There are actually a hell of a lot of health benefits.
Is it just me or is everyone documenting their cold showers and ice baths on Instagram right now? Countless celebrities and wellness enthusiasts have been dousing themselves in cold water in the morning to kickstart their day – and lauding the benefits to their followers.
I had a little dig around and discovered that these stars are following the Wim Hof Method, which claims that while it may seem counterintuitive, these cold showers are actually beneficial for both your mind and your body.
How long should you have a cold shower for?
For the best benefits, the method advises you to incorporate cold showers into your daily routine but as this takes strength and dedication (and a few screams), Wim advises to gradually build up the duration and intensity. If the thought of an ice cold shower at 7am fills you with horror, start with a regular shower and finish the last 30 seconds cold. You quickly notice that you are able to tolerate the cold more and more, and eventually cold showers and even ice baths become things you look forward to, apparently….
So what are the benefits of cold showers?
Studies have long promoted the benefits of a chilly shower and the idea even dates back as far as the Romans, who swore by cold baths. But it was more recently that cold showers skyrocketed as a trend, hand-in-hand with the increased popularity of cryotherapy, with Silicon Valley tech workers saying that starting their day with a cold shower helped them cope with stressful working days.
Likewise, the Wim Hof method claims that cold showers reduce stress levels, give you a higher level of alertness, a more robust immune response and increase your will power (because you’re sure going to need it).
Considering the world is suddenly so obsessed with cold showers, we decided to delve into the health benefits…
A cold shower in the morning for an energy boost
There’s a reason Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and CEO of Twitter, says that taking a cold shower every morning is ‘better than coffee’. If you find yourself groggy and zombie-like in the morning (guilty), the jolt from cold water in the morning can help to wake you up. It’s true, science says so. One 2015 study found that the ‘most commonly reported beneficial effect [from cold showers] was an increase in perceived energy levels (including many reported comparisons to the effect of caffeine)’.
Will a cold shower before bed help you sleep?
In a word – no! As mentioned above, it’s ideal to have a cold shower in the morning to boost your energy. At nighttime, experts recommend a lukewarm shower 60 to 90 minutes before bed.
To relieve stress
Exposing our bodies to extreme temperature can create ‘positive stress’ and help relieve negative mental tension. It may sound like psuedo-science, but it’s such a popular theory that athlete Joel Runyon coined the term Cold Shower Therapy (CST) after giving a TED talk on why we should ditch hot water. In essence, the idea is that positive stress methods help you build up tolerance, so that day-to-day stresses seem less challenging. If it’s good enough for those Silicon Valley guys…
To increase willpower
As anyone who has tried an ice shower knows well, it takes a strong mind to endure the cold for extended periods of time. “By incorporating cold showers into your daily routine, you are strengthening your willpower, which benefits many aspects of (your) daily life,” claims the Wim Hof Method.
Higher level of alertness
Cold showers wake your body up (no kidding) inducing a higher state of alertness (and wails). According to the Wim Hof Method, the cold also stimulates you to take deeper breaths, decreasing the level of CO2 throughout the body, helping you concentrate. Cold showers thus keep you ready and focused throughout the day.
For healthier hair
“Showering in cold water makes your hair shinier and less frizzy, as it closes the cuticle, helping to keep hair healthy,” says Jonathan Soons, creative ambassador at Headmasters. “It can also keep your scalp healthy as once the pores are closed, they are much less vulnerable, protecting them from dirt, grease and oil. If you can’t get past the frigid temperature, just have a final rinse in cold water.” Jonathan doesn’t advise a cold rinse if you have thin hair though, as “cold water can reduce volume.”
To soothe irritated skin
If you suffer with skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, cold showers have been recommended to keep the urge to itch at bay. Warm water can also strip essential oils from the skin’s surface. “Any skin condition characterized by a defective skin barrier can be worsened by a hot shower,” board-certified New York City dermatologist Shari Marchbein told GLAMOUR. “[It] strips the skin of sebum, the healthy fats and oils necessary for skin health, and dehydrates the skin.”
Cold showers for anxiety
Struggling with anxiety? You’re not alone. Countless people are suffering in lockdown and a daily cold shower might help boost your mood. You may associate warm showers with boosting mood, but exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase endorphins, while scientists at Virginia Commonwealth University found taking once or twice daily showers at 20c for two to three minutes – followed by ‘a five-minute gradual adaptation to make the procedure less shocking’ – to have an anti-depressive effect on participants.
To help aching muscles
You’ve seen the photos of athletes in ice baths as part of their recovery after matches or training sessions – well, the theory is that cold water helps to reduce inflammation and aid muscle recovery. Being cold also makes blood vessels contract and numbs nerve endings – preventing swelling, bruising and pain – which is why ice packs are used for injuries.
To boost circulation
Diet and exercise are the most important factors in good cardiovascular circulation, but cold showers can also stimulate blood flow, essentially forcing our heart to pump more efficiently. Improved circulation means better heart health, mental performance, immune system and metabolism. Time to turn the taps to ‘cold’.
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