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Benefits of Cold Showers

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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Comments

Hmm, this actually sounds like an excellent thing to do. I usually shower hot then cool...I have what I consider allegator skin due to its dryness and peeling within 8 hours of moisturizing. I drink lots of water. And eat pretty healthy...guess it's some genetic issue. Thanks so much as always the great healthy tips and I plan to give this a try.

Some years back I switched to having cold showers in the mornings instead of warm showers. After about a week, I developed unexplained headaches. Then I remembered that my mother had told us that she cannot take cold showers as it caused her headaches. So I stopped the cold showers and the headaches eventually disappeared. So although cold showers are beneficial, too bad I cannot take up the practice.

cold shower in the winter is a recipe for pneumonia. I tried these and got a bad cold

Thanks for your article on cold showers. It was something I had forgotten about as I used to have cold showers after being told it would stimulate the immune system. I would like to renew this practice but have recently recovered from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome and wonder what your thoughts are on the benefits/detriments of cold showers for the adrenals?
Thanks for your valuable articles!
Regards
Kerry

Hi Kerry - I would guess that cold showers would only help with Adrenal fatigue, but then, nothing will substitute for trying and observing how your body responds. Good luck! :)

Hi! What would be your suggestions for cold showers for people with chronic fatigue/chronic Lyme/ Bartonella/ Mycoplasma/ Malaria ? I was taking cold showers when I was young, that was pretty energising :)Now I am sick, older and having almost all possible health complaints, including lowered imunity. Thanks!

Same here, Dr. Kim, I would like to know suggestions as well.

I think cold showers are worth trying in such circumstances. You might consider gradually moving from hot to warm to lukewarm to cool, and eventually to cold water. Over time, tolerance to cold water will build.

This was interesting because I've that I love my really hot showers but also noticed that my skin is very dry. I am going to try to gradually go from supper hot to cool showers. Lived in Hawaii many years ago and showered from a mountain spring. Love it after a hot day in the sun. Maybe it's time to cool things down!

We live our winters in Jamaica and have no hot water heater in our house, so not much choice in showering with hot/warm water. We often shower at night when the water is pretty cool not icy. It makes sleeping very easy as your body really comes back and you feel refreshed and relaxed. Recently the weather has been cooler than normal, so I have opted to shower when I get up, and as you say your body is ready for the day. Our favourite joke is, that after a shower, we say we have warmed up the shower for the next person, usually, my husband.

For the past few years, I have ended my morning hot shower with about 3-5 minutes of cold water. It really is invigorating, but I don't think I could get through shampoo and conditioner on my long hair with icy cold water. Thanks for all your good tips Dr. Ben!

Thank you Lisa. What a good example of adapting to one's needs.

Showering with cold water was taught in my Master Herbalist classes. Not only is it recommended to use cold water, but when you are under the weather or sick, even fighting a serious life threatening illness, it is highly recommended to take a shower with warm-hot water, and then switch to cold water, alternating back and forth. This helps the lymph to move through the body and helps you to heal faster. Even if you prefer warm water showers, before you turn off the water, turn the water to cold for a minute or two. This closes up your pores and helps keep viruses etc from entering your body.

Hi Dr Kim,

I have taken cold showers before and can resonate with your feelings of satisfaction through the endurance. I would love to take a cold shower every morning, but the reason that I haven't gotten into the habit of it is because, when embracing the cold water previously, I felt like I wasn't properly clean afterwards. Do we need the water to be a little warmer to thoroughly cleanse our skin and hair? Or am I just feeling the contrast?

Thank you,

Amber
24, UK

Hi Amber - I rely on a hot shower or bath right before bed to optimally clean. My cold morning showers are more for the effects described in my post, and also to eradicate the many cow licks that I often wake up with! :)

Dr. Kim,

I stumbled across your blog a couple of years ago while researching stretching techniques for my lower back and hamstrings. I was moved by your approach, how you holistically address all kinds of health concerns, and your vulnerability to share insight about your personal life and how you choose to live.

I haven't always read every single newsletter, sometimes going weeks just passing it over, but I've never conceived the idea of unsubscribing from the wealth of information you've collected over the years.

I hope this message provides encouragement on days when a cold shower doesn't spur you quite enough to be motivated.

Cheers,

Michael B., 25
Ashland, OR

Ma

Thanks so much for your thoughtful and generous note of encouragement, Michael, it means a lot to me! :) - Ben

Well, many at my gym swear by the sauna and steam room. Apparently it does for them what cold bath do for the Andy Murray Lebron James types. Please reconcile!

I feel that saunas, steam rooms, and hot baths are very helpful for circulation and overall health. I prefer them later in the day, and cold showers in the morning. But to each his or her own is my philosophy.

Two years ago, fed up with constant colds during the winter, I decided to dip into the nearby pond as a way to boost my immune system. Earlier I read a newspaper article in the NY Times that described a swim group in London who convinced their pool to remain open in the winter. They continued their summer swimming routine through the winter and raved about the effects - improved mood and freedom from colds. As a runner rather than swimmer, I modified their routine. Several times a week I ran about 2 miles to the nearby pond, stripped down to a swimsuit and waded into the very very cold water. To my surprise, although it was very difficult to enter the frigid water, once out, I wanted to go back in because my body and mind felt so great! I continued doing this until the pond began freezing. No colds during the entire time I followed this routine.

No chance of this routine for me. I was raised on a farm where cold, rain and wind were the order of the day for almost half of the year, and my job was to spend 1 1/2 hours outside before my bath feeding all the animals, breaking ice in the troughs, gathering eggs, milking cows, cleaning stalls slopping the hogs, etc, and even to this day all I want upon rising is a warm shower. I'll use other methods to invigorate thank you Dr Kim. Glad it helps some though.

I grew up in northern Minnesota where a sauna followed by a roll in the snow or a dip in an ice-cold freshwater lake was a wonderful part of cabin life.
To this day, I can't step out of a hot shower without at least 3-5 minutes of a cold rinse. Just doesn't feel right.

The idea of a cold shower is torture to me; I even enjoy hot showers in the summer and cold is downright painful. But my acupuncturist recommended that I try a two temperature foot bath each morning to try to improve my tolerance of cold. I draw two tubs (actually plastic waste baskets) -one is as hot as I can stand and the other is as cold as I can stand. I alternate my feet in each one for a few minutes at a time, trying to get my body to tell me both are comfortable. What do you think about such a practice?

Hi Chaddie,

Contrast bath therapy has long been used to facilitate improved blood flow, clearance of congestion, and accelerated healing - I have consistently found it to be a helpful practice!

I would honor your feelings on warm/hot/cold showers. No need to torture ourselves. :)

 

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