That is the message coming from the resistance in my head everytime I reach to turn the knob from hot to cold. I’ve been taking some form of cold showers daily for around 3 years now and that voice has never gone away. I have had to consciously face and overcome that resistance daily. Some days it’s a real battle, but with the knowing that it will ultimately be good for me I have developed the discipline to win every single time. That development of discipline to face discomfort is just one of the many benefits available to those who choose to take cold showers. It might actually be the greatest one.
I first started taking cold showers when I was faced with an autoimmune condition that caused chronic pain and inflammation. After reading that cold showers could help with both. That was enough to get started. I had my why.
In the beginning, and for some time I took cold only showers which took an enormous amount of will power to step in to. I’m talking about staring at the already running cold shower for 5 minutes summoning up the courage to take that first step into it. Wasteful, I know, but I would just stand there and question every part of my decision. After all, I really do love a nice hot shower so why not just do that? Some days that resistance would win and I would indulge in a nice hot shower which would only give the resistance more strength the next time I was about to step into the shower. It was clear that I couldn’t sustain the practice at the time.
After some time I learned that the same benefits could be had if I just did both. That is by taking a hot shower, and then ending the last few minutes cold. This method actually offered me significantly less resistance since turning a knob while in the shower after getting the hot shower I wanted, was far easier than immediately jumping into a cold shower. It offers a level of resistance that is still challenging, but is ultimately manageable and sustainable. I find this to be the optimal route to take with any discipline, and have been able to successfully continue it ever since.
What are the other benefits of Cold Showers?
Cold Showers Raise Alertness
First the initial shock of cold water on the skin triggers the sympathetic nervous into action. The sympathetic nervous system is known as the body’s fight or flight response. When triggered, it directs the body’s almost instantaneous response to what it perceives as a dangerous or stressful situation. When this happens a number of hormones are rapidly released including norepinephrine, endorphins, among others. As a result, breathing quickens, as well as heart rate, which sends more blood and oxygen to the brain and muscles heightening the body’s alertness. This process is what leaves people feeling more awake and alert after a cold shower. I find this to be a massive benefit as it can quickly dispel my morning grogginess.
Reduces Depressive symptoms
That same rush of hormones also helps to reduce depressive symptoms. A scientific study showed that the cold exposure from cold showers increases the levels of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline within the bloodstream. It also increased the synaptic release of noradrenaline within the brain. In addition, the activation of cold receptors in the skin increases the amount of electrical activity in the peripheral nervous system of the brain. All of which leads to a measurable antidepressant effect. As someone who has struggled with and largely overcome depression I believe I can attribute some of that recovery to my cold shower practice. Just don’t expect it to solve all your problems. It won’t.
Improve workout recovery
Cold showers can also help to improve workout recovery and reduce perceived levels of fatigue. A study by the Australian Institute of Sport found that contrast water therapy (CWT), that is, taking a hot and then cold shower improved recovery times of delayed onset muscle soreness. In addition to that, cold showers actually feel pretty awesome after an intense workout. If you’ve ever tried an ice bath after an intense workout you will find the benefit with muscle recovery far greater with them than simply taking a far less intense cold shower. With that said, I still find cold showers to be a great way to cool down, reset, and get back to other life activities in a much more accessible manner.
Boosts the Immune System
Cold showers help boost immune function and reduce the frequency of getting sick. One study by the Yale University School of Medicine found that the voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system through things like cold showers produced an innate immune response. Another study found that participants who took daily cold showers for 30 days reported 29% less sick absences from work during the testing period. These findings point to the fact that cold showers can give us the power to consciously stimulate our immune system. That’s a seriously cool biohack!
I believe I can attest to this from my own anecdotal experience. I used to get sick 5 or 6 times a year. Every few months I’d get a cold, sinus infection, strep, or some other new malady. After making a number of lifestyle choices, most prominently in this case cold showers, I hardly ever get sick anymore. In 2020 I only recorded being sick twice. With the Flu in February and then COVID in September. Both of which are pretty hard hitters on the immune system and I recovered fully from both without issues in a few days. Was it only the cold showers that have strengthened my immune system? Absolutely not. Changes I’ve made in diet, sunlight exposure, exercise, among other things I will save for other posts have also played a huge factor. I do believe cold showers have played a major role in my holistic approach to having a healthier immune system though.
Healthier skin and hair
Cold showers can help improve skin and hair by not being hot showers. That’s right, there are some potential issues with hot showers. The foremost being, in this case, being they can strip the skin and hair of natural protective oils which can lead to dry, scaly, or irritated skin and damaged hair. Taking cold showers instead of hot ones can help to mitigate this oil stripping effect and allow the body’s natural protective chemicals to do their work. If you are suffering from a skin condition such as eczema it may be worth trying cold only showers (and showering less often in general). As for me, I still like my daily hot and then cold showers, and I’m pretty comfortable in my skin as is, so I’m sticking to my current regimen. If for some reason my skin condition deteriorates. I will have the cold only showers as a ready option in my biohacking toolkit.
An additional benefit to cold showers on the skin is that the cold stimulates blood flow to the surface of your skin improving circulation in order to warm the affected area. This in conjunction with a tightening of pores often leads to a smoother more youthful complexion when hopping out of the shower. In addition to health benefits, it just feels really nice!
I couldn’t have a blog about biohacking without writing about cold showers. It’s one the most well known and easily accessible biohacks out there. It also doesn’t require an expensive purchase. There is nothing stopping you but your own resistance. Will you see immediate benefits? Other than that initial jolt of alertness probably not. That said, as a consistent practice it has been of great benefit to me and probably could be for you too. Like everything, optimized health comes from a holistic approach. This is just one available tool in the toolbox of biohacks.
What has your experience with cold showers been like? Have any questions? Share it in a comment below!