aren’t used to it. When you take a short cold shower, how can you tell you’re less stressed? A study done by Dr. Rhonda Patrick helps paint a better picture. By taking a cold shower, you are increasing the release of the hormone norepinephrine (one that calms you down) to the blood. This will have a positive influence on focus, attention, and mood. This was one of the main reasons I wanted to try this out; would my anxiety go down by taking cold showers daily? I realized it absolutely did. In the end, whatever happens, today, I’ve already endured a horrible cold shower. I can handle whatever comes my way!
3. It can strengthen your willpower:
Speaking of handling stress; I found I felt more excited to start my day. Knowing I had to shower in cold water every morning may have been tough, but there was something weirdly empowering about the act of the cold shower. Gaining control of my breath, not screaming, trying to remain calm; I found my mental capacity for handling pain and discomfort was positively altered within a week. Facing my “fear” every morning made me realize that this “fear” is self-inflicted and I have control of the outcome. I can be upset about it, or I can just get it over with knowing nothing negative is going to happen! Or better yet, in the words of Victor Frankl: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
4. It may lead to fewer sick days:
For real. I didn’t think this was true, but there is research done to prove it. It’s not that participants who took cold showers did not get sick as often, but their symptoms were less severe or they felt more energetic. Because of this, they were better able to push through the sickness and function anyway. So how does cold exposure affect our immune system? Cold temperatures make you shiver, which is an autonomous response to keep your body temperature up. This takes work — whether you feel it or not! It involves a neuroendocrine effect and triggers our fight-or-flight response. This causes hormones like cortisol – the stress hormone – to increase, shortly before we shift to a relaxation response. Cold temperatures activate the brown — or good — fat in the body. This affects your body’s thermoregulation; which works to keep the body warm by burning calories.
On another note, my recovery from exercise was much shorter after a cold shower than after a relaxing warm one. The cold water accelerates vasoconstrictions in the entire body, squeezing out all of that lactic acid build-up. I was up early and ready for training the next day with minimal muscle inflammation.
To be completely honest, if I hadn’t done this in the summer, this would have been way more painful. Living in Canada, I chose not to try this out in the winter. But, now that winter is here, I’m thinking of giving it another go. Keep in mind, you can switch back and forth between hot and cold with similar benefits. It’s like going in and out of a sauna. Let us know if you ended up trying cold showers, even if it was 30 seconds of cold at the end of a relaxing hot shower. All you need is 30-90 seconds!