The anxiety of knowing there’s about to be an onslaught of cold water directed at your naked, vulnerable body, is pretty intense. Whether you’re sleep-stepping into the shower fighting off slumber or getting home after a long day, let’s be real, hot showers > cold ones. Hot showers are easy. They are soothing and mentally therapeutic, a welcomed remedy after a long or particularly taxing day. A time of for repose. You’re not testing yourself, you’re playing it safe. Conversely, facing frigid liquid conditions do have a myriad of benefits and will do your body and mind damn good. A seemingly insignificant and uncomfortable short moment that can have ripple effects throughout the day.
A crucial first step here is shifting our perceptions of cold water. Beginning to think of a shower as an opportunity for personal growth creates a mindset for a new approach. Not necessarily preferred, which is understandable, but bettering ourselves isn’t always easy. With that being said, let’s add some colour and get into the benefits:
- Reduce inflammation. So many of our everyday habits cause inflammation. From the foods, we eat to stress to environmental toxins. Cold is a panacea for inflammation.
- Mental fortitude. Putting yourself in unwanted and uncomfortable situations require concentration and focused effort which leads to resiliency. David Goggins, the Navy Seal and the decidedly most badass man on Earth call it callousing the mind.
- Increase Metabolism. Your body will need to maintain homeostasis through thermogenesis, the internal generation of body heat which generally falls into one of two categories: shivering and non-shivering. When we shiver, our bodies convert the chemical energy of ATP into kinetic energy which produces heat as well as the characterizing muscular contractions. Conversely, non-shivering thermogenesis turns on the body’s furnace and generates heat too through the function of a tissue called brown fat. Brown fat is an adipose tissue which gets its name from its high concentration of mitochondria which are essentially the power sources of the cell. Unlike the common white fat which stores calories, brown fats create heat and burns calories through a process called uncoupling. Numerous studies have supported that exposure to cold temperatures can lead to the production of brown fats which can lead to non-shivering thermogenesis ultimately increasing your metabolism.
- Better skin. Warm water opens your pores and cold water closes them. When you shower with warm water your pores and cuticles open up and you’re able to wash away dirt that accumulates under your skin and scalp alike, but also your body’s natural oils. Washing away these naturally produced oils can leave your skin dry and itchy.
- Better cardiovascular health. Your veins are like muscles in that can be trained to pump blood – and warmth – through your skin and to the extremities of your body.
- Improved immunity. Only the strong survive. As Dave Asprey of Bulletproof likes to tout, Mitochondria dictate virtually every process in our body. Cold is a natural form of stress that kills off the weak (mitochondria) and strengthens the remaining.
- Increase energy levels and mood. See #5 above. Increased blood flow, increased energy. Better energy, better mood. According to a study done by the Department of Radiation Oncology at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine cold exposure helps to turn on a number of hormonal cycles within the body that fight off depression and elevate one's mood.
Time Tested & Key in Performance & Recovery:
Cold water is a staple in Navy SEALS training. Clint Emerson, former Navy Seal and author of the book 100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation, touts it as must-do for performance and recovery.
James Bond is famous for taking “Scottish Showers” – starting with hot and ending with cold.
Tony Robbins takes a cold plunge or shower every day.
Many ancient and current cultures incorporate cold water into their daily living, such as Japanese Samurai, Russians, Native American tribes, the Spartans and ancient Greeks to name a few.
Gradual exposure. Start by taking a cold shower after a normal hot one. Gradually, day by day, set the temperature a little colder. Like anything else, it gets easier over time.
An alternative is to take a shower as usual, but end with a cold blast. Try starting for 10 seconds to finish up your shower and gradual increase from there.
Areas like the chest and forehead are great for improving mitochondria function. Targeting the head, in particular, can be tough at first as you’ll likely experience some pain. Take it slow, this is a practice for the long run!
Taking a cold shower has a multitude of profound benefits that impact all aspects of our lives. Not only do you better your physical and biological health by taking cold showers, but you will build mental toughness in the face of extreme discomfort. We’re all human and in today’s modern society it’s hard not to indulge at times, and that’s OK it’s normal, but incorporating cold showers even just a few times a week will yield a disproportionate amount of benefits.