I love cold showers. In fact, just this morning I dragged myself out of bed and turned on the shower to be met with a near freezing stream of water. And in five minutes flat I went from feeling groggy and lethargic, to revitalized and ready to face anything the day had for me.
For most people though, the thought alone will make them shiver. The average person’s only experience with cold showers is when someone uses the hot water in another part of the house, or when the power goes off. The warm relaxing experience they were just having is flipped on its head, and what follows is usually discomfort, irritation, and a slew of strange noises and curse words.
But for some of us, cold showers aren’t that bad—in fact, we’ve actually come to enjoy and even crave them. The truth is, there’s something natural and inherently primal about them. To this end billions of people in developing countries across the world still bathe in cold showers every day, and our ancestors did so for millions of years.
Scientists have known the benefits of cold exposure for decades. Athletes for one have used it to great effect for recovery. One study found that immediate exposure to cold water following a high intensity exercise routine effectively facilitated recovery, though the delay group who were exposed three hours later also saw improvements.
However, you don’t need to be an elite athlete to reap the rewards. There are many ways in which a five-minute daily cold shower can give you profound physiological and psychological benefits.
Here are six of the top reasons you should get on board the cold shower train:
- Reduced inflammation and swelling
Australian sports scientist Dr. Ned Brophy-Williams explains that cold water therapy works by redirecting blood flow “from the peripheral to deep blood vessels, limiting inflammation and swelling and improving venous return.”
- Improved alertness
Cold showers force you to breathe deeply, the effect being you increase your oxygen intake and your brain wakes up. At the same time your body forces blood to your organs, resulting in an increase in circulation that is equivalent to doing moderate exercise. If you’ve ever jumped in a freezing cold lake, you’ll know that you don’t walk out of it feeling sleepy.
Cold showers increase your metabolic rate, which over time results in greater fat burning capabilities. They also look like they can stimulate healthy brown fat, which is different from the white fat we usually recognize. Brown fat is located around the neck and collarbone area, is more prevalent in younger and physically fit people, and can determine a large part of the variance in your overall body mass. It is associated with thinner waistlines, regulating blood sugar – obese individuals usually have untraceable amounts of brown fat.
- Improved Immunity
There is lots of evidence that repeated cold exposure results in improved immunity. In fact, it has even been linked to higher white blood cell counts and cytotoxic T lymphocyte activity, which has led to cold exposure becoming a hot topic when it comes to developing innate tumor immunity.
Another study which looked at swimmers who had repeated short-term exposure to cold water found their bodies adapted to the oxidative stress. The result was what scientists called ‘hardening’— a response from exposure to natural pressures which causes the nervous system to increase tolerance to stress and diseases.
- Improved Mood
First-hand accounts support the belief that cold showers improve mood, but there is also some promising evidence which suggests that a cold shower—because of the high density of cold receptors in our skin—sends a flood of electrical impulses to the brain, providing a way to handle depression.
- Stronger Willpower
This is potentially the most life changing of all the points mentioned here. You may have heard before that willpower is like a muscle; the more you exercise it, the stronger it will grow, and you only have a limited amount to use every day before it tires out. This is true, and for strengthening your will power, a cold shower first thing in the morning can be the same as doing 100 push-ups. It’s difficult at first, but eventually you look forward to and even crave the routine, and when you look back six months or a year from when you started, you begin to see yourself as a completely new person.
Why is Willpower so important?
One of the seminal studies on willpower, by the father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, looked at self-control in eighth-graders over a school year. They tested the students for markers of willpower, such as the ability to delay gratification by either choosing to receive a $1 bill upfront, or wait a week to receive $2. What was ground-breaking, and has since been replicated numerous times, is that willpower was a higher predictor of success than IQ.
We’re not saying that switching immediately from hot to cold showers is easy, but it does get easier over time. With a little motivation and the knowledge of exactly how they can be beneficial, you can get on board today and start incorporating cold showers into your routine. Remember that exposure of longer than 10 minutes puts you at risk of hypothermia, so stick to 3-5 minutes for best results!
Benjamin Fishel is as a professional freelance writer and content marketer for the blog Project Monkey Mind. He has spent the last three years writing and traveling throughout Latin America.