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Are cold showers bad for you?

With cold showers and ice therapy becoming a popular topic in the news, we discuss whether cold showers are bad for you or if they should have a place in your daily routine.

Thousands of people from all over the world include cold showers as part of their daily routine [1].

But are cold showers better for you than a hot shower? We investigate the theory behind cold showers, including the benefits of cold exposure and how to take a cold shower.

What is a cold shower?

Cold showers have a temperature below 21°C. Although cold showers may seem counterintuitive, some theories suggest that they could be beneficial for both your mind and body.

In recent years, cold showers and cold exposure have become more mainstream due to the growing reputation of Wim Hof’s method – who is also known as the iceman. Celebrities Joe Wickes, Liam Hemsworth, and Tom Cruise have all spoken out about practising his method and supported the benefits of cold showers.  

What is Wim Hof’s method?

Wim Hof’s method comes from the idea that we have become disconnected from our age-old survival mechanisms. His theory is about reconnecting us to ourselves, to others, and nature [2]. Wim Hof’s method is based on three pillars: breathing, cold therapy, and commitment.

Wim Hof’s three pillars:

  1. Breathing – The first pillar is the idea that we are unaware of the full potential of our breathing. Breathing techniques can affect your oxygen levels and encourage more energy, reduced stress levels, and an increased immune response that decreases the chance of illness.
  2. Cold therapy – The second pillar encourages you to believe that the cold is your friend (or warm friend, as Wim describes) and that exposure to the cold can reveal many health benefits. These include reduced inflammation, improved sleep quality, and the production of endorphins – the chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. 
  3. Commitment – The third pillar, and the foundation of it all, is commitment. That’s because, without commitment and determination, Wim says that you will not be able to master your own body and mind.

Wim Hof says his method takes strength, dedication, and a lot of commitment. In a video with Joe Wickes, Wim explains the benefits of cold exposure and that he has the science to prove it.

Benefits of cold showers

There are many benefits of a cold shower, and there have been numerous studies showing the impact that cold exposure can have on our bodies. Here are few benefits you may see when taking a cold shower regularly.

  1. Increased alertness 

Taking a cold shower can increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate, waking your body up and making you feel more alert [3].

The cold also stimulates you to take deeper breaths, decreasing the carbon dioxide throughout the body, helping you concentrate, and keeping you ready and focused throughout the day [4].

  1. Stronger immune response

A trial in the Netherlands found that people who take hot-to-cold showers were 29% less likely to call in sick for work or school [5] than people who were only taking hot showers. This indicates that cold showers may have a positive impact on your immune system.

The study, published in 2016, concluded that cold showers might:

  • Make a person’s illness feel less severe.
  • Allow people to continue with their daily activities.
  • Trigger the body’s immune system, regardless of duration.

Other scientific studies have also found that taking a cold shower increases the number of white blood cells in your body, helping to protect you from diseases. Researchers believe that the process of increasing white blood cells is related to an increased metabolic rate, which stimulates the immune response so that your body recognises and defends itself against any bacteria or viruses [6].

  1. Weight loss 

Could cold showers help with weight loss? Some research shows that cold showers and cold exposure can increase your metabolic rate and stimulate brown fat tissue [7].

Brown fat tissue, also called brown adipose tissue, is activated when you are cold and burns calories to produce heat. Its job is to help maintain your body in cold conditions. So, in theory, activating these tissues with cold showers may help burn calories and ultimately lead to some weight loss.

  1. Better mental health

Some research suggests cold showers have mood-boosting benefits. A study in 2008 found that cold showers activate the sympathetic nervous system and stimulate the production of the feel-good chemicals endorphins, meaning that people may be less likely to experience depressive symptoms after a cold shower [9].

Toda et al. 2006, found that cold water exposure could also decrease stress hormones (like cortisol) and help regulate the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, helping reduce anxiety.

If you are worried about your stress levels affecting your health, our Stress Cortisol Saliva Test can help you find out whether your cortisol levels could be the reason behind any symptoms you may be experiencing.

How to take a cold shower

Taking a cold shower isn’t as simple as turning the temperature right down and stepping in. 

Wim’s steps for how to take a cold shower:

  1. Take a shower at your usual temperature.
  2. Once you are ready to get out, turn the temperature down to below 20°C for the last 30 seconds. 
  3. Make sure that you are using the correct breathing techniques. It’s advisable to practice and get comfortable with these before stepping into the shower!
  4. Gradually build up by 30 seconds with each shower until you reach your goal.

There is no recommended time for cold showering, and Wim Hof assures people that they can see the benefits with just a couple of minutes of exposure. Don’t feel like you need to take a cold shower every day, you can gradually build up to what feels most comfortable.

Make sure to listen to your body during cold showers as everyone is different, and a cold shower should not have any negative effects, such as feeling dizzy or unwell. And if you experience any of these, stop immediately. 

If you have certain medical conditions, especially heart-related or blood pressure-related conditions, or if you’re pregnant, make sure you speak to your GP before taking cold showers.

Cold showers vs hot showers

So, if cold showers are so beneficial for us, why do we like hot showers so much? Well, hot showers have their uses too. Hot showers or baths activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes our muscles and makes us tired [8]. So, they’re good for both mind and body relaxation.

Hot water exposure also helps towards better brain health, increased brain function and better memory, according to a 2018 study that investigated the effects of hot water exposure on brain health and function. Alongside muscle relaxation and increased brain function, hot showers have proven to help with acne, relief from a cold, and general relaxation.

With benefits to both hot and cold showers, the question is – which is best? In an ideal world, it is recommended to have a lukewarm shower [10]. But you could always try alternating between the two – whatever feels most comfortable for you! 

Are cold showers bad for you?

It turns out that ultimately, no, a cold shower isn’t bad for you. If anything, cold showers have proven to have many benefits, from increasing your mood, aiding weight loss, and increasing immunity.

The fact that you may be able to get so many benefits from adding one two-minute cold shower into your daily routine is rather impressive.

So, cold shower anyone?


References

  1. https://www.wimhofmethod.com/benefits-of-cold-showers
  2. https://www.wimhofmethod.com/practice-the-method
  3. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/44/3/179
  4. https://www.wimhofmethod.com/benefits-of-cold-showers
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5025014/
  6. https://www.wimhofmethod.com/science
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3895006/
  8. https://www.healthline.com/health/cold-shower-vs-hot-shower#Whats-so-great-about-cold-showers?
  9. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S030698770700566X
  10. https://www.healthline.com/health/cold-shower-vs-hot-shower#So,-which-type-is-better?