I don’t like submerging myself in icy cold. Correction: I hate it. Yet I take a cold shower every single day.
Cruel and unusual punishment? Or an ultimate biohack?
Either way, cold exposure is easy (with practice), effective, free, and available nearly everywhere. Add cold showers to your routine for an effective brain, body, and spirit boost.
What Cold Showers Do To You
Double Shot of Espresso
Survive past that and the icy water beating down on your skin starts feeling bearable. Wait a little longer and it feels refreshing. But that’s not why I take cold showers.
Cold showers create a nice cocktail of endorphins and noradrenaline running through your blood and brain. They activate your sympathetic nervous system in a safe and natural manner.
It’s hard not to feel absolutely alive with adrenaline coursing through your veins.
Cold showers are among the best sources of clean, clear, steady energy. Better than a double shot of espresso or any stimulants.
This habit doesn’t form a chemical dependence nor withdrawal symptoms from missing a day.
Shifts Mental Gears
There’s power to doing something uncomfortable daily.
I never wake up thinking: damn a cold shower sounds nice right now. Even when I’m drenched in sweat, in the moment between the sauna and shower, second thoughts creep up.
Maybe I should just take today off and enjoy the warm water.
I don’t. After I get out I’ve never—not a single time—wished I kept the shower hot. I start every single day with a little micro-win. I tell myself that I am going to do something, and then immediately follow through. The rest of the day becomes just a tad easier.
Good Vibes Only
Cold sends electrical signals to the brain.
It snaps you out of funks, bad moods, and negativity. This is especially welcome during long East Coast winters.
I always assumed the improved mood was a side-benefit of accomplishing the micro-win. Researchers explain the phenomenon differently (emphasis mine):
“…Due to the high density of cold receptors in the skin, a cold shower is expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could result in an anti-depressive effect.“
Whatever the mechanism, I know that I leave my cold showers feeling on top of the world, ready for the day.
Cold exposure is famous for melting off body fat.
Don’t expect to lose a few pounds after a cold shower or two. Over time it can add up.
Cold showers burn fat through a special type of fat called brown fat. Compared to the more common white fat, brown fat burns far more calories.
Taking a cold shower increases brown fat, meaning that you’ll burn more calories without any additional effort.
How much more fat will you burn?
One study suggests that taking cold showers burns 80 percent more calories than warm showers.
The practice pairs nicely with the weight loss morning walk.
A completely free immune booster.
Cold showers have a history as a preventative tonic to various illnesses and infections. Thinking about cold exposure from the perspective of resiliency, this doesn’t seem too farfetched.
An experiment of cold water on young athletes just three times per week for six weeks showed notable immune system changes. The group exposed to the cold had greater levels of the cells responsible for eliminating and rendering pathogens harmless.
Other research supports the beneficial effect of cold exposure on the immune system.
Sports teams use cold strategically.
Cold is a heavily debated recovery strategy. Some studies show benefit, while others the opposite.Athletes use cold for its ability to reduce pain, blood flow, edema, inflammation, muscle spasm, and metabolic demand. Click To Tweet
Any detrimental effects on recovery come from full body submersion for a long time. Ten minutes or longer.
The “dose” of cold in a short shower likely won’t hurt.
Beautiful Skin & Hair
Hot water dries the skin and hair.
Logically then, cold water doesn’t.
But cold showers go beyond that. Cold water closes the cuticle, making your hair stronger and age slower.
Dr. Neil Schultz, a dermatologist, suggests that cold water gets rid of redness and puffiness around the eyes.
I’d imagine cold water goes well with jade rollers.
Improves Blood Circulation
Your blood vessels respond to temperature.
Cold water causes them to constrict. Blood inside constricted blood vessels flows at a higher pressure, so circulation improves.
Better circulation prevents common issues like hypertension and varicose veins. On top of that better circulation leads to feeling and looking better.
Cold Shower Protocols
Ready to dive in?
You have two important decisions to make:
- When you’ll take the cold shower.
- What type of cold shower you’ll take.
When to Take Cold Showers
I prefer cold showers in the morning. Counterintuitively, people swear by them at night too.
Here are the differences.
Cold showers in the morning beat morning grogginess and start the day on a solid note. Feeling good, full of energy, and setting the tone for a great day.
Cold showers before bed have their perks too. Evening showers cool the body, sending a signal to start winding down. Only problem is that the process takes 90 minutes in response to hot showers. Hot water spikes body temperature before it falls. Repair only occurs once body temperature falls. 15-20 minutes after a cold shower, on the other hand, I have no problem sleeping. It actually helps.
What Type of Cold Shower
Baby steps. Start small. No matter what type of shower you choose, it’s recommended to give the body the chance to adapt.
Begin with something short — say ten seconds. Then each day work your way up until you reach two to five minutes.
Here’s my preferred progression, from total cold newbie, to seasoned pro:
No real shower available? Want to start small?
Sink showers make the transition to cold showers less painful.
It works in a pinch, before meetings or while traveling too. The practice itself is simple:
- Turn sink as cold as it’ll go
- Submerge your head, neck, and chest as much as possible.
- Dry off after 30 seconds to two minutes of cold exposure.
Of course, this is more practical in some situations than others. When a shower’s available, I definitely prefer that.
The best of both worlds.
You can maintain some normalcy in your hot shower routine.
Then at the very end, you can tack on a little bit of cold. This was my foray into cold showers. You still get the relaxation of the warm water, but end with the refreshing cold.
It works well, so it’s no wonder biohackers favor the hot and cold mix.
Pure Cold Showers
The icy water only covers you so fast.
Even worse when you use eco-friendly, low-pressure shower heads. Those make cold showers that much worse.
Pure cold showers save time and water. From the research, pure cold also seems to improve skin health better than the hot and cold combo.
Hot and Cold Contrast
Proponents of the contrast shower swear it’s the only true method.
In theory, the hot water works to dilate your blood vessels. Almost simulating a very low-stress workout. Then the cold constricts them. Repeating this contrast, therefore, makes you continuously adapt and build resiliency.
Contrast shower protocols vary significantly. When I do them I like 20 seconds of cold followed by ten seconds of hot, five to ten times through.
I prefer the other methods as contrast showers don’t feel as satisfying, they take longer, and I don’t step out feeling quite as good. Almost like I cheated.
Adding Cold Showers to Your Routine
It can seem overwhelming.
Want to make it a habit? Don’t make the classic mistake of biting off more than you can chew.
Start slow. Very slow. Work your way up to longer cold exposure each time. Use your judgment if you suffer from any health conditions and consult your doctor first.
The first shower is the worst. And the first second of the first shower specifically. After each and every one you adapt. Eventually, even the coldest tap water won’t phase you. On vacation, you’ll make the most of cold beaches while everyone else mopes around, dismayed by the water temperature.Each exposure to extreme temperatures increases your resilience. You become more like the "Ice Man" (Wim Hof). Before you know it, you'll walk barefoot through snow without flinching. Click To Tweet
Cold showers are an indispensable part of my routine. Give it a week and you’ll see why.