The Extraordinary Benefits of Cold Showers
Water therapy has been around for centuries, but we rarely hear much about it since Big Pharma firms have no interest in inexpensive water cures.
Throughout history, unless there was access to a hot spring, humans have largely been limited to bathing in cold water. Access to abundant hot water is a modern luxury, but as we’ll see, a luxury that is not without its price.
In ancient times cold water was the only choice available to most people when bathing. Interestingly though, even when the Ancient Greeks developed heating systems for their public baths, they continued bathing in cold water for the proven health benefits. The always tough Spartans felt hot water was for the weak and cowardly and only used cold water because they believed it tempered the body and made it vigorous for fighting.
I’m a black belt in Taekwondo and know that the importance of cold showers is even included in the Taekwondo Moral Code where it advocates, “By taking cold shower and baths or exercising on snow-covered ground in bare feet, students build tenacity and pride.” Simply hopping in a cold shower is perhaps the easiest and most overlooked way to build courage and will power that will make conquering life’s tasks easier.
Today, much of the knowledge of cold water benefits has gone by the wayside as we enjoy the delights of our modern luxuries. Our ancestors were exposed to a wide range of fluctuating ambient temperatures and swam and bathed in cold water. Modern man, however, often lives in a fairly consistent room temperature. Some scientists propose that this lack of thermal stress is one factor that contributes to depression.
So if ancient man didn’t clean himself with sustained periods of temperature controlled hot water, then maybe we shouldn’t either. Cold showers are a proven ancient technique that effectively promotes overall radiant health.
This article will explain why moderately cool or room temperature showers are much healthier than hot showers, and then we’ll get into the extraordinary benefits of cold showers. First, let’s begin with why hot showers are downright harmful.
The Health Risks of a Hot Shower
It may sound like a paranoid concern, but experts unanimously agree that hot showers vaporize dangerous amounts of chlorine, fluoride, and other toxic chemicals into the air. One professor of Water Chemistry says, “I tell my friends to take quick, cold showers. The longer and hotter the shower, the more chemicals build up in the air.”
The heat and the dispersion of water in a hot shower vaporize carcinogens into the air allowing the evaporated chemicals to be inhaled. They can also spread through the house and be inhaled by others. Hot showers also open up the pores of the skin allowing even more toxic chemicals to enter our body (absorbed) through our skin than would occur even from drinking the water!
Cool water keeps the pores of your skin more or less closed during the shower so you don’t absorb as much of the chemicals in the water or the scary chemicals in today’s soaps and shampoos.
Exposure to the toxic chemicals contained in our water supplies is greatly reduced in a cool shower as less steam is made and therefore less chlorine inhaled into the lungs or absorbed through the skin. Cold showers not only offer their own benefits, but help shield you from the deleterious effects of hot showers.
Better Looking Skin
When you shower with warm water, it opens up your pores. Then you wash and this cleans up your pores. This can be good, but it’s critical to close your pores again with cold water. This will prevent the pores from being easily clogged by dirt and oil, which causes skin imperfections such as acne for example.
Hot showers dry out the skin by stripping it of its natural oils. When the pores open up from the heat, the skin’s oils are completely vulnerable to being eroded away by the water. Dry skin can be itchy, become chapped or cracked, and exasperate conditions like eczema. When the normally plump cells of moist skin become dry and shriveled, fine lines and wrinkles also appear. A cold shower keeps the pores tightly closed, keeping the oils locked in.
When the natural oils from your skin are washed away your body will often compensate by either producing more oil or not enough. The oil made by your body will always be better than any topical moisturizer you can buy. The oil made by your body is not dirty unless your diet and environment is.
Cool water appropriately flushes toxins from the skin and results in improved tone of both the skin and muscles. Many people have found that when various circumstances arise and only cold water is available to bathe in, after a month of cold water use they routinely report a change from their typically dry, flaky skin to extremely soft, radiant, smooth, naturally moist (but not oily), healthy skin.
Another benefit is that cold water makes your blood vessels constrict which reduces swelling and the appearance of dark circles under your eyes (where skin is at its thinnest). This provides you with a young, healthy glow.
The exact same damage that occurs to your skin in a hot shower also happens to your hair. Hot water dries out your hair stripping it of it’s natural healthy oils
Cold water will keep your hair looking healthier and shinier. As a matter of fact, cool air makes your hair shinier too (that’s why there is a cool air button on your hair dryer). Cold water does keeps your hair cuticles closed which makes the hair stronger and prevents dirt from easily accumulating within your scalp. Basically, the same principle with how it closes the pores of your skin as mentioned above. Stronger hair, of course, prevents hair from being easily pulled out when you are combing, and it helps in slowing down overall hair loss.
Cold showers are one of the great antiaging secrets for keeping your skin tight, elastic, vibrant, and radiant looking. All of this makes cold water therapy one of the top factors of longevity.
Cool Showers are Good, But a Healthy Cold Shock is Where the Real Magic Happens
A cool shower is clearly better than a hot shower, but flipping the dial all the way to the cold and getting blasted with an icy shock for the final 2 minutes of your shower is where the benefits come out. It will get your heart pumping and the blood flowing, shaking off any lethargy, and will leave you feeling invigorated and energized with an energy that can last several hours. Studies show that cold water therapy may have promise for those with chronic fatigue syndrome.
The underlying premise of cold water therapy is that briefly and somewhat regularly exposing the body to certain kinds of natural stresses such as cold water can enhance health. Promoters of cold water therapy say that it can boost immune function, decrease inflammation and pain, and increase blood flow. You’ll find athletes today taking ice baths to speed their recovery from injuries and intense workouts.
Acute cold exposure has immunostimulating effects, and preheating with physical exercise or a warm shower can enhance this response. Increases in levels of circulating norepinephrine may account for this. Those who take ice baths show an enhanced long-term antioxidative adaptation as measured by several blood markers. Other research highlighting cold water’s effect on immunity shows an increase in both the number and activity of peripheral cytotoxic T lymphocytes in those regularly exposed to cold therapies. Full body cold water immersion and cryotherapy (cold air chamber) also resulted in a sustained increase in norepinephrine, which substantiates the long-term pain relief touted by cold therapy promoters. There’s even evidence it can help chronic heart failure, and some (non-lymphoid) types of cancers.
It’s all about upregulating our systems, taxing them in a healthy, natural way. 10 minutes seems to be the rough amount of time before a cold shower actually begins to become stressful on your body, so there’s no need to stay in a cold shower for more than a few minutes.
Cold showers increase blood circulation which helps flush out toxins everywhere in the body and is especially beneficial for the muscles and surface of the skin.
Upon waking from a full nights sleep the majority of your blood has flowed into the deeper parts of your body such as the internal organs to help them regenerate. To be active, alert and productive during the day you need a good portion of this blood to flow back into the peripheral extremities of your body. Tea or coffee in the mornings provides this for some people but it has negative consequences after long term use of the caffeine (most notably adrenal fatigue from the constant damaging stimulation).
When hot water hits your skin your body has the feeling of still being wrapped in the warm blanket it had around it when it was in bed just moments ago. The blood stays in the deeper parts of your body giving you a tired and lethargic feeling. When cold water hits your skin, capillaries near the surface dilate, which pulls blood out from the deeper parts of your body into the extremities to warm them up. After a certain amount of exposure to the cold shower they will contract and the blood flows back into the deeper parts of your body after having been cleansed.
Alternating between hot and cold water while you shower is an easy way to improve your circulation. (This is called a contrast bath and also has many benefits.) Cold water causes your blood to move to your organs to keep them warm. Warm water reverses the effect by causing the blood to move towards the surface of the skin. Cold shower proponents argue that stimulating the circulatory system in this way keeps them healthier and younger looking than their hot water-loving counterparts.
Cold showers have also been scientifically proven as an effective treatment for depression. Tests have showed that cold hydrotherapy can relieve depressive symptoms, significantly relieve pain, and result in improved quality of sleep. Best of all it does not have side effects or cause dependence. It’s truly a marvelous natural non-addictive anti-depressant!
One reason depression has been rising so drastically in wealthier countries is because our modern lifestyles keep us indoors under fairly consistently temperate conditions. Modern man rarely faces significant changes in body temperature during their day to day activities. Lacking certain physiological stressors such as brief changes in body temperature results in a lack of “thermal exercise” which may cause inadequate functioning of the brain.
Exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline. It also increases synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain as well. Here’s why the increase in these chemicals is so exciting.
Beta-endorphin is the neurotransmitter responsible for making us feel better immediately after an injury. It works by binding to and activating opioid receptors, dulling pain, and increasing feelings of relaxation and well-being. It even slows the growth of cancer cells, and is believed to play a role in correcting behavioral patterns such as stress, alcoholism, obesity, diabetes, and psychiatric illness.
Noradrenaline is a hormone and neurotransmitter useful for treating attention deficit disorder, depression, and abnormally low blood pressure. Some antidepressants function partly by increasing noradrenaline levels while most ADD medications often work solely by increasing noradrenaline levels.
Furthermore, 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 could result in an anti-depressive effect making cold showers a great mood booster that will balance the autonomic nervous system helping you feel relaxed and peaceful, yet still alert and physically invigorated when you get out of the shower. And contrary to drugs that affect brain chemicals, cold showers do not have side effects or addictive potential.
Exposure to cold could also increase your overall metabolic rate as your body may need to burn calories in order to produce warmth. It’s also possible that the sudden exposure to cold can raise your blood glucose very quickly, thereby having an appetite suppressing effect.
Cold water adaptation also builds up brown fat cells (as opposed to white fat) which have a large concentration of mitochondria that can generate heat without physical contraction or muscular movements. Brown fat cells protect us from aging, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Ray Cronis, a NASA scientist, was able to lose almost 30 pounds of fat (fat, not weight) in 6 weeks, by taking cold walks, cold swims, and by drinking cold water. Why? Because the body needs fuel to keep warm. This cold thermal loading may be a significant missing link in accelerating fat loss.
Although it seems counter intuitive, in the winter, cold showers are the best thing to keep you warm for the rest of the day. Cold showers provide a gentle form of stress that leads to thermogenesis (internal generation of body heat).
About a minute after flipping the water dial to full cold and being shocked awake, you’ll find the cold water starts to become more tolerable, and after 2 or 3 minutes you’ll feel your body getting warm by its own efforts. This is thermogenesis and it turns on the body’s adaptive repair systems to strengthen immunity, enhance pain and stress tolerance, ward off depression, overcome chronic fatigue syndrome, and stimulate anti-tumor responses.
Regular use of cold shower reduces heat losses and decreases core body temperature. Russian health nuts are obsessed with obtaining a lower body temperature due to a wide-spread belief that just one degree reduction in core body temperature extends expected life span of humans by some decades.
So endure the cold water until it starts to feel warm and be sure to exit the shower and enter a warm room where you can quickly towel off.
The same preoptic area of the anterior hypothalamus that regulates thermogenesis also contains most GnRH (Gonadotropin-releasing hormone)-releasing neurons, making it a primary site of GnRH production. GnRH is responsible for the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) from the anterior pituitary gland which is hugely significant in stimulating testosterone production.
Increasing testosterone levels with 10 minute cold showers upon waking and before bed will not only boost a man’s libido, but also his overall strength and energy level.
Real benefit is in the habit
A cold shower has plenty of immediate benefits and provides a definite wake-up jolt, but the greatest benefits in long term health are only seen after several weeks of cold showering. Studies confirm that habituation itself is what is most beneficial.
The initial intense discomfort of cold water shock rapidly decreases in both intensity and duration with habituation and water (50F) appears to be more effective than just cool water (59F) in promoting adaptation. Typically, acclimatization to cold develops over the course of about 10 days, and in humans the primary change is an insulative, hypothermic type of response. But with more sustained exposure to cold air or water, humans can apparently develop the humoral type of acclimatization described in small mammals, with an increased output of noradrenaline and thyroxine. Adaptation to cold leads to increased output of the beneficial “short term stress” hormones adrenaline and thyroxine, leading to mobilization of fatty acids, and substantial fat loss over a 1-2 week period.
Situations to Avoid Cold Showers
Like anything, there is a proper time and place for cold showers, and also a time to avoid them. If showering immediately after a vigorous workout you may want to start hot and finish cold to avoid muscle cramping. Icy showers should probably not be done at all by menstruating or pregnant women as their body is already under a lot of stress at this time.
For most people though, making a daily habit of cold showering has many amazing proven benefits and will undoubtedly boost your entire immune system. It can be so effective that some people even report not having any colds since starting cold showers.
This perhaps leads into a greater question…since the gentle natural stress of a cold bath is so beneficial, could more aggressive exposure to the cold provide benefits that go beyond that of daily cold showers?