It’s Time You Start Turning That Shower Dial to Cold
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While the climate changes with the seasons throughout the year – and your wardrobes fluctuates along with it, there’s one temperature that likely remains constant. The water in your shower. "Hot showers are most men’s go-to for starting their day," says Dr. David Samadi, world-renowned urologist and prostate cancer surgeon, developing a robo-oncology surgery that has saved more than 7000 lives, and author of The Ultimate MANual.
Although there’s nothing wrong with turning your shower dial into the hot red zone and enjoying a steamy splash, there’s compelling evidence that suggests embracing a cold shower once in awhile can offer your body and mind a ton of benefits. "Turning down the temperature of [your] early morning blast of water can be beneficial to both physical and mental health. It was not unusual centuries ago for many cultures to rely on cold showers for certain religious ceremonies and to use cold water to treat medical needs from broken bones to erectile dysfunction."
If you thought cold showers were limited to hard-core athletes, ice bucket challengers, or to reduce unwanted urges – think again. The likes of Tony Robbins, Robin Sharma, Miranda Kerr, Madonna, and Lady Gaga are all big advocates of the cold water shower. Not to mention, Ian Fleming’s iconic 007 has been widely referenced for taking “Scottish Showers” (a piping hot shower immediately followed by one minute of ice-cold water).
When Did the Cold Shower Trend Start?
Contrary to popular belief, the practice of diving into a cold shower is not new. Hippocrates and Plato have both been recorded as early adopters, in addition to people from ancient Asia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Though in the last decade a trend seems to have formed, with the concept most recently being highlighted in a Goop Lab episode, featuring Dutch athlete Wim Hof.
Hof, nicknamed the “The Iceman” is notably the most referenced on Google and amongst cold water enthusiasts for his brave ideals. He released a book, detailing his method, but in a nutshell, the foundation of it is built on breathing techniques, cold therapy (submerging the body in icy cold water or snow), and commitment. Sure, this might all sound a bit extreme but research shows that it can have a positive impact on your health and fitness the more it’s practiced.
If you want to start small with your cold dips, no judgment here. Triathlete Joel Runyon, who delivered a Ted Talk on his challenge to complete 30 days of cold showers, swears that taking cold showers for just five minutes a day made him both mentally and physically stronger. It allowed him to embrace feeling uncomfortable. This challenge ultimately became a habit and lead him to complete an Ironman and Ultramarathon, start his own business, and get into the best shape of his life.
What Happens When You Take a Cold Shower?
Let’s break the ice. There’s a reason why the majority of people are not rushing to take cold showers. However, the minority who do give it a go more than once, tend to stick with the habit. The act of engulfing your body into cold water triggers a fight or flight response, releasing a surge of ‘stress hormones,’ including cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline (the adrenal hormone that raises your spirits). This then makes your heart rate shoot up and causes you to breathe harder.
If you decide to make cold showers a regular part of your weekly routine, this process will become like second nature to you.
Health and Fitness Benefits of Taking a Cold Shower
1. Boosts Your Mood
Seeking your next pick-me-up? The British Medical Journal found that wild swimming (swimming outdoors, commonly in cold water) has neuroprotective and therapeutic effects that can instantly provide an energy lift to those who have symptoms of depression. While you might not have access to a pool or large body of water suitable for swimming, a similar experience can be recreated in your morning shower. And let’s face it, who doesn’t want to feel more revitalized and alert in the early a.m?
In some cases, cold hydrotherapy (water therapy) has been used as an alternative treatment to antidepressant medication, as it has been linked to having similar effects on the body. When you shiver, you breathe harder, so the body can take in more oxygen, and that gets distributed faster to keep the body warm which can feel like a mental boost.
"About one in 10 men suffer from depression and anxiety. Some men would rather not take medication for this condition. If they’re looking for a more holistic approach, they may consider hydrotherapy" says Samadi.
He notes that hydrotherapy has been around since the 1800s and has been shown to relieve signs of depression if cold showers are taken for up to five minutes, two to three times a week. "Cold water can also leave men feeling invigorated and energized. Part of this is due to the release of endorphins that help lead to feelings of well-being and optimism."
2. Relieves Pain
An ice pack or a cold compress are commonly used for pain relief, and cold water in the shower works no differently. It’s been said that Hippocrates recommended bathing in spring water to ‘allay lassitude’ and often now, people are prescribed the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) to alleviate pain and swelling.
Ever felt muscle tightness or throbbing after an intense workout? This is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). With a cold shower, you can help reduce any swelling and inflammation in your body that is occurring from DOMS. Not to mention, the cold will reduce your perception of pain, since it slows the nervous system’s transmission of pain signals to the brain. Research has actually found that taking cold water baths after working out was more beneficial in helping sore muscles than simply resting.
Many professional athletes rely on the practice of taking regular cold showers to help improve their bodies’ healing process.
3. Supports the Immune System
We all strive to be pillars of health. While some may reach for a multivitamin, burn soothing oils, and/or eat all the organic produce they can get their hands on, adding a burst of frost to your day should be added to that list of immune-boosting practices, too.
Dr. Samadi agrees, "We may think being cold will weaken resistance to infections and other health conditions, but it may be just the opposite," he says. He notes that a study conducted by Britain’s Thrombosis Research Institute found that people who were taking a daily cold shower built up more virus-fighting white blood cells than the people who were only taking hot showers.
"Cold showers will force the body to warm itself up during and after the shower which causes the metabolic rate to increase, activating the immune system that causes the release of white blood cells in response. Regular exposure to cold water causes oxidative stress which actually helps the body fight oxidative stress as it becomes more accustomed to the temperature."
Within the last five years, there has been new evidence that shows a quick 30- to 90-second hot-to-cold shower helped decrease participants’ number of sick days at work and improved their overall productivity, too.
4. Improves Blood Circulation
While exercise and movement are, of course, critical components in maintaining strong circulation, cold water can help give it a boost, as well. Since cold water stimulates blood flow around your vital organs, when done regularly, it can help muscles and other tissues repair, meaning you will be at a reduced chance of headaches, muscle cramping, high blood pressure, and blood clots.
"When immersed or surrounded by cold water, the body’s main objective is to maintain its core temperature. Cold water will direct blood to move to your organs to keep them warm. On the other hand, warm water does the opposite by causing blood to move towards the surface of the skin," says Samadi.
To reap the benefits of both, he suggests alternating between cold and hot water – aka a contrast shower – to improve circulation. "For people with poor circulation, high blood pressure, or diabetes, taking a cold shower may help blood move through the body more quickly, improving overall circulation," he adds.
5. Aids Weight Loss
Your body burns calories when it’s trying to keep you warm – it’s a fact. Upon cold exposure, you start to shiver and your body burns more calories. This can, in turn, produce more brown adipose tissue aka brown fat. This is a tissue we are all born with, it breaks down blood sugar and fat molecules to create heat and maintain body temperature.
A study, published by the New England Journal of Medicine, found that taking a cold shower every day could help you lose up to nine pounds a year.
6. Benefits Hair and Skin
Consistent use of hot water strips away some of the natural protective oils from your skin and scalp. If you suffer from skin irritation or dandruff, it’s recommended that you turn the tap to cold, or at least warm in your next shower. This will make a big difference long-term for both your hair and skin to help soothe, brighten, refresh, and shrink pores.
Celebrity aesthetician Joshua Ross of SkinLab says “for the skin, a cold shower will help reduce inflammation, swelling, and puffiness. Whether it’s a sauna, an ice bath, or a cold shower, less is more and it shouldn’t be for more than 60 to 90 seconds. You don’t have to worry about going to a cryo facility and can easily create the same effect at home.”
7. Could Save Your Life
Dr. Chris van Tulleken, on the Trust Me, I’m a Doctor video series, explained that if you fall into cold water, the temperature often triggers a shock reaction that makes you gasp and inhale water, which can be a fatal response. Conditioning yourself with cold showers will give your body the tools it needs to respond in a calmer fashion, should you ever run into an emergency scenario involving unexpected cold water immersion.
How to Start Taking Cold Showers
Here’s the fun part. Depending on your comfort threshold, you may want to jump straight into that five-minute cold shower or gradually build up your tolerance by easing yourself into it, going from a hot shower to a lukewarm shower and eventually to an ice cold shower. There is no right or wrong way to start, but keep in mind, the colder the water the more benefits you’ll reap.
Ridge Davis, a Puma-sponsored athlete and trainer at The Wall Fitness recommends you get that cold water exposure "five to six times a week. Starting with one minute each day and increasing the time week after week until your entire shower is at a cold temperature.”
Also, don’t forget to have a warm towel nearby when you’re done.
Note: If you have any medical conditions please contact your doctor before attempting to take a cold shower.
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