I know opting for cold water in your shower or bath sounds like crazy talk. Why freeze your cheeks off when there is a perfectly good warm water knob right there?
I get it, but cold water has a bunch of health benefits that could actually make a change in your life.
Best of all, it's simple and free (let me be clear though, simple does not mean easy).
Let's look at a few benefits of cold exposure and how to get started.
1. Reduce Inflammation
Cold water therapy can reduce several indicators of inflammation.
The one most interesting to athletes is probably the reduction in muscle soreness.
Cold water lowers the temperature of muscle tissues and constricts blood vessels. The rebound effect after exposure is improved blood circulation, all of which help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS for short).
It should be noted however that you do not want to follow a workout immediately by cold exposure if you are trying to put on muscle.
2. Improved Circulation
Remember that improved circulation we just touched on? Here's how that works.
When you get into some cold water for a period of time, your body moves to protect the vital organs, especially the heart, by shuttling blood to these areas. When you get out of the cold, all that blood rushes back to your extremities, forcing your heart to pump more efficiently.
This blood is rich in oxygen and you can feel it in your hands and feet immediately.
3. Mental Well-Being
Cold water exposure releases many of the same feel-good chemicals in your brain as exercise does.
One study suggests that cold showers on a routine basis may be more beneficial than prescription medicines for treating depression.
Maybe next time you're feeling down a cold shower is just the ticket.
4. Improved Lymphatic Circulation
Think of your lymphatic system as your body's janitor. It works to remove cellular waste, microbes, and bacteria away from healthy cells.
Lymphatic fluid can become stagnant though, which causes illness like colds or maladies like joint pain. When toxins build up, bad things happen.
Cold water exposure forces the lymphatic system to pump lymph fluids through the body, essentially turbo charging the waste elimination process.
5. Improved Immune Function
Several studies have been performed looking at cold exposure and the likelihood that one will call in sick for work or school.
The study linked above found folks 29% less likely to call in. Even when they did feel sick, they reported that illness feeling less severe.
This may not feel like a benefit, because you might want to take a sick day here and there, but a boosted immune system is something we all could use.
6. Weight Loss
Believe it or not, cold water exposure can actually help you lose weight, and fat specifically.
One study suggests an increase in metabolic rate of about 16%, which is very significant.
Former NASA scientist Ray Cronise is a huge proponent of cold thermogenesis and famously used contrast showers as a part of a program to help magician Penn Jillette lose over 100 pounds (and keep it off).
How To Get Started With Cold Showers
You don't need anything fancy.
On the fringes of the fitness and human performance worlds, people are building their own cold tubs with full on circulation systems. You don't need to spend a dime to get started.
A cold shower, as cold as it can go, is a great way to get started. At first, you will likely only be able to tolerate 20-30 seconds. Here is what I suggest and how I got started:
- In warm water, shampoo and rinse your hair
- Cold water for 20 seconds (just count your breaths)
- In warm water, condition and rinse your hair
- Cold water for 30 seconds
- In warm water, do the bodywash thing
- Cold water for 60 seconds
I always end on cold water when I do contrast showers.
How To Get Started With Ice Baths
Ready for the simplest instruction ever?
Go buy 4 bags of ice. Put it in your tub with cold water as well. Get in it. Hang out for at least 2 minutes.
Be sure to submerge your face too!
The Wim Hof Method
Wim Hof is one of the most fascinating characters in the human performance landscape.
Nicknamed the Iceman for the several world records he holds for cold exposure (seriously, look it up, it's incredible).
Wim has put together a coherent and progressive system which includes breathing exercises and cold exposure to promote health and well-being.
You can take a look at his methods and services here.
Just Do It
In the words of Nike, Just Do It.
Get cold, get healthier.