8 Good Reasons You Should Take a Cold Shower This Morning
If you think dumping icy water over your head sounds crazy, you're far from alone. But a growing body of research and experts are touting the mental and physical powers of showering in chilly temps.
Fewer sick days
Sniffling your way through cold and flu season? When it comes to battling common illnesses, it’s a two-pronged approach: Avoid all the germs you can and strengthen your immune system for those (awful) occasions when your coworker comes in with the stomach flu or your kid sneezes right into your face. (These habits boost your immune function.) And when it comes to fortifying your body’s defenses against germs, science has a new weapon—cold showers. Ending your daily shower with an icy blast can help reduce the number of sick days you take by 30 percent, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE. Participants who turned the faucet to cool for 30 to 90 seconds at the end of each shower not only took fewer sick days but strangely also reported less anxiety and a slightly better sense of life satisfaction. (If you can make it through a minute in cold water then that big project suddenly seems less scary, perhaps?)
Less body fat
Here’s a strange-but-true scenario: Wearing your bathing suit in the snow may actually help you look better in said bathing suit. Enduring cold temperatures has been shown to change the way the body metabolizes fat, changing unhealthy yellow fat into “active” brown fat and leading to weight loss and fat loss, according to research published by the National Institutes of Health. In addition, you burn extra calories in the cold as your body expends more energy to stay at its preferred 98.6 degrees. There isn’t much research into cold-bathing as a long-term tactic but that hasn’t stopped some people from using “cold water therapy” or “shiver systems” to successfully lose weight, at least in the short term. Whether you prefer cold showers to more traditional weight loss methods is up to you though. Here’s how to lose fat without diet or exercise and here’s more on how brown fat affects metabolism.
Energy for days
As anyone who participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge can attest, dumping cold water over your head will really wake you up. This is because any shock to your system activates endorphins, the feel-good brain chemicals most often associated with a runner’s high. One of the primary effects of endorphins is an immediate rush of super-charged energy, and cold-shower enthusiasts say the boost lasts long after the cold shower is done and you’re warmed up again. It was even shown to help reduce the long-term exhaustion that characterizes chronic fatigue syndrome, according to a study published in Behavioral and Brain Functions. One proponent? Katharine Hepburn, who was famous for her lifelong love of “invigorating” cold showers and swims, a habit she got from her doctor father who said the cold increased energy and vitality. Here are more ways to get a burst of energy.
Higher pain tolerance
Do you struggle with chronic pain? Another benefit of the type of endorphin release triggered by a cold shower is feeling less pain. Not only do people experience diminished sensation of physical pain after a cold shower, but they also report an increased tolerance for the pain they do feel, according to a meta-analysis (a review of previous studies) of hydrotherapy published in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences.
Help for depression and anxiety
A morning shower running cold is reason enough to be depressed for most people, but for those with clinical depression it may actually have the opposite effect, according to a report published in Medical Hypotheses. According to the researchers, cold water sends an “overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could result in an anti-depressive effect.” Other research has found that it helps with mood overall, lessening stress and anxiety. While more rigorous research needs to be done, anecdotally many people have reported major improvements in their mood after starting daily cool or cold showers.
Consider a cold shower as having all the mental benefits of your morning cup of coffee, but without the jitteriness, anxiety, and crash when the caffeine wears off. It makes logical sense. After all, what snaps you to attention faster than cold water dumped over your head? But the 2014 meta-analysis gives some scientific backing to this as well. The icy shower activates your body’s emergency systems and puts you on high alert. Proponents say they are more focused and able to concentrate on their work after a cold shower. Here’s why you could be struggling to stay focused and what you can do about it.
Faster recovery after exercise
Pro athletes like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have long sworn by ice baths after a tough workout or a hard game as a way to reduce muscle soreness and recover quickly. And if it’s good enough for them, it has to help the average gym buff, right? Maybe. The research is mixed, with some experts finding it helps increase blood flow and reduce inflammation, while a different study found it had no effect at all. Your mileage may vary.
Who couldn’t use a little extra-strength willpower, especially now that we’ve kicked off Resolution Season? Well, your willpower is like a muscle, and the more you exercise it to avoid temptation and force yourself to do hard things, the stronger it gets and the better you become at maintaining good habits, according to a report by the American Psychological Association. Even if the cold shower itself didn’t give you additional health benefits, just the act of making yourself do this one hard thing makes you better able to do unpleasant-but-important tasks in other areas of your life. These are the life-changing resolutions you’ll want to keep forever.