Could a bracing deluge of freezing water every morning make you healthier, more focused and generally better at life?
Many successful people swear by a daily cold shower, claiming it brings them clarity, energy and boosts their overall wellbeing.
So, should we all give it a try? Or are we just wedded to the idea that greatness can only be achieved through suffering?
Picture the morning routine of a millionaire CEO, a Sillicon Valley tycoon, or a high performing celebrity. We’ve all seen the Instagram posts describing waking up way before dawn, allied health schools pa a punishing workout as the sun rises, and three sips of green juice for breakfast.
Are regular freezing showers simply an extension of this kind of punishing, success-driven mentality? Or are there genuine benefits to be found in shocking your body with cold water as part of your morning routine?
A 2016 study found that regular cold showers led to people taking fewer sick days at work, another study from the Czech Republic showed that cold showers gave ‘athletic young men’ a boost to their immune system.
There are plenty of other physical benefits that could be gained from cold showers. Hannah Weaver, lifestyle health advisor at Bupa Health Clinics explains the science behind why a daily dose of chilly water could be doing you good.
‘Although the initial shock of a cold shower may be unpleasant, there are a number of health benefits of taking a cold shower in the mornings,’ says Hannah.
Cold showers increase circulation
As cold water hits your body, it constricts circulation on the surface of your body. This causes blood in your deeper tissues to circulate at faster rates to maintain ideal body temperature.
‘The shock of cold water hitting your skin increases blood flow, that warms your body’s core to protect vital organs (heart, lungs and kidneys),’ explains Hannah.
Better circulation is good for all kinds of things, including helping your body to heal faster, and keeping your heart healthy.
Cold showers boost your mood
Hannah adds that a cold shower activates your nervous system and sends electrical impulses to your brain.
‘This triggers the release of feel-good hormones (endorphins), which boost your mood,’ she says. ‘Some studies have found taking a cold shower for up to five minutes, two to three times a week can boost your mood.
‘Similarly, research has also found whole body exposure to cold water can increase levels of the hormone adrenaline up to four times.’
Cold showers support muscle recovery
Cold showers or baths are often a popular recovery method after an intense workout – Hannah says the jury is still out on just how effective this is.
‘While some research has found cooler temperatures can help to soothe achy muscles, as a higher blood flow reaches your muscles, there is more research needed in this area,’ she says.
Experts say ice baths and cold showers can be good for reducing inflammation and flushing lactic acid, but the best thing for athletes’ recovery is an efficient cool-down with gentle exercises and stretching.
Cold showers increase your metabolism
‘When your body is exposed to colder temperatures, its natural reaction is to keep vital organs warm,’ says Hannah.
‘This boosts your metabolism which uses energy – and increases the number of calories you burn.’
Some research suggests that cold temperatures may stimulate brown fat, which is a type of fat that burns extra calories. A 2014 study, found that men exposed to cold had an increase in brown fat as well as corresponding fat metabolic activity. But there isn’t enough research to conclude that cold showers can definitely help you lose weight.
The mental health benefits of cold showers
Being immersed in cold water is thought to cause increased mental alertness by stimulating our fight-or-flight response. And in older adults, cold water applied to the face and neck has even been shown to improve brain function.
A cold shower may also help relieve symptoms of depression. One study suggested this may work because of the high amount of cold receptors in the skin, which means the cold water would send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses to the brain, which may have an anti-depressive effect.
Many of these benefits ring true for executive life coach Raghav Parkash. Raghav started taking cold showers because he has a curiosity for anything that purports to improve our performance as human beings. He wanted to see if a daily cold shower could enable him to get more out of himself.
‘I had heard about many great stories and benefits of cold showers from friends, colleagues and even athletes who use cold therapy as a form of recovery and to boost their performance,’ Raghav tells Metro.co.uk.
‘Many of the benefits I heard about all lived up to being true.
‘From the first week of taking a cold shower, I felt an increase in sharpness and focus through my day that I never had before. It was like someone shifted the gear stick from four to five for me. My thinking was noticeably much clearer.’
Raghav explains that warm showers tend to cause a relaxation which he finds useful at bedtime, but in the mornings cold showers helped to give him mental clarity for the day ahead.
‘I also felt at times when I hadn’t slept well, my mind would be slightly foggy but after jumping in the shower each morning, the fogginess lifts very quickly and I feel ready and set for a productive day ahead of me,’ he adds.
Metro.co.uk tries cold showers
In the name of science, we asked our Deputy Lifestyle Editor Natalie Morris to try only having cold showers for a few days to see if they had any impact.
This is what happened:
Absolutely awful. It took me about 15 minutes to work up the courage to get my whole body in the cold water, and then I could only stay in for about a minute. It was a horrible, shocking start to the day and I was shivering all morning.
Today was definitely less of a shock, but it still wasn’t pleasant. I knew what to expect, so I was able to brace myself and actually wash properly – which was a bonus. There was something invigorating about the cold, and I certainly felt awake – if not particularly comfortable.
The cold water felt about as unpleasant as the day before – I can’t imagine ever actually enjoying this sensation, particularly in England during autumn or winter. But I was able to stay in a bit longer, and again I did feel that invigoration – which was quite energising. I felt more ready for the day than I normally do.
Today I tried a cold shower before bed, post-exercise. This felt much nicer as I was already awake and my body temperature was quite high because of working out, so it felt nice on my aching leg muscles. I was worried about it causing me to feel too awake, but I actually felt really comfortable when I got into bed, and slept like a baby.
The verdict: Obviously I need to try cold showers for longer to get a real picture of the possible benefits. I didn’t feel any major changes over the space of less than a week, but I did enjoy he challenge element of stepping into a cold shower.
Psychologically, I found it quite rewarding to do something difficult first thing in the morning – as though I was starting my day having already accomplished something. I don’t think I can give up my hot showers for good though.
Raghav says one of the biggest obstacles is the mindset. Getting used to cold showers is a mental challenge as much as a physical.
‘Getting over this first hurdle and taking the leap was the biggest thing,’ he says, ‘and then adjusting to the cold water and making it increasingly cold over time.
‘Although I would say my mental health and state of mind is normally strong, cold showers have really helped me improve mentally in ways I couldn’t initially imagine.’
Along with the sharpness, focus and productivity, Raghav says he also feels better about himself and is more confident.
‘It has helped me grow personally by pushing my comfort zones and shaking up my habits,’ he says.
‘One other key benefit I’ve gained is how much my skin irritations and dryness have been reduced. I didn’t initially realise how much better my skin was looking until a friend mentioned cold showers had helped his skin and then it dawned on me. It was a nice and unexpected gain for sure.’
This could be because cold water will initially help constrict blood vessels in your skin to temporarily tighten pores and decrease redness and puffiness. Hot water can strip away the natural oils of your skin and dry it out – so switching to cool showers may well have tangible benefits for your skin.
‘For anyone intrigued, curious and willing to test it, cold showers are definitely worth the plunge,’ says Raghav. ‘It may be one of the best decisions you can make to start your day with your best foot forward.’
Tips for taking a cold shower
There is a fair amount of evidence to suggest that having a cold shower is good for you. But there are some recording risks associated with cold water immersion as well.
Being suddenly plunged into cold water shocks the body, which means it can actually be dangerous for people with heart disease, and could even precipitate a heart attack or heart-rhythm irregularities.
‘Remember, when making a cold shower part of your morning routine to start slowly,’ says Hannah.
‘Be sure to gradually lower the temperature of the water to allow your body time to adjust.
‘A maximum of five minutes in a cold shower is plenty of time to reap the health benefits.
The evidence suggests that your cold shower doesn’t have to be freezing in order for you to feel the benefits – cool or lukewarm is fine as well.
Hannah adds: ‘If you are looking to boost your health this winter, eating a healthy diet and regular exercise can all help to support your wellbeing too.’
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