Many of you are likely questioning my timing and relevance as a health and fitness blogger with this post title. It’s mid-November and I’m banging on about why you should jump into a freezing cold shower for 10 minutes a day, which to some may sound like a death sentence.
Is cold water therapy, or – in terms of practicality – cold shower therapy, something that you should be shying away from and something that should only be seasonal? Or are there real benefits from taking the cold water therapy plunge daily?
Having researched this form of therapy a couple of weeks ago I challenged myself to have an ice cold shower/bath twice a day: once when I first get out of bed (killer) and then again 45 minutes after I’ve trained.
I’m now at the point where it’s simply automatic and the stabbing initial 5 seconds of cold gets far outweighed by the benefits experienced 10 minutes after you get out. But is there any science to back this theory that cold water therapy might benefit many more people.
What are the benefits of cold water therapy?
It’s hard to believe that something so simple that most of us have at our disposal can potentially have significant health benefits:
Improved Immune Function
The immune system is made up of many different cells and processes, which work together to prevent cellular foreign invaders attacking the body.
If your immune system is efficient, then it will get to work seamlessly at containing and destroying any potential threats that leak through into the body.
On the flip side, if your immune system is simply not working optimally, the invader breaches the ‘security’ only to manifest and proliferate itself, causing all kinds of unwanted illness. Taking an icy shower has been proven to engage and up-regulate certain cellular variables within the body’s immune system and therefore may reduce the risk of developing illness.
So many people are walking around full of inflammation, caused by an array of modern day life stressors such as smoking, obesity and stress.
Inflammation is a normal immune response to injury and necessary for recovery, however if inflammation becomes chronic, which is usually the result of an unregulated immune response, it can lead to health issues. This is because your body is working overtime, all the time, which can lead to cellular damage and eventually tissue damage.
Cold water therapy helps to reduce inflammation within the body, as indicated in a study that combined ice cold water immersion with various other intervention practices. It’s this reason why elite athletes such as Kobe Bryant and Andy Murray take ice baths soon after they’ve trained or competed.
It allows their body’s to keep an excessive inflammatory response at bay. This also has an influence on the next point regarding regulating mood, so be sure to read on!
For more information on inflammation and how it can be reduced, read my article ‘The Modern Lifestyle, Diet and Inflammation’.
May Elevates Mood
Rates of depression and anxiety are on the up. We live our lives at an ever increasingly fast pace which rarely allows time to regulate and condition the mind through practices such as meditation and yoga, so instead many use prescription drugs, such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors.
SSRIs work by increasingly the amount of free serotonin within the brain that binds to the post-synaptic receptor in the synaptic cleft, creating an enhanced state of psychological well-being. However like most drugs, the side effects of SSRIs can be fairly substantial and may include: drowsiness, nausea, insomnia and dizziness, to name a few.
With this in mind – where possible – it’s obviously better for health longevity to regulate mood and psychological well-being through natural methods, such as diet, exercise, meditation and as studies have eluded to the psychological benefits of cold water therapy.
One such study conducted back in 2007 hypothesised that states of depression were the result of two factors:
- A lack of physiological stressors which humans have evolved with in nature, such as heat stressors from exercise and bathing in waters at temperatures in alignment with nature. Lacking stressors such as these is believed to lead to brain inactivity.
- Genetic predisposition that enhances the aforementioned condition.
Test subjects within the study were required to take 3 minute cold showers twice a day for several months, with researchers hypothesising that both the elevated release of noradrenaline combined with a considerable amount of electrical impulses sent from the peripheral region to the brain would have anti-depressant effects.
The results suggest that cold hydrotherapy may have a significant impact at relieving symptoms of depression. The test results from the study prove cold hydrotherapy to be an effective means of treatment of psychological well-being, with no side effects of dependencies noted. Although further follow up research into the therapy is still necessary to conclusively prove the study’s findings.
Cold Showers May Improve Sleep
Quality sleep in closely linked with the body’s core temperature. This is due to a region of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which functions as an internal clock for the body. As night time looms, the SCN sends out cooling signals to the rest of the body, lowering the body’s core temperature. This then changes key internal processes within the body, namely an increase in melatonin, which is ‘the sleep hormone’ secreted by the pineal gland.
Manufacturing a cooler body temperature using a cold shower 1 hour before bed prepares the body to ready itself for sleeping and may boost melatonin. For me it has a real calming effect and really helped with my sleep.
Try It For Yourself
I’ve seen and heard loads of points of view on this topic, some cynical and some positive.
I will say that some people out there who are reluctant to try something until it’s 100% scientifically backed, instead of just trying it themselves to see what the response is… They’ll then use the lack of study backing as basis to disprove a method of therapy that is seemingly helping many others.
My advice: Just go and give it shot, see how your body feels and responds!
Speaking completely anecdotally, I think switching the shower from red to blue is far better for the body and is much better at mimicking the water temperatures our body should be exposed to.
Disclaimer: Do not let this information alter your current course of medical treatment without seeking prior medical guidance. The study cited highlights additional, natural and potentially beneficial treatment methods to help assist with existing treatment.