Cold Showers for Health

Cold showers have a number of health and beauty benefits.  It may sound daunting at first, but give it a try and I think you will learn to love them.  The various benefits of a cold shower are listed below:

  • Increases immunity– It contracts the muscles to help eliminate toxins, much the way a massage would do.
  • Stimulates the nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic)-  The sympathetic nervous system mobilizes the body’s resources under stress, whereas the parasympathetic nervous system aids in the control of most of the body’s organs. Due to the sympathetic stimulation, there is some evidence that cold showers can help control panic, anxiety and depression.  And it stimulates the parasympathetic system by flushing the organs and bringing a fresh supply of blood.
  • Increases circulation– The cold response brings blood to the capillaries and stimulates the lymphatic fluid which is vital to the immune system.  The response is similar to dry body brushing.  I have found it also makes the body less sensitive to changes in temperature.  Paradoxically, this is especially helpful during the wintertime to help one deal better with cold temperatures.
  • Burns fat – According to Timothy Ferriss in The 4-Hour Body, cold stimulates the body to to produce BAT, or the type of fat that is referred to as “fat-burning fat.”   He says there are at least two types of fat: white adipose tissue (WAT) and brown adipose tissue (BAT).  Essentially, what little brown fat we have (BAT) takes calories from normal (WAT) fat and burns it.  Cold showers help to increase the amount of BAT available.  In doing so, this “fat-burning fat” burns regular fat and glucose as heat.
  • Increases overall well-being and energy– After a cold shower, you will feel energized and invigorated.  Remember that lovely feeling you get after diving in to a cool body of water?  Ya, it’s just like that!
  • Makes legs ultra smooth– If you shave while you’re cold, the goosebumps cause the hair to stand on end and stick out farther than they normally would.  That way, when your goosebumps retreat, you hair is removed from below your skin surface and they feel ultra-smooth for 2 days.  I discovered this when I used to shave at the end of my dock during Minnesota summers!
  • Makes hair shiny and closes pores– Cold water closes the cuticle of the hair and makes the hair stronger while preventing dirt from accumulating on the shaft of the hair.

I have found that the best way to get the benefit of a cold shower is to simply turn the water cold at the end of the shower for the last 3 minutes or so.  I usually like to keep the water warm until after I rinse out my shampoo.  Then I turn it cold and step under to douse myself.  I leave it cold while I shave and condition my hair.  I rinse my conditioner out with cold water.

Most of the BAT that adult humans have is in their upper chest and neck, so be sure to focus the cold water on these areas for a minute or two.  The BAT that is present becomes more metabolically active that way.  Once I’ve finished with the cold water, I turn it back to warm and warm my body back up during the winter.  I absolutely love taking a cold shower after I have worked out at the gym and then sat in the steam room for awhile.

Alternatively, if you really want to rev up the circulation, try switching the shower back and forth from hot to cold throughout your shower.  While it sometimes is hard to force yourself to turn the water cold in the winter, as I mentioned above, I feel it actually makes you more impervious to the effects of cold temperatures.

Cold showers are one of my habits in the Lift application and I love reading others’ comments about their cold showers.  Some people love it and some people hate it.  My feelings about it definitely depend on the day!

**Trivia – (I star this because some people don’t care!):  BAT makes up a higher proportion of the total fat in infants, relative to adults.  This is because it is a special type of fat that mammals have that helps us deal better with the cold.   Most newborn infants and hibernating animals have a higher proportion of BAT to WAT because it basically performs the same results as those of us who shiver (i.e. adults).  Babies are susceptible to cold because they generally don’t shiver and also don’t have the choices that older humans have when they get cold.  For example, they can’t move to warmer places on their own or add clothing.  They also have a much higher surface area of head as a body proportion, where we lose a lot of heat and infants typically don’t have a lot of hair there, or on their bodies, to keep them warm.

Body heat is maintained by endotherms (warm-blooded animals like us) by maintaining our body at a metabolically favorable temperature by use of heat set free by our internal bodily functions, instead of relying on ambient heat in the environment.  When our body temperature falls below a certain regulatory threshold (as they do in cold showers), our bodies do something to return to a warm and favorable state.  One of these mechanisms is shivering.  The other is increasing the thermogenesis that occurs in BAT cells.  This brown adipose tissue is full of mitochondria relative to regular fat that help along this thermogenic process.  Exposure to cold allows the BAT to increase and burn the WAT cells.

Leave a Reply