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Benefits of Cold Showers
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Jan 17, 2017
I was introduced to the practice of taking cold showers for multiple health benefits by a good friend in graduate school more than 20 years ago. I still remember the shock of giving it a go for the first time in the middle of a harsh winter in a suburb of Chicago. My body immediately began hyperventilating as I summoned all of my resolve to take on that icy cold water from Lake Michigan. Beyond the initial moment of impact, what I remember most was a deep sense of satisfaction afterward for getting through the experience.
I took more cold showers here and there during my 20s and 30s but never made it a regular part of my daily routine. Over the past few years, in observing how devoted professional athletes like Andy Murray are to taking ice baths following intense workouts to facilitate recovery, I was inspired to revisit the practice of taking cold showers. In doing some research, I was surprised to find that some people I have long considered to be life mentors use various forms of cryotherapy to support their health. For example, Anthony Robbins begins every day by submerging himself for a full minute in a cold plunge pool that maintains a water temperature of 57 degrees Fahrenheit.
Today, I can't imagine beginning my day without a cold shower. I wake up naturally anywhere between 4 and 6 am, review my core values, follow my oral care routine, shave with plain soap and warm water, then take a full shower with cold water. I turn the shower handle faucet just enough to allow for a full strength stream of cold water but not enough to draw any hot water from our hot water tank.
If you do some research through the National Library of Medicine, you'll find plenty of studies that point to the many potential health benefits of taking cold showers, like this one that looked at using cold water as a potential treatment for depression. Science tells us that cryotherapy triggers the release of feel-good endorphins, creates an analgesic effect, and improves systemic blood circulation. Andy Murray and Lebron James will tell you that sitting in an ice bath after heavy training helps their legs feel fresh and ready to go the next day, likely through improved clearance of lactic acid and other waste products that accumulate within muscle tissue with intense physical activity.
I'm reasonably certain that cold showers are helpful to health at a cellular level. But this isn't why I take them. I begin every day with a cold shower - the colder the better - because I strongly believe it sets me up to have a purposeful day. By enduring and even embracing the initial discomfort of getting pelted by thousands of icy droplets of water, I feel ready and capable of overcoming a lot more during the day ahead. The surge in physical alertness and spiritual energy are what make me look forward to my cold showers.
This isn't to say that I feel that everyone should switch from hot to cold showers. On this topic, I can only speak from my own experience. If you have an underlying cardiovascular issue or a family medical history of circulatory issues, it's prudent to discuss the potential advantages of taking cold showers with your physician before plunging into the experience. If you aren't inspired in the slightest to give a cold shower a try, there's no reason to push yourself into one.
If your health is sound and you are keen to try showering with cold water, the first few times, you can expect to hyperventilate for a minute or so. I would suggest going all in with cold water rather than gradually turning your faucet level from hot to cold, and using your hands to vigorously rub your head and face when the water first hits - I find this helpful to my ability to tolerate the first several seconds. I would also suggest finishing with cold water rather than treating yourself to warm or hot water before turning the water off, as I have found that finishing with warm or hot water diminishes the benefits of enduring the cold.
If you have any thoughts or questions on this topic that you care to share with our readers, please consider using the comments section below. And above all else, please remember to follow your own instincts when trying any new experience.
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