Cold showers?! “You must be mad!” This was my initial response whenever somebody mentioned that they had a cold shower (which was was a rare occurrence of course).
Let’s be honest though, cold showers don’t just happen by choice. Either your boiler broke down and you have no choice, or the shower started off wonderfully warm but after about 2 minutes, turned shockingly cold leaving you shivering after a deadly cold cleanse.
We all have at least one experience of it and it was not a nice one lets be frank. But what would happen if your daily showers (I hope!) started off warm but ended cold. Is there actually any benefit to enduring the extreme discomfort of what would otherwise be a blissful experience with in warmth.
The short answer is YES! There are actually LIFE CHANGING benefits to taking cold showers. Lets explore these below.
By taking daily cold showers you can actually burn fat more efficiently. Yes, you read this correctly. Taking cold showers actually helps you burn more fat in your rest state. Think about what is happening physiologically during a cold shower. You breathe faster, your heart rate elevates, and you move your body erratically in an attempt to tolerate the discomfort. In order for your body to react in such a way it requires energy, and this is provided in the form of fat. More specifically, brown fat. When this fat is metabolised, it releases heat in the body so by taking cold showers you actually feel warmer after the brief exposure to the cold. Consequently this will improve the blood circulation around your body right to the extremities.
The older generation have always said, “in order offset getting sick fight colds, keep the body warm”. Well, contrary to what we were told, brief cold exposure in the form of cold showers actually improves your immune system. This helps us fight off disease and pathogens lurking in our environment reducing your likelihood of getting sick in the first place.
This is because of the ‘afterburn’ effect that is triggered from taking cold showers. What happens during cold showers is, blood gets shunted from the peripheral system to the central system (from the limbs to the vital organs). This is actually a survival response. Your body interprets the cold as a threat to your survival so the first thing it does is protect the vital organs to keep you alive. When this happens this also triggers the movement of fluid in the lymphatic system. A lot of waste and bi-products from metabolism is located here and if it is not effectively shifted it can lay dormant and create illness or disease. Cold showers actually stimulate the movement of this fluid to the central systems like the liver and kidneys where they can be filtered and processed.
Recover faster from training
Taking cold showers after exercise can actually help you recover from soreness quicker. This is for similar reasons illustrated in the previous paragraph, but they also help to speed up the progression of soreness experienced after an intense exercise session. It is why most professional athletes sit in ice baths after heavy training sessions or matches. Brief cold exposure has also been shown to also provide a pain relieving effect which could explain why when taking cold showers you are able to tolerate higher volumes of training without feeling fatigued.
If most of us could choose our showers would always be warm. Sometimes we don’t have a choice about the temperature of our shower and it just happens to be cold for whatever reason. By voluntarily choosing to take cold showers daily, this is a big statement of intent. By tolerating the temporary pain of cold exposure and consistently enduring the opposite of what our warm-blooded vessels crave takes great courage and discipline. However, doing this cultivates a bank of mental wealth that can only be accessed through the discomfort of daily cold showers. You are forcing yourself into the immediate present moment and nothing else occupies your thoughts until the moment is over. Watch how all the self-doubt, self-inflicted stress and anxieties in your daily life fade into insignificance when you have to face the discomfort of cold showers daily. Not to mention that you are actually voluntarily CHOOSING to undergo the practice daily. Now that takes a disciplined and dedicated mind-set.
Please note that taking cold showers is a major stressor of the nervous system and so if you have any underlying health condidtion of the heart or nervous system, ALWAYS consult a doctor before starting this practice.
All the areas discussed above are some of the things you can expect to experience from taking daily cold showers. If you have not taken cold showers ever before then making immediate and drastic changes will not be a safe or sustainable way of changing this habit long term. It’s very important to be mindful that the transition should be graded over time where you are not forcing yourself through extreme pain as there is no benefit from this. Moderate discomfort is to be expected however.
About the Author
Osei Agyeman is a chartered Physiotherapist (MCSP) with an additional degree in Sport and Exercise science. Having also completed a Level 3 Personal Training and Level 2 Gym instructor qualifications my experience of Rehab, health and fitness are extensive. Oss is passionate about maximising performance through optimal functional movement. He takes a keen interest in nutrition and the power of how food (or no food) affects the body’s biochemistry. Oss offers no quick fixes or cheat methods for goal attainment but is a strong advocate for consistent and sustainable progress through hard work.