You hear about them all the time these days, but are cold showers good for you?
Call me crazy, but I LOVE taking a cold shower every day! As a Human Potential Coach, I’m always looking for ways to optimize my life and my body and help my clients do the same. Through research and experience, I have come to learn that cold showers definitely stand up to the hype!
Read on to learn some of the science behind the benefits of cold showers, as well as some tips on taking the plunge, so you can incorporate them into your life. I promise they are not as scary as you may think!
Why cold showers are good for you:
1) Reduced Stress
Regularly taking cold showers puts a small amount of stress on your body by activating the sympathetic nervous system. This leads to body hardening, where your nervous system gradually gets used to handling stress (1). This means that when other stress arises, your body knows how to respond in a more cool, calm, and collected manner.
In addition, a 2018 study on the regulation of autonomic function during cold exposure found that it activates theperiaqueductal gray (PAG) brain region, which plays a critical role in autonomic function AND stress responses (2).
You can think of cold showers as stress response training!
2) Heightened Immune Response
Want to get sick less? A daily cold shower might help!
Body hardening doesn’t just increase your resistance to stress. It also increases your resistance to illness, such as acute cardiorespiratory diseases(1). This is because repeated cold-water immersions activate your immune system.
According to a 2019 journal article on winter swimming, researchers observed that “winter swimmers feel more energetic, active, and brisk compared with controls; those afflicted by rheumatic disease, fibromyalgia, or asthma report significant symptomatic improvement. Also, epidemiological data report a decrease in respiratory tract infections in acclimated winter swimmers”(1).
Interestingly, a 2008 Study on The Effect of Cold Showering on Health and Work found that study participants that underwent a 30-day regimen of cold showers reported fewer sick days than the control group(3)!
Considering the state of the world today, I think we can use all the help we need when it comes to keeping our immune systems strong!
3) Increased Happiness
According to an article written in a 2008 medical journal, cold showers “send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could result in an anti-depressive effect”(4).
The author also writes cold showers are, “shocking enough to produce beneficial effects on mood. The most notable effects of a cold shower are (a) it is energizing (invigorating), (b) it produces a sense of optimism and well-being, and (c) it alleviates fever and physical pain if they are present”(4).
I once tried not having a cold shower and I ended up feeling rubbish all day.
As a result, I now have one every day, without fail. They brighten up my mood, make me feel fresh, awake, and ready to start my day!
4) More Control Over Your Bully Brain
Choosing to stand in a freezing cold shower while your brain is screaming at you not to really shows your Bully Brain who’s boss. Consistency is key here. Every time you do something your Bully Brain is telling you not to do, you build up your willpower and determination.
The same 2018 study above found that cold exposure also increases motivated behaviour and activates the areas that are associated with self-reflection, which strengthens your mind (2). It takes a strong mind to endure the cold for extended periods of time and to do so on a consistent basis.
A daily cold shower in the morning will help you start your day with a win AND tell your brain who is boss. So it’s literally a win-win!
5) Increased Longevity
Is it possible that taking cold showers could actually make you live longer?
In his book, Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To, Scientist David Sinclair suggests that being cold can activate the mitochondria in brown fat, giving your body more energy. Mitochondria are structures in your cells that make energy for your day-to-day activities. Unhappy mitochondria are a commonly considered key feature of the ageing process.
In addition, cold showers can activate your longevity genes. Sinclair notes, “There are plenty of stressors that will activate longevity genes without damaging the cell, including certain types of exercise, intermittent fasting, low-protein diets, and exposure to hot and cold temperatures.”
Who doesn’t want to live longer?! I’m aiming for 120 years young!
Are Cold Showers Safe?
Staying in cold water for too long can obviously lead to hypothermia etc., and everyone reacts to cold differently. Therefore, like anything related to your physical and/or mental health, you should check with your doctor before trying something new.
Acclimatization is important, so below are some tips on getting started.
Getting used to cold showers
I know that the idea of having a cold shower sounds, well, COLD! 🥶 So it is so easy to say, oh I’ll do it next time.
Planning to just jump into a 3min shower is a sure recipe for disaster, so let’s set some realistic expectations why don’t we?
Every day I have my normal shower, then at the end, I turn the water temperature completely down for 20 deep belly breaths. I recommend starting with 3 deep belly breaths and increase by one each time, by acclimatizing this way you allow your body to prepare.
A bonus side effect, you will never be COLD when you get out of the shower again. Even in the middle of winter, when you get out of the shower you will be nice and toasty warm. Aside from feeling alert and happy, that’s honestly what keeps me doing it even when I don’t want to. I hate being cold when I get out of the shower!
Let me know if you take the plunge! You can find me on Instagram @risewithsmae
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(1) Manolis, Antonis S, et al., “Winter Swimming: Body Hardening And Cardiorespiratory… : Current Sports Medicine Reports.” LWW, journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/fulltext/2019/11000/winter_swimming__body_hardening_and.9.aspx#JCL-P-45.
(2) Muzik, Otto, et al. “Brain over Body–a Study on the Willful Regulation of Autonomic Function during Cold Exposure.” ResearchGate, www.researchgate.net/publication/323106660_Brain_over_body-A_study_on_the_willful_regulation_of_autonomic_function_during_cold_exposure.
(3) Buijze, Geert A, et al. “The Effect of Cold Showering on Health and Work: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” PloS One, Public Library of Science, 15 Sept. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5025014/.
(4) Shevchuk, Nikolai. “Adapted Cold Shower as a Potential Treatment for Depression.” ResearchGate, www.researchgate.net/publication/5854059_Adapted_cold_shower_as_a_potential_treatment_for_depression.
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Last modified: September 9, 2021