Nowadays, there’s a growing trend to switch up the morning routine to something lets say, less traditional. This isn’t a new topic though, because cold showering and cold bathing has been a common practice in parts of the world for a long time. Romans in particular, were known to finish their hot, steamy baths with a cold immersion for health benefits. Other cultures embrace that cold water for cleansing, mental well being or just plain bragging rights.
Our newest headlines today say that cold showering can boost the immune system, improve circulation, decrease depression and increase exercise performance. If all of these were true, would it motivate you to switch up your morning routine?
Here’s the truth when it comes to what a cold shower can do for you:
Truths about Cold Showering:
There’s been some decent studies to show that for immune system benefits, cold showers may be pretty good! When the body feels that icy sensation, it’s believed that there’s a natural increase Leukocytes (commonly referred to as Natural Killer Cells) which fight off our infections and diseases (1). One study even showed that 30 days of ending showers with a cold period, reduced self-reported sick leave from work by 29%! When people combined cold showers with regular physical activity, that number bumped up to about 54% (2)!
A cold shower takes determination, so might one get some benefit for their perseverance? Possibly… Most experts agree that it’s just a theory, but studies say that because cold showering creates a flood of sympathetic stimulus to the brain, there may be a “crowding out” effect for feelings of depression or other mental illness (3). Sort of like pushing the bad feelings out with a large shock!
Heart Health and Performance
Also, cold showering causes a rapid flexing of arteries and veins in the body which leads some to think this frigid practice could have some benefits to the heart. There’s truth to this one too, as studies have found cold showers to boost circulation and heart function in certain conditions (4).
For improving exercise performance, it’s less clear if cold showers can actually help or reduce soreness more than just normal practices like stretching and good diet (5).However, it has been demonstrated that cold showers will likely boost the body’s defense against stressors like oxidative damage (6). Researchers have a theory that cold showers create sort of a mini chemical boot camp which forces your system to adapt.
Myths about Cold Showering:
Along with the hype, there’s always some crazy claims that are totally BS. Among the myths about cold showering are the lies that cold showering will boost your testosterone(7), help you sleep better(8) or give you ultimate mental focus. Some of these claims have been boldly stated against the evidence that has shown the opposite (ex: warm showers may actually be better to help sleep before bed), or some have yet to be fully studied, making the facts less clear.
Nevertheless, it’s a practice touted by some well-known enthusiasts. Wim Hoff is one of the hardcore believers that not just cold showering, but also icy water immersion is the key to becoming “strong, happy and healthy”. Critics now say flashy claims like this are just a marketing attempt at selling advice products, but others are still believers in their personal experience with cold showering.
Sometimes, it’s hard to measure all the effects of age-old practices like cold showers. When it comes down to it, you just have to try it and see how you personally feel to make a good conclusion. Some words of advice are to give it a fair try and try cold showering for at least a week to see how you feel. You can either end your normal hot shower with a 1 to 2 minute cold finish (and yes it needs to be really cold, not just luke-warm!), or go straight into cold water without any heat at all. Doing this may give you that great wake-up technique and provide that feeling of morning accomplishment to help you tackle a challenging day ahead. If you find other benefits follow along with it, then continue your routine. So while it may not make you “super-human”, it may definitely provide some impressive health benefits and a kick of mental toughness too.
- Shevchuk NA, Radoja S. Possible stimulation of anti-tumor immunity using repeated cold stress: A hypothesis. Infect Agent Cancer. 2007;2:20.
- Buijze GA, Sierevelt IN, van der Heijden BCJM, Dijkgraaf MG, Frings-Dresen MHW. The Effect of Cold Showering on Health and Work: A Randomized Controlled Trial. van Wouwe J, ed. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(9):e0161749. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0161749.
- Shevchuk, Nikolai A. “Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression.” Medical hypotheses 70.5 (2008): 995-1001.
- Iiyama J, Matsushita K, Tanaka N, Kawahira K. Effects of single low-temperature sauna bathing in patients with severe motor and intellectual disabilities. Int J Biometeorol. 2008;52:431–7.
- MCKEIGUE, MARK E., ANDY KOTIS, and LOUIS W. GIERKE. “Effect of cooling on muscular health prior to running a marathon.” (2001).
- Brenke, R., W. Siems, and R. Maass. “Fitness by cold stimulation of various intensity: effects on metabolism of purines and free radicals.” Wiener medizinische Wochenschrift (1946) 144.3 (1993): 66-68.
- Sakamoto, Kunihiro, et al. “Effects of physical exercise and cold stimulation on serum testosterone level in men.” Nippon Eiseigaku Zasshi (Japanese Journal of Hygiene) 46.2 (1991): 635-638.
- Horne, J. A., and A. J. Reid. “Night-time sleep EEG changes following body heating in a warm bath.” Electroencephalography and clinical neurophysiology 60.2 (1985): 154-157.