Cold Shower: The Secret Cure for Almost Anything
And why every athlete should bite bullet and shower cold
For years, it’s been pretty common place for everyone from elite athletes to high school runners to jump into an ice bath after a workout. And most of the literature shows that the cold therapy of the ice bath is beneficial long term for your recovery and your performance (now I say most because like almost everything out there, the research can be a bit conflicting).
But because of the benefit of cold therapy, today you can find all kinds of methods to freeze your marbles: from cold immersion therapy to crythotherpy with gaseous nitrogen. All touting incredible benefits that expand beyond just muscle recovery.
But what happens when you’re just a normal guy (or gal) trying to get by and you don’t have the luxury of a professional sport team’s fancy bathtub, the horse troughs and commercial grade ice makers of your local high schools, or a fat wallet to afford the 3 minute cryo sessions?
Hello cold showers.
To fill that gap for those of us lacking in some of the equipment, cold showers started jumping up as the easiest way to get the same perks of other cold therapy methods without requiring any extra time or supplies.
But why does cold help us recover faster and do we really need it?
In a nutshell, when we workout, we damage the sarcomeres of our muscle fibers. These little parts of our muscles are torn or popped and start to get inflamed. When we apply ice, we constrict those blood vessels and immediately reduce the inflammation. But because those muscles are damaged, they need to be repaired. When the cold is removed, your body sends a huge rush of freshly oxygenated blood back to those muscles that immediately get to work repairing the damage. So less swelling and more fresh oxygen means faster recovery.
Now some folks tout that cryotherapy or other versions of intense cold therapy do more than just cure your soreness. They can actually increase your muscle strength, speed your metabolism and leave people ready to jump into another intense workout immediately.
So do you have to sign up for some cryotherapy torture sessions to save your muscles?
In fact – a cold shower can have lots of similar perks as other forms of cold therapy and it’s much more doable (and affordable). Now the perks are the same for most forms of cold therapy, but here’s the research specific for the showers:
The Benefits of a Cold Shower:
- Speed up muscle recovery: Just like cold therapy, cold showers immediately post exercise can reduce inflammation and help send fresh oxygenated blood to your muscles.
- Increase your mood and alertness: Because of the extreme cold, your body is forced to accommodate by increasing your blood flow and deepening your breaths which actually boosts the awareness and alertness in your brain.
- Reduce stress: By lowering your levels or uric acid and boosting your levels of glutathione, the cold shower can physically reduce your stress levels.
- Improve your skin and hair: Hot water increases the loss of natural oils in your skin and hair, but the cold preserves the oils to keep them moist and youthful.
- Speed up your metabolism: Your body has to work harder to warm yourself back up during and post-shower which means you can increase your metabolism by a few extra percentages. Doesn’t sound like much, but it can have a lasting effect that can lead to better results.
- Boost your immunity: One study in England showed that cold shower-ers had much higher white blood cell counts compared to the warm shower-takers. More white blood cells increases your body’s chances of fighting off infections or toxins. Now they aren’t sure why, but they assume the cold shower can boost your health perks.
- Act as natural anti-depressant: Studies have shown that cold showers can give your nerves a mild shock to perk them back up and increase firing rates. The faster firing rates send faster electoral signals to the brain which can increase the dopamine levels in your noggin to boost your mood and fight depressive symptoms.
So in theory, taking a cold shower sounds like an awesome idea.
That is until you try one.
The first time I gave it a go, I’m pretty sure I got an accurate picture of what the people from the Titanic felt like. You know, the ones floating in the water after it crashed – the ones shivering until death. That’s how much fun it was.
It can sure be a shocker to your system, especially if you’re a lover of the uber-hot showers. They aren’t fun to start, but since we know the awesome benefits, they are definitely worth a try.
So here are the 2 easiest ways to ease into them:
1. Tough it out at the end: Take your shower like you normally do. Then when you’re ready to get out, turn your shower to ice cold and stay in there as long as you can. Each time you shower, aim to last a few seconds longer under the frigid cold at the end. And yes, it’s best to time yourself during this icy ending. Because it might feel similar to being torture to death, seconds seem to creep by. So what felt like an hour was really only about 45 seconds. Time yourself and each time you shower, aim to add on more time, even if it’s just a few more seconds.
2. Start with the worst: Take the same method above but flip it. Start your shower in the icy waters of the Titanic. Last as long as you can and then flip the water back to your warm, sauna-y delightfulness.
Now, if you ask the cold shower champions which of those options is better, they’ll say to go with the first. That you’ll reap more benefits dousing yourself in ice at the end of your shower than starting your shower with it.
And here’s why:
The cold therapy folks say that the adjustment from icy cold to room temperate is what helps build your tolerance for the cold. Because it can actually take your body awhile to warm back up, you get longer perks of the cold. And if you start with a cold shower then switch it to warm, you cut out some of that time and warm yourself up much faster. That means less time under the cold benefits.
So although option 2 is more comfortable, option 1 can get you adjusted to cold showers faster and give you more bang for your icy buck.
Either way, the more you practice the cold shower, the more used to it you get. And eventually, you’ll be taking total cold showers daily (maybe…)
And here’s one last thought on the cold shower.
Taking your first (or even 10th) cold shower isn’t comfortable.
But what doesn’t challenge us, doesn’t change us.
If you’ve felt stagnant, like you’re getting too comfortable and not making progress in any area of your life, maybe this is just the challenge you need. You know it’s got super health perks. And you know it won’t be fun. So why not challenge yourself – start or end every shower this week on ice.
Who knows, you might end up reaping the benefits faster than you thought.