Cold showers. Brrrrr… cold. Seems like something that can’t be good for us right? But, if recent studies can be …
Granted the science is all pretty new but there are seemingly many benefits from punctuated exposure to cold water – the shower being the easiest way for most of us to do this.
It’s important to realise that these improvements are always incremental – they won’t fix a bad diet and lifestyle but if the science and chatter is to be believed cold showers can help with:
- Fat loss
- strengthening of the immune system
- improvements in cardiovascular health
- improved sleep quality
- improved mood and alertness
- depression (possibly better than any of the drugs!)
- improves emotional resilience
- Improved exercise recovery *
- improved insulin sensitivity
- raises testosterone levels
- improvements in blood sugar
- decrease inflammation in the body
- increased pain tolerance
- great for your skin and hair
That’s quite the list there. Just fat loss and an improved mood should be good enough for most folks. If this whole laundry list of benefits can be gleaned by this one simple life hack then is that not worth a shot?
Stress – good and bad
To get your head around this we have to understand stress. Good and bad. Stress is generally only thought of as a negative thing. However, short, punctuated stress like we see after lifting weights, going for a jog or better still, sprint or HIIT training can be positive.
Our body adapts to this stress and improves. We get stronger, fitter, faster, leaner, can run further and can get more air into our blood more quickly. Positive adaptions to short bursts of physical stress.
Punctuated exposure to cold water is likely much the same – it’s brief and our body adapts. We have a hormonal response that benefits our health and mood in many ways.
I have been taking cold showers now for around six months. Daily. Pretty much. Few blips over holidays or Christmas etc but generally if I shower I do the necessary and then turn the tap to cold for the last few minutes.
During this time period, I have been under immense stress at work and with a house renovation so it is hard to say if I have seen all of these benefits. Certainly, I still have weight to lose but any diet hack is only a hack and booze + food will undo the benefits there (guilty).
I have not had any colds during this time, though. We have lived with relatives for a month who were just hacking and spewing out cold and flu germs. I have three kids who all bring home and kindly share germs they are exposed to at school. Usually, in the good old UK we can expect a couple of colds, possibly a flu and sickness bug if you have kids who kindly share their ills.
With all the general stress (business + house renovation) I would have been a candidate for one of these colds or flu bugs but… I have been rock solid. Few times I have felt a tickle in the back of my throat, others around me (wife, kids, family, staff) have got ill but I have always shook it off.
From what I understand the science seems to indicate that daily cold showers do indeed improve your immunity to viruses. The cold water shocks the body into warming itself up and raising the core temperature – this then destroys cold and flu viruses before they take hold. Given that most cold and flu’s take three days to incubate it seems to make sense (but what do I know other than I have had no colds). The same study also indicated that cold showers can shorten the effects of a cold if you do get stung so… I will keep turning the tap to cold.
Hardly science or a huge study but my experience over the last six months or so has been a positive one.
The real reason I take cold showers
I take cold showers to boost my productivity and to improve my mental toughness. We are all just so damn comfortable.
It is hard to turn the shower to cold. It is harder still to get into the cold water. It is tough to stay under that freezing water. To do this you have to be tough. You have to be prepared to be uncomfortable. You have to maintain the willpower to do this daily and quiten the voices that suggest otherwise.
A successful life needs a degree of discomfort. You have to do the things that are outside your comfort zone. Cold water is outside of most people’s comfort zone. So I take a cold shower every day knowing I come out of stronger and more prepared on the other side. Ready to face the day ahead and the myriad things I need to do to succeed (but probably would rather not if I took the easy route).
You come out of that shower and you are breathing hard, awake, alert and ready for the day. You are certainly no longer tired! You are ready to face the challenges and myriad other discomforts of a productive day.
And, hopefully, I benefit from all the other health and fitness benefits. But, if not, I would still take cold showers as they kick start my day and keep my willpower strong.
Cold showers – how to get started
There are a couple of approaches here:
- 8 x 20 seconds cold & 10 seconds warm (4 mins total)
- 2 minutes cold after a warm shower
- 5 minute cold shower
The general thinking is the punctuated 20 cold / 10 warm is best for fat burning. Also, that 5 minutes is the max you should do. Personally, I sit in the middle and just do a two-minute blast of cold at the end of my normal shower.
When not to take cold showers
There is a study that shows cold water exposure after weight lifting can impact hypertrophy. So, if you are looking to put on size in your weight lifting routine then… don’t jump directly in the cold shower. I am no expert here but do your showers in the mornings before you train or leave it a few hours so you don’t blunt the effects of your workout. I would not throw the baby out with the (cold) bath water here though as cold water exposure improves testosterone so there are positives to be had if gaining muscle mass is your goal.
Hopefully, I have got you interested here. Ultimately with anything health and fitness related I always suggest you give it a shot. Try it for a month. Keep notes. See how you feel. You can spend months going down the internet research rabbit hole so just give it a shot and see if it works for you.
Don’t expect miracles after a few cold showers. Determine some sensible measurements (cold, weight, body fat, sleep quality, skin and hair – whatever matters most to you) and review at the begining and end of the process. Take photos if needs be.
Drop a comment with any questions or to let me know how you get on.