For most of my life, I took hot, cozy, twenty-minute showers that turned my bathroom into a sauna. It was not until two years ago, when I discovered the benefits of comfort challenges, (the act of doing something uncomfortable for the sole purpose of improving your life in the future) that I learned of the similar benefits of cold showers.
Before discussing these benefits, I’d like to propose an inherent flaw with hot showers: they’re completely unnatural. Besides the few places gifted with hot springs, hot water simply doesn’t exist in nature.
Taking a hot shower is a relatively new concept—just because it’s comfortable doesn’t mean it’s good for us. We need to grow more aware of the damage hot water can do to our bodies.
Most of us shower in water contaminated with chlorine, in order to make it safe for drinking. Although chlorine makes our water more hygienic, it’s also an abrasive and toxic chemical that is dangerous for our skin and lungs. Hot water causes the pores in our skin to open and absorb toxic amounts of this chemical. Due to its oxidizing effect on human skin, chlorine releases gas compounds that can cause tissue damage on a cellular level. This process creates wrinkles, weakens the skin, and can even lead to cancer.
While hot water can be harmful to your health, cold water provides your body with a number of benefits...
Taking cold showers can help boost your immune system, increase blood and oxygen circulation, and make you less prone to illness. One recent study at the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that the body’s count of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets all increased significantly after a 150 meter cold water swim.
For a quick review of 6th grade science class: red blood cells transport oxygen to body tissue, white blood cells are responsible for protecting the body against diseases and foreign invaders, and platelets stop bleeding.
When your body is exposed to cold water, your sympathetic nervous system activates your body’s natural fight-or-flight response. The result? Your body secretes adrenalin and you feel like a superhero. That would explain Stefano Ganddini’s recount of his first cold shower experience:
“When I turned off the water, I felt fucking AMAZING. It was one of the most exhilarating and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. The colors seemed brighter, my senses seemed sharper, and I felt invincible.”
This is the way I feel every time I jump into freezing water—take a cold shower and you WILL start your day on fire.
Increased Metabolism and Weight Loss
The concept behind this is simple: your body requires A LOT of energy to keep you warm, especially in cold surroundings. As one guide to cold water therapy explains, “icy temperatures push brown fat deposits into a frenzy of calorie-burning heat generation (increasing the metabolic rate by approximately 25-40%)”.
A study at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research shows that shivering for 15 minutes affects body fat in a similar way to cycling for one hour. Shivering, like exercise, forces your muscles to contract rapidly and release a protein called irisin. Irisin regulates several benefits of exercise in the body, such as losing weight and preventing diabetes.
I could write a novel on this topic alone, but if this isn’t enough evidence to get you under cold water for five minutes, cold showers have also been proven to decrease stress levels, decrease depression and anxiety related symptoms, and help you maintain healthier skin and hair.
Tomorrow, after your morning run, turn your shower on the coldest possible setting and hop in. Let me know how you feel the rest of the day.