I’m not a morning person, and I always struggled with a lack of energy and focus in the morning. This was until I discovered that I can jump-start my day with a cold shower! This wakes me up quickly, and I come out of it energized and ready to conquer the day.
I remember that when I was a kid, my father was sometimes ending his showers with a short interval of cold water. He called that “Scottish shower”. As a kid, it sounded like something a strong and brave man does, so I tried it too. It was so unpleasant that I quit right away though and also forgot about it.
I don’t recall who was the first person I heard talking about cold showers in my adult years, but in time I noticed most of the public figures in the self-development and self-improvement world praise the habit of taking a cold shower after waking up. Later I found Wim Hof and learned about his method. Known as The Iceman, his teachings are centered on the benefits of cold exposure.
Cold Shower Benefits
There is a lot of hype around cold showers, but unfortunately, the scientific data supposed to back it up is missing. I was only able to find small or inconclusive studies regarding the benefits of taking cold showers. Not having scientific proof does not mean they don’t come with benefits though. And there are so many adepts of this practice advocating for its benefits. The most prominent figure is by far Wim Hof, but there are much many more.
Here are the benefits people attribute to taking cold showers:
1. Relieves depression. Cold showers are believed to help alleviate depression symptoms by triggering an overwhelming amount of electrical stimuli from the cold receptors in the skin to the brain. This study analyzed the tests published on this topic and concluded that “practical testing by a statistically insignificant number of people, who did not have sufficient symptoms to be diagnosed with depression, showed that the cold hydrotherapy can relieve depressive symptoms rather effectively. The therapy was also found to have a significant analgesic effect”.
2. Promotes fat loss. Our bodies contain two types of fat: white and brown fat. The white fat is stored when we consume more calories than we need and they don’t get burned for energy. This is the “bad” fat, that gets deposited at your waist, tights and lower back. The brown fat is the “good” fat that the body burns to generate the heat needed to stay warm. Brown fat was not sure to exist in adult humans, but there are studies proving it is, and more than that, concluding “that higher levels of brown adipose tissue may protect against age-related obesity”. The brown fat is also called our built-in thermal “wetsuit”. Most of the brown fat tests are realized with cold swimmers, as they seem to develop the mechanism to efficiently store and use this type of fat. These swimmers spend long periods immersed in cold water, so I have doubts a few minutes long cold shower can have the same effect.
3. Improves immunity. Cold showers are believed to boost the immune system by increasing your metabolic rate and thus increasing the white cell production. A study with 3018 participants showed a 29% decrease in sickness absence from work (not also illness days though) for the groups ending their shower with cold water on a daily basis. The study was conducted online, so the feedback they provided might have been subjective.
4. Promotes muscle recovery. Many top athletes use cryotherapy after workouts to recover faster. I only found studies for cold water immersion and cryotherapy. Since both are quite different from cold showers, I will not mention them here. A cold shower will lead to blood vessel constriction, and that will reduce inflammation, so even though there are no studies to prove it, I will keep this on my list of cold showering effects.
5. Improves skin and hair. This has not so much to do with cold water being amazing for the skin, but more with the hot water being bad. Hot water can dry the skin and stripes it from its natural oils.
6. Improves circulation. While exposed to cold temperatures, the body will pump blood taster to keep it’s temperature constant.
7. Increases testosterone levels and sperm quality. The testicles hang outside of the body for a reason: to be colder than the rest of the body. The optimal temperature for the testicles to produce sperm and hormones is between 95 and 98.6°F (35 to 37°C). So I guess it makes sense to think that cold water would be beneficial. A 2013 study investigated the relation between seasons (so temperature) and sperm quality and concluded that low temperatures do indeed improve the sperm parameters .
My Experience with Cold Showers
As I was saying, there are not that many studies to back up all those claims, but still, lots of people love taking cold showers. I love to have a cold shower right after my morning exercises. It helps a lot with cooling down and reducing muscle soreness, but most importantly it wakes me up right away and I feel more energetic after. So I do jump-start my day with a cold shower!
I’ve been taking cold showers for quite a while now, and there are quite a few good things I attribute to them:
- it makes me feel I can do anything. Stepping into a cold shower takes some will, and staying there for 5–10 minutes, even more. I find this a great will exercise, and it gives me the feeling I have the power to do anything for the rest of the day.
- it gets me focused on the present moment. I enjoy my mindfulness meditation sessions, but those vary from day to day, and sometimes they can be not that great. A cold shower, on the other hand, is guaranteed to bring your entire attention to your body. It “screams” from every single cell to get your attention that you have to simply ignore anything else and pay attention.
- it stimulates my brain better than any nootropic. I mentioned already I’m not a morning person, so activating myself in the morning is no easy feat. The cold shower is way faster and more efficient than coffee or tea.
- it improves my mood. I’m not depressive, but I certainly get out of the shower happier than I was before entering. It is probably closely related to that boost of confidence and energy I already mentioned.
- it improves my willpower. Somedays, especially during cold months, stepping under the cols water is a true will building exercise. And just like with muscles, your willpower needs exercising to grow stronger.
- my skin is firmer and silkier. This is one of those things you notice fairly soon after starting. I used to have all sorts of red spots on the skin and those are gone too.
- my tolerance to cold improved. I used to shiver after just a few minutes of swimming in water most would consider warm (the only place I was able to swim relaxed was the Carribeans). I feel a lot better now in colder water.
The morning cold shower is part of my morning routine, and I don’t see my days starting without one.
How to Start
First of all, I’d like to say there’s a BIG difference when it gets to cold showers and where you live or what season there is. A cold shower in Florida has almost nothing to do with a cold shower in Colorado during winter. Not that much of a difference, but still, a cold shower in NY during the summer does not compare to a cold shower during summer at the same location.
You don’t be able to take a cold shower straight away, and it’s not recommended to do that either. You should start slowly and build up your resistance. Start by adding at least 30 seconds of cold water at the end of your daily warm shower. Every day add a few more seconds and try to push yourself further. The first few days will be a bit tough (especially the first one). This is your body being shocked and telling you it’s not comfortable and that you should stop that.
As cold water hits your body, your breath will accelerate. Focus on calming down your breath — while your mind is focused on this, it will be easier to handle the cold. If you are used to meditation practices, you will find this very helpful.
It is not pleasant at the beginning, I know, but stick with this for 4 consecutive days and you will see your body gets used to the sensation. I wouldn’t push it as far as saying you will enjoy the cold water (though I actually like it now), but you will feel a lot more comfortable for longer and longer intervals. Try to get to longer durations fast — the beginning of the shower is when your body is being pushed outside the comfort zone, and it will yell to get out (this lasts for 2–3 minutes in my case), but after that, it becomes quite enjoyable.
The start will be difficult, and you will need a lot of willpower. You can join an online community or group to help you get through this. I find the Wim Hof mobile application a great tool. It also has a 20-day cold shower challenge to get you started. The app contains also plenty of useful information for beginners.
Jump-start Your Day with a Cold Shower
This is as straightforward as it gets: turn on the water on cold and step in 🙂 Focus on your breath and get through the initial sensations, then enjoy the rest of your cold shower. You will feel amazing after getting out, and your day will kick off in a great way.
I find cold showers awesome, and I don’t see myself stopping this habit anytime soon. It is one of those things that have a significant impact on your life and, more than that, require no fancy and expensive gadgets, supplements or medical treatment. More than that, you can have a cold shower also when traveling.
Originally published at https://biohackersbase.com on April 10, 2020.