I am not sure if I will be able to convince you in this article to start taking a cold shower every day, but after learning about these five health benefits I have already started to implement this small change myself. As a Doctor of Chiropractic, I only prescribe to my patients safe and natural therapies. What you might not know it that before deciding to further my education by coming into this field, I was enamored with the body’s self-healing and regulating nature. That is why I enjoy seeing the old become new again, especially when there is evidence to explain the “what and why” for those health benefits. That’s what makes this information so exciting to share. Using water as therapy (hydrotherapy) for health promotion or disease prevention has been documented in ancient cultures including Egypt, India, and China. Today we hear about cold plunges (also known as cold water immersion), whole body cryotherapy, and cold showers being a common practice by high level athletes and wellness enthusiasts alike. The good news is that you don’t have to be an elite athlete or have deep pockets to benefit from the physiological effects of cold because taking a shower is accessible to most people on a daily basis.
The North American Journal of Medical Science published an interesting article in 2014, Scientific Evidence-Based Effects of Hydrotherapy on Various System of the Body. It is well worth a read if you are interested in learning more on this topic. Here are some highlights of the scientific evidence-based effects of cryotherapy on various systems of the body:
- Mood and Energy
Medical Hypotheses published a study in 2008 entitled Adapted Cold Showers as a Potential Treatment for Depression. Their research found that regular cold showers will activate the sympathetic nervous system. Cold showers were also found to increase the level of neurotransmitters and endorphins which have an energizing effect on the body. In this study they used 2-3 minutes of a cold shower at 68°F, one to two times a day for several weeks. This treatment was found to even have a significant pain-relieving effect without noticeable side effects or dependence like some other medicinal interventions for pain.
- Post Exercise Recovery
In 2012, a review of literature found that in multiple studies cold water immersion was shown to reduce the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness compared with other passive interventions such as rest even at 24, 48, and 96 hours post workout. I don’t know about you, but a cold shower immediately following exercise sounds like it would also feel like a refreshing contrast to a hard workout, summertime run, or heated yoga class.
As some point you have likely used a cold pack after an injury, surgery, or some sort of body pain. This superficial application of cold has long been accepted for decreasing edema, muscle spasm, and local pain. According to a 2004 article, Winter Swimming Improves General Wellbeing, regular cold-water immersion also is found to decrease tension, fatigue, and negative mood. It also showed evidence of a reduction in pain from other conditions including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.
- Immune Function
Scientific Evidence-Based Effects of Hydrotherapy on Various Systems of the Body also reported the effect of cryotherapy on immune function appears to work on a cellular level. Leukocytes, granulocytes, interleukin-6 (IL-6), and natural killer (NK) cells all were shown to increase their levels in response to brief cold-water stress (noting a temperature of approximately 64°F). This article also confirmed that daily moderate cold hydrotherapy does not appear to have noticeable adverse effects on normal subjects.
There is also some evidence that adding cold showers may speed up metabolism. They believe that the body will work harder to maintain a normal temperature when exposed to brief cold-water stress. Although this is not a replacement for healthy diet and exercise, according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine cold showers can help increase your body’s metabolic rate. It should also be noted that in this 2010 article What Is the Biochemical and Physiological Rationale for Using Cold-Water immersion in Sports Recovery? A Systematic Review these studies refer to healthy human subjects, immersed in cold water less than 59°F, for 5 minutes or less.
Obviously, the variables are slightly different in each study and in your own situation, but the benefits are clear. If you are committed to giving this a try, start with a warm shower and then go to cold for 30 seconds. You can increase the time as your tolerance grows. Leave a comment if you have tried cold showers and what was your experience like.