It seems like anything that is uncomfortable has a positive effect on the body, while the things that bring us the most comfort are unhealthy. This is not necessarily true. It is more likely that we end up doing some things more than others, while our bodies thrive best when our actions are more balanced. Rest is important, but too much of it is harmful. In the same way, taking cold showers put our bodies in physical situations that we are not often exposed to. This is what makes them so beneficial to us.
Have we become too comfortable regarding body temperature?
We have been able to make ourselves very comfortable in terms of thermal regulation. We can dress warmly and indulge in hot foods when it is cold, and do the opposite when it is warm. Air conditioning has also allowed us to control our environments so much that we are not too exposed to the harsh rises and drops in temperature.
Why do humans get sick more often than the rest of nature?
Have you ever wondered why animals don’t get sick as often as we do? Or why they have more energy than most humans? In essence, it is because they live healthier lifestyles. Their bodies are exposed to situations that they were built for. Birds don’t need to set aside an hour a day to fly around and cats don’t need to set reminders to groom themselves. They use their bodies as intended. There are mechanisms buried within their physiology that allow them to thrive in their environments.
The thermo-regulation mechanism
We have certain mechanisms that help us to thrive in our environment, too. When we don’t use these mechanisms, our health starts to decline. When we do, our bodies work properly. In this case, our bodies have a thermo-regulation mechanism that helps us to stay warm in the cold and cool down in the heat. The heat, for example, stimulates sweat production. Sweat is one of the main ways that our bodies get rid of toxins.
So how does being exposed to the cold for short periods of time (like in a cold shower) benefit our health? Let’s find out:
The health benefits of cold showers
1. Cold showers boost the metabolism
When the body gets cold, it burns calories to create heat. It does this in a variety of ways. It may turn the energy from calories directly into heat (more on that in the next point), shiver to create movement for which heat becomes the desired by-product, constrict blood vessels so that more blood enters into the organs or pull blood away from the extremities (feet, legs, hands, arms) and into the core where organs need warmth to function properly.
You might have noticed that all of these reactions to the cold are beneficial to health. In the case of metabolism, colder temperatures are beneficial because they stimulate higher energy expenditure. All of these reactions require energy. When your body needs more energy to complete a task on a regular basis, it will increase its metabolism so that more energy is available when it is needed.
Our appetite tends to increase during the colder months of the year. An increase in appetite is one of the first signs of increased metabolism (because the body tries to balance out increased energy levels with greater nutrient consumption). That is why some people can eat a whole lot of food and not put on weight: They have a high metabolism.
2. Cold showers help to burn fat
As we have just seen, the body has a variety of reactions to the cold. This is part of the body’s thermoregulation mechanism to make sure that our core body temperature does not drop too low. Cold showers are like exercise for your body. It increases the type of fat called brown fat. Brown fat takes white fat and turns its calorie content into heat, much like how the body turns the caloric content of fat into movement during exercise.
Studies have proven an inverse relationship between brown fat and BMI. In other words, the greater the amount of brown fat that you have, the less likely you are to have excess white fat. This is because brown fat uses white fat as fuel to stay warm. If your body does not get cold regularly enough to stimulate the creation of brown fat, less white fat will be used. Regular exposure to the cold will cause your body to adapt by increasing the number of calories that it can burn for heat – similar to the way that your body will burn more calories per exercise session as your fitness improves.
3. Cold showers elevate mood and fight off depression
Some people believe that depression could be caused by a lack of stimulation. We were made to fight for or against something. When we have nothing to fight, we end up fighting against ourselves. In other words, an energy that is not used for something productive will turn into energy that becomes destructive.
There are cold sensors in your head and along your skin. When these sensors are stimulated by cold water in a cold shower, the brain translates these sensations as pleasurable. This is why you have probably enjoyed the feeling of a chilly breeze across your skin. It is also why many of us enjoy the feeling of the wind in our hair or swimming on a warm summer’s day. This activity also causes the release of endorphins – much in the same way as exercise.
Cold showers also increase mental and physical resilience (again, similar to exercise). Regular cold exposure improves the way that your body and brain deal with stress. If you can handle a cold shower early in the morning, you most certainly will be able to handle that difficult client later on during work.
4. Increased blood flow
Cold therapy has been used by athletes for centuries as a way to speed up recovery. One of the ways that it promotes healing is by improving blood circulation –, especially after exercise. When the body gets cold, it pulls blood out of the muscles and towards the core. This helps to reduce swelling and remove the toxins that are found in muscle tissue, such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid.
When temperatures start to return to normal, blood gets redirected back to normal. This brings new, fresh blood back into the muscles. Fresh blood will carry important nutrients like oxygen, protein, and energy (sugar and fats) that the muscles need. In the same way, a rush of blood to the internal organs during the cold helps to boost their function and performance.
Many people say that a cold shower boosts energy levels better than a cup of coffee. As an avid cold-shower enthusiast, I can personally attest to this fact. The improved blood flow and rush of fresh oxygen throughout the body has a refreshing effect that lasts for hours.
5. cold showers are anti-inflammatory
Cold showers also help to reduce inflammation. It does this in a variety of ways. Firstly, the cold temperature helps to reduce swelling and blood pooling throughout the body because of the shift in blood flow. When you get a sports or exercise injury, inflammation and swelling are evident and clearly visible. Inflammation, swelling and blood pooling also occurs on a smaller scale throughout the body: often in ways that we won’t be able to recognize. Inflammation is the body’s primary immune and recovery response. By improving blood flow, we reduce the body’s perceived need for recovery, and therefore, inflammation.
Secondly, cold temperatures dull pain sensors. Think about how an ice pack helps to reduce pain when you get injured. The reduction in pain, on a regular basis, will decrease your body’s overall inflammatory response. Your body is constantly adapting and changing in accordance with your daily lifestyle. Less pain leads to a less perceived need for inflammation.
My favorite reasons for taking a cold shower regularly are improved metabolism and reduced inflammation. You don’t have to make cold water changes too drastically in order to experience the positive effects of cold showers. If you would like to test out the effects of taking a cold shower without too much discomfort at the beginning, simply shower as usual and switch to cold water for a few seconds afterward. As your body adapts, you will be able to do this for longer and longer after every shower. As with any positive habit, a few seconds is always better than nothing at all.