The Benefits of Taking a Cold Shower
Do you find yourself suffering from general aches and pains? Are you an athlete looking to add something into your recovery routine? Maybe you're someone who struggles with your ability to focus, losing weight, or suffers from depression or depressive-like symptoms. If you’re looking for a natural way to boost your immune system and want to become a healthier you, cold water immersion and cold water exposure might just be the tool you’re looking for.
While exposing yourself to cold water may sound drastic or uninviting, humans have been exposed to the cold regularly for centuries and we are perfectly adapted to deal with it! Cold exposure induces a stress response similar to acute exercise which boosts your immune system while decreasing inflammation in the body at the same time. According to a research review performed by Dr. Rhonda Patrick PhD, owner of Found My Fitness, studies have shown increases in white blood cells, T cells (which fight cancer along with other various diseases), anti-inflammatory markers, and decreases in pro-inflammatory markers. In some studies regular cold water exposure has also been shown to decrease the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections by up to 40%.
Other equally important benefits include assistance in weight loss and positive effects on brain health. Cold water exposure causes an increase in metabolism (to help keep the body warm). There have also been studies showing increases in insulin sensitivity (helpful for all but especially those with Type 2 Diabetes), improved HbA1c and cholesterol scores, and has been associated with decreased risk of other chronic metabolic diseases like coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and hypertension. Last but not least, there are positive effects on brain health that include decreases in depression, protection against neurodegenerative diseases, and increases in cognitive function, attention, and energy. While not completely understood, this is primarily believed to be achieved by increases in Cold Shock Proteins and Norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that has been shown to be insufficient in some cases of depression and is a driver in the amounts of attention and energy you have. Cold Shock Proteins have been found to play a major role in the growth of new neurons, while repairing and renewing existing neurons in the brain and body in a process that is similar to animals going through and waking up from hibernation. How awesome is that?! Through this mechanism cold water exposure can help prevent neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's.
Regular cold water exposure has also shown positive effects in athletes with decreased fatigue, muscle soreness, and increased recovery! It is important to note that cold exposure immediately after exercise may be detrimental to the positive inflammatory response that occurs to promote tissue growth. This response peaks at about 1 hour after exercise so make sure to give yourself at least that long before cold exposure. This is important for those performing resistance training (lifting).There have been no negative effects shown with endurance training (running, biking, swimming)
There are several practical ways to go about exposing yourself to the cold. A great and easy way to start is with the use of cold showers. Start with just 30 seconds at the end of your regular shower, repeat each shower following, increasing your time every day to anywhere from 2-5 minutes. The colder the better! If you’re feeling really brave, grab a bag or two of ice from the store, fill your tub with cold water, and put the ice in! Getting as much of your body in as possible, ice baths are a great way to get cold faster and will have more beneficial effects than just a cold shower. Ice bath times can range from anywhere between 5-20 minutes, with an optimal range of temperature of 34-50 degrees and should be performed 3-4 times a week. A minimum of 11 minutes a week in an ice bath is enough to get the positive effects you want. Make sure to let your body reheat naturally and by itself in order to get the increase in metabolism you are looking for.
There are some precautions that should be noted when you’re getting into the world of cold water exposure. The most common risk is hypothermia and in extreme cases, frostbite. It is important for you to not push your body too far, and stay within the recommended time frames of exposure. It is a good idea to have someone around to watch you as you begin and learn how you react to the cold. Those under the influence of alcohol or who have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism should take precaution as those conditions decrease your sensitivity to cold. Lastly, it is important to go into your cold water exposure with a positive attitude! Those who think about and catastrophize the cold are going to have an increased sensitivity, causing your experience to be colder than it actually is! Now go out there and get cold! Your body will thank you.