They sound terrifying if you’ve never done one. They sound amazing if you’re a veteran.
They’ve got a ton of benefits: clarity of mind and fearlessness, to name a few. In the past I’ve focused specifically on the mental and psychological aspects of cold showers but, as it turns out, there are quite a few actual scientifically studied health benefits of cold showers as well.
There seems to be quite a bit of misinformation and folklore around cold showers, so I’ve tried to comb through and sort out the scientifically backed evidence from the urban legends. For more information, see the sources below.
The Health Benefits of Cold Showers
Better Immune System
There are countless studies which show that cold exposure improves your immunity.
Cold water immersion has been shown to increase metabolic rates due to shivering and the immune system being activated. Experiment participants who participated in 6 weeks of immersions benefited from an increase in plasma concentration, as well as T helper cells and lymphocytes.
In Sweden, it’s common practice to let small babies take naps outdoors in the cold. These babies have not only been shown to be more resistant to diseases, but they also seem to sleep deeper and more soundly.
(Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21537988 & http://herkules.oulu.fi/isbn9789514296673/isbn9789514296673.pdf.)
In Siberia, they take it one step further and dump a whole bucket of cold water over children’s heads, in a ritual called Rodnichok or cold springs. They do this year-round for ages 2-6. Again, this is in Siberia. These kids are tough. It’s shown that about 95% of the kids who participate are healthy through the flu season as opposed to 75% of the those children in groups that don’t participate.
Lesson learned: if you want to be healthy, stick to the cold setting on your shower!
When your body is exposed to cold, it requires more heat to warm you up. To do so, it has to process more energy and, in doing so, helps you burn more fat, more efficiently. It can also activate “brown fat”, which is a sort of good fat that helps generate heat, increase your metabolism and burn fat.
Cold water exposure over time is shown to improve circulation. Since cold exposure causes your blood flow to be redirected to your vital organs, it forces your body to circulate your blood more efficiently and effectively.
Regular cold showers help limit heat loss, decrease core body temperature and regulate overall body temperature.
Relief From Symptoms ofDepression
Cold showers have been shown to help relieve depression symptoms. Due to the high density of cold receptors in the skin, a cold shower is expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which can result in an anti-depressive effect. So, if you need a pick-me-up, jump in the shower and turn it to the blast setting.
Healthy Skin & Hair (not dried out)
Cold water helps “close” pores. This keeps your skin looking smooth and healthy while not drying your skin out as hot water showers can do. The cold water helps keep your hair shiny and your skin soft, rather than itchy, ashy and dried out.
A 1993 study done by the Thrombosis Research Institute in England showed that cold baths correlate with high testosterone levels. We don’t have the direct link, but try it for yourself and see. We promise that, after spending 5-10 minutes in the freezing cold water, you’ll at least feel like more of a man.
As you can imagine, an increase in testosterone can lead to an increase in fertility. Hot baths and showers drastically decrease sperm count. So, if you’re looking to pop out a few mini-mes, and want to give your little swimmers a fighting chance, make sure to turn your water to cold.
Besides the fact that there’s nothing quite like ice cold water to wake you up out of a daze, cold showers can actually boost your energy levels. When you jump into a cold shower, the nerve endings on your skin stand up because of the ice world you just entered. You heart starts racing and you start breathing rapidly as your body adjusts. That’s a response that the best cup of coffee in the world can’t match.
The lymphatic system takes waste away from your cells to help fight disease. It’s separate from your blood vessels, but is moved around by the contraction of your muscles. Cold showers cause your entire body to contract and this forces the lymphatic system to push the lymph fluids throughout your body so that they don’t pool in one part of your body as they would if the lymphatic system were compromised or inefficient.
Ice baths have long been used by elite athletes to help decrease inflammation after a workout. They work to help alleviate DOMS by constricting the veins throughout your body and thereby removing toxins from your blood. When you get out, your system is flushed with fresh, nutrient-rich blood that can help repair muscles and tendons.
Cold showers can force you to breathe deeper by forcing you to momentarily pause and hold your breath as a sort of automatic reflex when the cold water hits. This helps open up the lungs (just like physical exercise does) and helps bring in more oxygen.
Remember the sleeping babies from earlier? Well, they’re not the only ones sleeping better at night thanks to the cold. Insomniacs are advised to take cold showers to aid their sleep. This might be because the feeling you get after the initial shock of the shower helps your body calm down and relax.
Personal note: I’ve noticed that I sleep better and deeper when I’m taking cold showers than when I’m not.
Tolerance To Stress
In general, cold exposure gives your body a higher tolerance to stress. Over time, this leads to the strengthening and hardening of your body and immune system (as we talked about earlier).
Cold showers have also been used to reduce chronic pain, body aches and inflammation, improve hair health and kidney function, regulate the nervous system, deepen your breathing, and help fight fatigue and improve quality of sleep. Whew!
One of the main benefits is the ability to subject the body to a certain level of stress in a controlled environment. By doing this, you teach your body to adapt to the stressors and become stronger. Whether it’s respiratory, circulatory or simple temperature regulation, you’ll find your body strengthening and hardening to these small stressors.
Of course, these are just the physical health benefits of cold shower therapy. I personally think the mental health benefits and the psychology of taking cold showers are worth it alone. There’s a whole suite of reasons why taking freezing cold showers might be the next big healthy thing you start doing.
Do it. It might just change your life.