We're reusing an old joke here, but how do you know if someone takes cold showers and embraces cold exposure? Don't worry, they’ll tell you. While cold showers may be the latest fad in fitness circles, thankfully, and unlike so many that have gone before, this trend is less hype and more help for body and mind.
What the early adopters of cold showers probably haven't told you is you don't actually have to go full Wim Hof or full Iceman to fire up the most potent cold shower benefits – a temperature that's uncomfortably cold, but you can manage for a few minutes is what you're actually after.
Need more convincing about whether cold showers are good for you? We've looked into the science to collate 13 cold shower benefits, which should put your excuses on ice, as well as answered some of the most asked questions on the subject.
13 Cold Shower Benefits
Ready to lift your health and training to a new degree? We thought so. Should you need a little more convincing, however, here are 13 science-backed reasons to turn your next shower baltic. You can thank us later.
Cold Showers... Elevate Your Mood
When you step under a cold shower, the water stimulates the cold receptors in your skin, which send strong electrical impulses to your brain. This triggers the release of mood-regulating neurotransmitters like endorphins – the same chemicals responsible for the ‘runner’s high’, except without the hassle of lacing up to tackle a morning 5k.
Cold Showers... Jolt You Awake
Struggling to shake off morning grogginess? Freezing water boosts the production of norepinephrine and dopamine, two hormones that shift your nervous system into a sympathetic state – which essentially means that it’s a great way to get hyped up before your workout, particularly when combined with a double espresso. Though maybe you shouldn’t drink that in the shower.
Cold Showers... Fire Up Your Circulation
Turning the dial down ‘instantly reduces your core temperature, which makes your body work harder to warm itself back up by pumping blood around a lot faster,’ says personal trainer Ollie Hayes, former professional rugby player and founder of So Fit. ‘This massively improves your circulation, which has longer-term health benefits,’ and helps ward off cardiovascular conditions like heart attack, angina and stroke.
Cold Showers... Boost Your Metabolism
Counter-intuitively, an icy bath or shower can help you warm up before training. It flips your body’s internal thermostat, raising your metabolism and kick-starting your in-built heat-producing mechanisms – an energy-intensive process that torches through calories.
Cold Showers... Hasten Your Post-workout Recovery
Here’s how: it constricts the blood vessels near the surface of your skin, diverting blood towards your core – a process known as vasoconstriction. ‘The purported recovery benefit is that this reduces swelling and inflammation in the muscles,’ says sports scientist Adam Ridler, a master trainer at Ten Health and Fitness. ‘It helps to draw waste substances and lactic acid away. When the body begins to warm up, vasodilation occurs, pumping fresh, warm blood around the tissues bringing nutrients, and oxygen and aiding in recovery.’
Cold Showers... Ease DOMS
As well as flushing your muscles of toxins, making your post-workout shower a cold one also tricks your brain into making a speedier recovery. Cold water immersion effectively reduced muscle soreness and accelerated fatigue recovery, according to a meta analysis published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.
Cold Showers... Shore up Your Immune Defences
It mightn’t feel like a protective measure, but repeated exposure to cold water stimulates production of the infection-fighting white blood cells that defend your body against common illnesses, Charles University found. Plus, when you do succumb, you’re less likely to suffer. People who take cold showers are 29 per cent less likely to call in sick for work or school, a study published in PLoS One revealed – leading researchers to conclude that the icy spray makes a person’s illness feel less severe than it actually is.
Cold Showers... Can Support Weight Loss
Fast metabolism, more weight loss, right? ‘While there may be an element of truth in this, if you’re having six cold showers a day and are still eating a KFC every lunchtime, you’re not going to be losing much weight,’ says Hayes. ‘Weight loss ultimately comes down to calories in versus calories out. No amount of cold showers will make up for a bad diet.’ To reap the metabolic rewards, resist the temptation to ‘reward’ your bravery.
Cold Showers... Ease Depressive Symptoms
Taking a cold shower for five minutes, once or twice daily, relieving symptoms of depression in a small trial by Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. As well as boosting levels of norepinephrine, cold water promotes the release of beta-endorphin, ‘a substance that can block the sensation of pain,’ says Dr Stephanie Ooi, GP at MyHealthcare Clinic. Together, they’re thought to help fend off the Black Dog.
Cold Showers... Quell Inflammation
You don’t need us to tell you that unchecked inflammation is bad news for your health. Over the long-term, your inflammatory response can damage healthy cells, tissues and organs, upping your risk of serious diseases like cancer, arthritis and hardened arteries. Cold showers are a panacea: they activate your sympathetic nervous system, lowering levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokines that contribute to chronic inflammation.
Cold Showers... Fine-tune Your Focus
Gunning for a promotion? Crank the dial to boost your focus and perform at your peak, no nootropics necessary. Cold showers increase blood flow to your brain, delivering a bumper hit of oxygen and nutrients that improve your concentration, alertness and mental clarity.
Cold Showers... Build Resilience
‘Cold showers definitely help with mental resilience,’ says Hayes. ‘Simply having one is a feat of willpower in itself. You’re training your body and mind to go out of your comfort zone, which makes you stronger and more resilient. Things that once felt really tough can suddenly feel a lot less tough as you can tolerate more physical and mental discomfort.’
Cold Showers... Raise Your T-levels
When athletes were subjected to extremely low temperatures after a tough sprint session, the concentration of testosterone in their saliva was 21 per cent higher two hours after their workout, and 28% higher after 24 hours, sports scientists at Swansea University found. Being athletes, they used a cryotherapy chamber, but a cold dip’ll work just as well.
Cold Showers: Your Questions Answered
Let's put off actually jumping in a cold shower a little longer, while we answer some important questions on the subject, including how and when to do it.
How Long Should You Cold Shower For?
If you've decided to practise cold showers, but don't want to spend a second longer shivering under the freezing water than you have to, a study by Danish researchers concluded that cold showering for 11 minutes per week, split between two to four sessions, with each lasting one to five minutes was optimal.
What Temperature Should You Cold Shower At?
It a bit of a boring answer, but the temperature you should be cold showering at really depends on you, because some people are able to tolerate cold better than others. Rather than aiming for a temperature, aim for a feeling. When you're in the cold shower, it should be uncomfortable and you should want to get out, but you should also safely be able to stay in.
Should You Cold Shower After Training or Before?
You've just finished a session you're hot, sweaty and exhausted, a perfect time to enjoy a cold shower, no? Well, a meta analysis looking at the effect cold showering had on recovery found that cold water immersion straight after training boosted muscle power, perceived recovery while at the same time decreasing muscle soreness.
However, before you turn the temperature down after you next session, having a cold shower after you train can limit some of your muscle gains if done within a four-hour window of you working out. If your reason for training is hypertrophy it's better to have a cold shower before you train.
Should You Cold Shower at Night or in The Morning?
We'll leave this one to the expert. On his YouTube channel, Wim Hof said you should be taking cold showers, 'mostly in the morning ... because then you activate the cardiovascular system, and that is when action starts. Yet when you have cortisol in you and you can't sleep well because of the presence of cortisol then going into a cold shower could be an answer because it raises the adrenaline and brings down the cortisol.’
How to Start Taking Cold Showers
So, you’re committed to your new shower habit, but can’t quite face a five-minute stint straight off the bat? Mediate the sting of the spray by easing into the habit with short, sharp blasts. Begin by lowering the temperature incrementally at the end of your usual shower. Make sure the water is cold enough that it’s uncomfortable, but not unbearable.
Sustain the cold for two or three minutes, breathing deeply to allay any discomfort. Resist the temptation to stiffen up, and try and lean into the experience. The following day, drop the temperature further and stick it out for another 30 seconds. While ‘fully acclimatising’ might be a wishful goal, you’ll soon anticipate the post-blast endorphin rush.
The Drawbacks of Cold Showers
We’ve covered the many ways that taking a cold shower benefits your physical and mental health. But it’s worth distinguishing that while an icy blast under the faucet can certainly add value to your life, it’s not a panacea for all ills.
In fact, there are a small percentage of people for whom cold showers could be harmful. If you’re feeling under the weather, have recently been in hospital, or are immunocompromised, exposing your skin to freezing temperatures may well do more harm than good.
More generally, if you’re already cold before you jump into the shower – because it’s winter, for example – turning the dial down mightn’t transfer the same benefits. Plus, it’s likely to take a long time for your body to warm back up. In short: be sensible.
Finally, if you’re currently taking medication for your mental health – for example, if you’ve been diagnosed with clinical depression, bipolar or borderline personality disorder – ditching your prescription in favour of a cold shower isn’t advised. At all. Stick to your doctor’s advice.
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