- 1) Enhance alertness. Better than coffee, taking cold showers will certainly wake you up! The blood vessels in the skin constrict, routing blood to the interior, to protect vital organs against falling temperatures(1). Consequentially, our body's response to shock is very stimulating, likely causing you to quicken your breathing, race your heart, and if your'e like me, break out into a dance to stay warm. So many, including myself, swear by it's energizing effects.
- 2) Reduce inflammation. Known as "ice bathing," pro-athlete coaches down to high-school athletic programs recommend ice bathing to athletes to reduce inflammation and exercise-endued muscle soreness. Ice bathing is typically 20 minutes or less, from the waist down. As mentioned in number one, the cold-water immersion redirects blood flow, and in this case, improves the inflammatory response, which can reduce swelling, limit further inflammation, and improve the return of blood to the heart, called the venous return. Similar to the use of ice packs after an injury, the cold temperature helps prevent bruising and swelling while also offering instant pain relief. There is no greater relief to me than an ice cold shower after strenuous exercise.
- 3) Improve circulation. As we've been discussing, when your body is first hit with a drastic temperature change, the autonomic nervous system is shocked, which initially and immediately sends blood-flow to the surface of the body. The longer your body senses this temperature change, survival instinct kicks in, routing blood to the interior organs. This direction and re-direction of blood flow stimulates circulation of the vascular system.
- 4) Enhance immune function. Though research on cold-temperature and immune response is not clear, there have been studies to suggest that the immune response is enhanced with exposure to cold. Though I did not find studies to promote strong evidence, scientists are studying the health effects of measured increases in white blood cell count and cytokines (messengers to the immune system) that result with exposure to cold-water immersion(2). Finally, one more recent study found that repeated cold water immersions activated the immune system slightly(3).
- 5) Potentially boost mood. Cold exposure is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increases mood-boosting hormones to the brain. Though there is not much clinical evidence of psychiatric benefits, one study from 2007 found cold showers relieved depressive symptoms of the studied subjects(5). I have personally experienced a transition in mood after taking cold showers, so it will be interesting to see where continued research goes.
Sometimes we focus too much on external physiology. Think of cold showers as an internal exercise for your arterial health. There was enough scientific reason for me to try it, and to my surprise, I enjoy it! It may not be for you, but I certainly encourage you to give it a try for the various reasons we talked about today. You can ease your way into this practice, by slowly cooling the water down over a period of 5 minutes; then, try to sustain the coolest temperature you can tolerate for 2 to 3 minutes.
Tell me what you think! Did you enjoy this post? Please like it and share! Do you take cold showers? Would you be willing to after reading this post? Share in the comments below.