Taking even just a 30 second cold shower everyday has been shown to reduce sick days by up to 29% – 54% if combined with regular exercise.
The study I’m quoting these figures from only had people take cold showers for 30 days, so doesn’t give any indication of the long-term benefits of cold showers, but the results are promising nevertheless.
The interesting this is that in the 30-day period, cold showers didn’t seem to have much effect on how often people got ill, but those people taking a cold shower everyday reported feeling more energetic and generally better able to crack on, despite feeling ill.
This might be related to an effect uncovered in another study called cross adaptation. Basically, the better the body becomes at adapting to one stressor, the better equipped it is to deal with other stressors.
A cold shower is pretty stressful – I think we can all agree on that. Just the thought of a cold shower is stressful enough to put most people off it altogether. But if, after being badgered endlessly by a friend or colleague, we decide to take the plunge and will ourselves through it, our body adapts.
And as it adapts to one stressor and gets used to regulating an extreme stress response, that adaptation seems to carry over into other areas of our lives and our stress response becomes more resilient. The same things may still stress us, but not quite as much, or we recover that much faster.
This principal is at work in a number of mind-body practises such as the yogic “breath of fire” practice, in which forceful breathing is used to induce a short term fight-or-flight response, resulting in long-term positive benefits. Our emerging understanding of effects like this are why cold therapy (or cold-water immersion) along with other mind-body interventions are increasingly being investigated and used to treat anxiety and depression.
For me, it is this psychological aspect of cold showers that is particularly interesting. Since deciding to experiment with this nearly two years ago now, I’ve become accustomed to the tricks my mind plays to avoid temporary discomfort it knows is on the way.
“You’ve done five days this week, you can give yourself a day off”, “You might be coming down with something, might be better to skip it today”, “What are you gaining from this anyway, it’s not making you stronger”.
I’ve thought all these things time and time again, and sometimes they get the better of me. Sometimes I do decide that I can give myself a day off today. Sometimes I decide I might actually be coming down with something. Sometimes I’m just too tired to bother… it has been a long week after all.
Most of the time though, with the help of the breathing exercise detailed below, the better me wins and with a bittersweet sense of victory twists the dial to the coldest setting. What follows is a shock intense enough to induce fear, followed by a gradual relaxation as I focus on regaining control of my breathing.
Over time this recovery happens faster and the sensation of cold almost disappears on occasions. The initial shock still gets me – every time.
PAIN & INFLAMMATION
Stress is a massive player in pain, and when we are more stressed we feel more pain. Cold showers seem to be a reliable way to improve resilience to stress and could be a game changer for people suffering from persistent pain.
There is also some evidence to suggest that cold therapy could improve the inflammatory response – a finding that could be really promising for the growing number of people with a condition related to chronic inflammation.
I’ve only touched on the benefits here but there seem to be a lot more out there. From helping weight loss to improving skin and hair there is a lot of ways in which cold therapy could benefit your health. If you’re interested in these and the science behind them, check out my friend’s blog on SelfHacked.
If you’ve been inspired to give it a go, or if you haven’t and just need a little more convincing, then I’d strongly recommend you check out the Wim Hof Method. I use his breathing technique before a shower and it works for me. It can be intense at first though so go slow – and enjoy!
Hey! 🙂 I made a video on cold training and the biology behind it. Please enjoy. twitter: @aubmckenzie tumblr: aubmckenzie.tumblr.com youtube: youtube.com/aubmckenzie newgrounds: tapyoca.newgrounds.com Music by Globuldub (awesome dude) soundcloud.com/globuldub