Have you heard about how cold showers, and actually cold exposure in general, can be good for your health? This topic floats in and out of the media. In recent years, cold body therapy has gained serious popularity, because it is linked to numerous health benefits. Recently, the topic gained a lot of exposure and so has the man called “the Iceman”. In fact, the Iceman was featured in a book I always recommend called Breath.
Who is the Iceman and what’s all the fuss about what he does?
Dutchman Wim Hof has trained himself to withstand extreme cold through breathwork and mind control. He considers regular exposure to cold water the “gateway to flow and energy and peace.” He claims this exposure to cold water makes it possible to learn the great power that the mind can have over the body. Hof believes that our bodies achieve their optimal vascular (blood vessel) tone in just 10 days of ending a regular hot shower with a few minutes of cold water.
Recent studies show cold water protects against neurodegenerative diseases like dementia, helps manage depression, and is an effective pain reliever.
In the process you build up your tolerance over time through exposure to a stimulus (cold water in this case) in small, incremental doses. Through this process, your body eventually becomes used to the cold water and the initial shock of trying it will fade away.
Both cold and hot showers offer benefits, but in certain respects the benefits are different.
A hot shower offers your body’s tissues and systems a chance to dilate and expand in size (swelling), the same way heat allows molecules to expand and speed up (think water turning to steam).
A cold shower allows your tissues and systems to tighten and slow down (think water turning to ice).
When you take a cold shower, your blood vessels constrict and blood flow to the chilled areas of your body is reduced. In this way, cold water helps with inflammation, swelling, and pain.
Cold water also redirects blood flow from the blood vessels near the surface of your skin to the ones deep within your body. In doing so, internal inflammation and swelling in the body goes down and the amount of blood that travels back to your heart increases.
When more blood gets pumped back to your heart, the waste products in your blood are removed and are replaced by nutrients for your muscles. This change is called improved venous return. You can see this life hack and method being used by professional athletes who use cold (even ice) water baths to recover quickly from strenuous exercise.
Improved venous return also means improved circulation. Not only do your recovering muscles get the benefit of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood, the rest of your body does a well.
Cold showers also reduce your levels of a hormone called cortisol that directly contributes to your experience of stress.
In one study, researchers found that cold-water immersion led participants to experience reduced levels of cortisol. They also found that cold water (57.2˚ F) participants had an increase in their metabolic rate (the rate at which our bodies expend energy or burn calories) of 350%.
How to Get The Benefits of Cold Showers
If you want to try out the benefits for yourself, try this.
At the end of your hot shower, turn on the cold water for 20 to 40 seconds. It doesn’t have to be ALL the way cold, but it should be quite cool.
Start doing this at the end of every shower (at least five times a week). After week one, add 10 to 20 seconds on to your time. When you’ve finished your week of 40 seconds in the cold water, add on another 20 to 30 seconds. Incrementally adding seconds is the way to build up your tolerance. Make sure your whole body gets the cold water exposure!
Eventually, your body will get used to the cold water and it won’t feel like such a shock to your system.
You may never swim in ice like Wim Hof does. However, there are still plenty of cold water benefits you can get from your home-based showers!
If you feel stuck and need additional support to adopt a new healthy habit or routine, consider working with me. We can partner up in setting goals, drawing on your skills and strengths, and implementing strategies to help you find your way to lasting healthy success.
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For over 15 years, Shelli has been a freelance writer and wellness habit coach on Joyinmovement. She writes about brain fitness, creating a healthy lifestyle, traveling the world, and making positive habits stick. Stop procrastinating! Take action, join her free newsletter.