It used to be that I only took a cold shower if something was wrong with the water heater. Now, I generally end every shower with a cold rinse, James Bond style. The Scottish shower – warm/hot shower followed by a minute or more of cold rinse – doesn’t just wake you up in the morning. It also has a host of other benefits. Cold showers are endorsed by Mike Sisson as part of the Primal Blueprint lifestyle, too. (After all, hot running water is a fairly recent invention.)
6 Benefits of Cold Showers
Note: You should not use cold water therapy if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, Raynaud's disease, or vascular disease.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not meant to prescribe. As always, consult with your health care practitioner if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or suffer from any medical conditions.
1. Boost Your Immune System
Freezing your tail off really does toughen you up. From HealthCentral.com: “When the cold water hits your skin, the nerve endings activate endorphins in the brain which stimulate your immune system.” Several studies have also shown that those who take daily cold showers have a reduced number of sick days.
2. Stimulate Brown Fat Growth, Which May Aid Weight Loss and Improve Energy Levels
Study results published on www.endocrine.org indicate that “Cold Exposure Stimulates Beneficial Brown Fat Growth“. What's “brown fat”?
Brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue (BAT), is a special kind of fat that burns energy and glucose to generate heat. It keeps small animals and babies warm, and animals with abundant brown fat are protected from diabetes and obesity.
Another study “Cold-Activated Brown Adipose Tissue in Healthy Men”, suggests that stimulating the body’s cold response with cold and diet may serve as a means of preventing or treating obesity.
Not all body fat is created equal. Brown fat is activated for heat and energy much more easily than white fat. Normally brown fat levels decrease with age (which is probably one of the reasons older folks get cold more easily). With regular training and purposeful cold exposure, you can help reverse this trend.
3. Get Healthier Hair and Better Skin.
Who doesn't want to look good as well as feel good? Warmth and warm water opens pores and hair follicles, allowing dirt and impurities to be rinsed away. A cold rinse closes them back up again and reduces swelling by constricting the blood vessels. This gives you bright, healthy skin and shiny hair.
4. Improve the Circulation of the Blood and Lymphatic Systems
Let's face it – most of us tend to sit too much. Over time, poor blood and lymphatic flow can lead to a host of problems, including edema, varicose veins, cellulite, blood pressure irregularities and more. If the blood and lymph don't move through the body, they can't do their jobs of providing oxygen and nutrients and removing toxins. A combination of dry brushing and cold rinses is one of the simplest things you can do to help the body heal itself.
If the blood and lymph don't move through the body, they can't do their jobs of providing oxygen and nutrients and removing toxins. A combination of dry brushing and cold rinses is one of the simplest things you can do to help the body heal itself.
What is dry brushing?
In dry brushing, we use a dry, soft bristled brush (they have brushes specifically for it, but a good shower brush will do) to brush the skin prior to your shower.
There are several different techniques. Some suggest starting at the extremities and brushing in straight lines towards the core, some suggest starting at the extremities and brushing in circles towards the core, and some suggest brushing in specific paths around the core first to clear congestion and then brushing inward from the extremities.
5. Improve Focus and Mental Clarity
Many cultures have traditions of using hot/cold cycles or cold immersion to clear the mind and body. There’s nothing quite like intense physical stimulation to bring you into the present moment.
Facing a cold shower in the morning on a daily basis may also help you tackle other challenging tasks.
6. Relieve Depression
A recent study has shown that cold showers may help alleviate depression by triggering electrical impulses that stimulate the brain's “blue spot”, which is the brain's primary source of noradrenaline.
How to Get the Health Benefits of Cold Showers
Like the idea of improving your health but hate the cold? Start slowly. You don’t have to give up hot showers. I usually do a “James Bond shower“, i.e., turning the temperature to cold at the end of my regular hot water shower.
Stick one leg in, then the other, followed by the arms, and then finally the torso and face. With Wim Hof Cold Shower Challenge, they found that participants noticed benefits with just 30 seconds of cold exposure at the end of their regular showers.
I've gradually built up my tolerance over time to use colder water and longer immersion. My youngest son sometimes showers in cold water only, but he also did the Polar Bear Plunge into Lake Michigan and rolls in the snow wearing nothing but swim trunks.
I feel “perked up” more than with just a standard shower, enough so that I have walked barefoot in the snow. My skin feels firmer and smoother, and is less dry and itchy.
Other Types of Cold Therapy
If you’re still not sure about cold showers, you can also try exposure to cold temperatures. Researchers have found that study participants exposed to roughly two hours of 60 degree temps per day showed increased ratios of brown fat to white fat. Please note that this isn’t a “magic bullet” for weight loss. I have friends who are heavyset and keep their dwellings in the 50s and don’t lose weight.
Cryotherapy is also available as a professional service from select spas and health and wellness centers. These treatments typically involve sitting in a cryotherapy booth, which may be used to apply cold to specific areas or the entire body.
In the books “The Way of the Iceman” and “What Doesn’t Kill Us”, they discuss a wide array of cold treatments to challenge the body, from ice baths to climbing mountains without cold weather gear. These are the books that inspired my son. Don't worry – he’s playing it safe with cold showers and short rounds of cold exposure here in Wisconsin. There’s no mountain climbing planned in our immediate future. If you’re interested in more extreme cold exposure, check with your doctor first, just in case. People have used cold therapy to treat depression and put autoimmune conditions into remission, but it can be dangerous under the wrong conditions. Be careful out there, folks.
The Wim Hof Cool Challenge
In The Way of the Iceman, they mentioned the hot to cold shower challenge. The results are list at https://www.ice.club/
3018 people participated in the Cool Challenge, a research of the Academic Medical Center of Amsterdam. Participants took a (hot to-) cold shower for 0, 30, 60 or 90 seconds. The results included:
- 29 percent less sickness absence for the groups taking cold showers
- increase in perceived energy levels
- No difference if 30, 60 or 90 seconds. The positive effect started at 30 seconds
Let me know if you decide to give the benefits of cold showers a try. Who knows, maybe we'll need to start up a Polar Bear Club specifically for Common Sense Home readers? Thanks for reading, and make sure to share with your friends who are afraid of the cold.
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Originally posted in 2011, updated in 2019.