Why I take cold showers, even in Winter.
I tried to explain to a friend today, why I thought he should jump in the 61 degree (16 degrees celsius) water after our training session. He told me that in the changing seasons, the temperature shifts tended to make him sick and so he didn't think it was a good idea. Not that I thought he was wrong, but I challenged his idea making the case that I believed small stressors, in controlled doses would in fact bolster his immune system and protect him from getting these sicknesses at all. Cold shock is one of these stressors that I think everyone should play with this Winter, in an attempt at not getting too comfortable and forcing your body to adapt, and feel younger in the process. He decided to jump in, his breath got shallow and we talked about slowing it down, centering, breathing deeply and after 30 seconds or so he jumped out and was stoked he did so.
There are many reasons why this feeling occurs and there are many benefits to it as well. I have long been practicing this and want to share some of the scientific benefits, so that you might become interested too.
There is a lot of information out there as to how this stuff works and if you want to hear it from the mouth of one of the most charismatic pioneers of this movement, you can watch the Vice documentary on "The Ice Man", Wim Hoff above. I like to go deep on the science and so I found a great report from Dr. Rhonda Patrick, who I featured last week.
Here's a summary:
Exposure to extreme cold, whether from cryotherapy or cold water submersion causes the body to produce norepinephrine (noradrenaline). This leads to higher levels of attention, focus and cognitive ability. It also increases energy levels and mood. Low levels of norepinephrine have been linked with depression which has been known for a long time. If you were to look at Van Gogh's recommended treatment from his self admitted time in the asylum, you would find that it was said that he should take two ice baths daily. Norepinephrine also increases your body's anti-inflammatory response, which one of the reasons why I have seen and heard of many symptoms of digestive distress improving with cold shower use.
Chronic Inflammation is also one of the biggest drivers of the aging process and so any measure you can take to reduce inflammation will improve the quality of your life. Cold water submersion will boost the number of certain immune cells as well. Studies have shown that Winter swimmers were able to decrease their rate of respiratory tract infections by up to 40%. Cold water therapy increases the number of brown fat cells through a process that packs them full of energy producing mitochondria, which in the long run helps you burn even more fat, leading to weight loss.
Oxidation is another unavoidable process that goes on throughout our body that causes aging and, when not controlled by an adequate intake of antioxidant rich foods and lifestyle management techniques, can contribute to chronic disease. There are many lifestyle factors that will increase oxidation such as stress, smoking, too much exercise, too little exercise, intake of industrial seed oils, such as canola and vegetable oil etc. Like I mentioned, oxidation can be controlled by a frequent supply of antioxidant rich foods such as fresh leafy greens and other colorful fruits and vegetables. Our body also has it's own systems of producing antioxidants and the cold has been proven to stimulate this; specifically glutathione and dismutase.
Beyond the science, what I have found personally is that cold exposure boosts your resilience to stress by training you how to deal with. It's kind of like how lifting weights makes your body change in a way that over time you can lift heavier weights. The same thing happens with your stress response; when you train your body how to cope with controlled stress, you get better at coping with stress!
Here's how I recommend you go about getting more cold in your life. If you live by the beach, get in the water. Not only will you be exposed to the cold, but it will take some of you out of your comfort zone and is also a great way to spend some time in nature. If you live near the ocean, you owe it to your soul to do this. If you don't live by the beach, start by finishing your shower with 30 seconds of cold. Once you are comfortable with that, start your shower with cold, switch it to warm after 30 seconds or so and finish off with another 30 at the end. If you're all about it, just have a cold shower and eventually you might even go to the 99c store, buy 10 bags of ice and turn your tub into an ice bath. If you have aches and pains, I have seen this do amazing things for people, especially when combined with alternating heat from the shower or sauna.