This ‘cool’ habit brings many health benefits!
Taking a cold shower may be okay on a hot sunny afternoon but not on a chilly morning…..I agree. But the benefits of this age-old practice could unfold for you and can take away your ‘chills’! Yes I am a bit crazy!
For the past 3 years or so I’ve become a huge fan of cold showers and ice baths, even during winters. I live in Melbourne and that may sound a bit crazy….I get it!
There is a reason people like me swear by it. A review of 104 studies found strong evidence that there are significant mental and physical benefits. Whether it is cold-water swimming, bathing, showering and therapies based on exposing the body to low temperatures…the benefits are immense. Ice baths and other hydrotherapies have been found to reduce cholesterol, boost the immune system, help treat autoimmune inflammation, ease pain and speed recovery from sports injuries and greatly increase insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin concentrations. Cold-water swimming also has a positive effect on mental health and brain development.
In this article I will ‘dive’ deeper but remember it’s always a good idea to check with your health practitioner first.
Why Cold Showers?
Cold showers are any showers with a water temperature below 70°F. They have many health benefits. Water therapy (also called hydrotherapy) has been used for centuries to take advantage of our body’s tendency to adapt to harsher conditions. As a result our bodies become more resistant to stress.
Cold showers are not a main source of treatment for any condition but they help improve symptom relief and general well-being. Check out the benefits of a cold shower below.
Increases endorphins – your happy hormones
For people with depression cold showers can work as a kind of gentle electroshock therapy. The cold water sends many electrical impulses to your brain. They jolt your system to increase alertness, clarity and energy levels. Endorphins, which are sometimes called happiness hormones are also released. This effect leads to feelings of well-being and optimism.
Taking a cold shower for up to 5 minutes, 2 to 3 times per week, was shown to help relieve symptoms of depression, in a clinical trial.
Helps improve metabolism
White fat is the fat we associate with conditions such as obesity and heart disease but we are all born with brown fat. Researchers have found that brown fat plays an important role in adult health. Healthy levels of brown fat also indicate that white fat will be at a healthy level and brown fat is activated by exposure to cold temperature.
People who are obese can’t simply start taking cold showers to lose weight without changing other lifestyle habits. But taking a cold shower 2 or 3 times per week may contribute to increased metabolism. It may help fight obesity over time.
It can feel uncomfortable to immerse our bodies in cold water but it can also be invigorating. That’s because water that’s colder than our natural body temperature causes the body to work slightly harder to maintain its core temperature. When taken regularly, cold showers can make our circulatory system more efficient. Some people also report that their skin looks better as a result of cold showers, probably because of better circulation.
Athletes have known this benefit for years even if we have only recently seen data that supports cold water for healing after a sports injury. It’s the same reason that ice brings down inflammation when we bruise or tear a muscle. By bringing the temperature of an area of the body down, we speed up the delivery of warmer, freshly oxygenated blood to that area and that speeds up recovery time.
Helps fight off common illnesses
Our bodies are designed to become resistant to the elements we are exposed to. For example, leukocytes help fight infection in the body. The shock of cold water in the bloodstream stimulates leukocytes. This means that taking cold showers can help your resistance to common illnesses, like colds and the flu.
One study even indicated that cold showers could make the body more resistant to certain types of cancer. And a clinical trial in the Netherlands showed that people who took cold showers called out of work less.
People that are preparing for surgery or other disease treatment that could lead to decreased immunity might want to start taking cold showers in preparation.
Limits and risks
Cold showers are not a magical cure-all for any condition. They should be used as a supplement to traditional treatments but not as a replacement. Please remember that people taking medication for their mental health should not stop their drugs abruptly in favor of any alternative treatment. People with long-term clinical depression or a diagnosis of bipolar or borderline personality conditions should not use cold showers as a replacement for what their doctor has prescribed under any circumstances.
If you’re feeling sick, have recently been released from the hospital or are otherwise immune-compromised, wait to try out cold showers. While the cold shower habit is beneficial for most people, the habit takes some getting used to. The body may be taxed by the process of getting used to it.
The ideal way to take a cold shower is to ease into the habit. Start by slowly lowering the temperature at the end of a usual shower. Get the water cold enough that you start to feel uncomfortable. Then stay underneath the water for 2 or 3 minutes. Breathing deeply will help decrease your discomfort in your mind. The next time you try this exercise, make the water slightly colder. Try to last for another minute or two in the colder water. After performing this activity 7 to 10 times, you’ll find that you might even look forward to turning the hot water down.
Helping You Discover, Empower & Prosper
Dr Arun Dhir | GI Surgeon, Health Reformist & Passionate Educator.
About Dr Arun:
Besides having a busy private practice at Melbourne Gastro Surgery – Centre for Weight Loss, Dr Arun is an active member of the ANZ Association of Gastro-Oesophageal surgeons (ANZGOSA), ANZ Society of Metabolic and Obesity Surgery (OSSANZ) and Australian College of Nutrition and Environmental Medicine (ACNEM).
Dr Arun is also a senior lecturer (University of Melbourne) and yoga and meditation teacher, with a strong interest in the mind-body-gut connection. He regularly writes and speaks about gut health, gut microbiome, obesity, gastrointestinal surgery and healing. Arun’s published works include Happy Gut Healthy Weight (Balboa Press 2018), Creating a New You – Health Journal (Metagenics 2019), and Your Mess Has a Message (2021).