Cold showers – Are they for you?
As I make my way through my forties, my quest to improve my health and well-being has led me down many paths, some I look forward to sharing in these blogs, some I will keep to myself out of embarrassment! The first is about what some might call, the ‘madness’ of cold showering and cold-water immersion.
For me, showers have always been a place of comfort and nurturing, the hot water whispering ‘there, there, I know its Monday morning, but the week will fly by.’ Things began to change after seeing Andy Murray immerse himself in a bath of ice during a documentary. I started to dig around to see what all the fuss was about.
My first discovery was Wim Hof, a Dutchmen aptly named the ‘Iceman,’ who holds a number of world records, like swimming distances under ice, having prolonged body contact with ice and even running marathons on ice.
For the Dutchman, his ongoing relationship with ice is no publicity stunt, but a way of showing the world what our bodies are designed to do, and as it would seem, need to do.
Benefits of cold showers
The science seems to be there, with a whole host of research claiming some impressive things, such as:
- Increases circulation – Your body goes into momentary shock when faced with cold water, increasing blood flow to warm your core and protect vital organs.
- Increased circulation heals wounds faster, sharpens the brain, keeps your heart healthy and even improves your complexion. However, studies also show that this can be achieved without torturous cold water, but instead exercise and even drinking black or green tea.
- Weight loss – Your bodies adverse reaction to icy water momentarily increases your metabolism, as your system attempts to keep warm by expending energy, naturally this burns calories, though once again this can be achieved with other less sufferable methods, like regular exercise.
- Boost immune system – A clinical trial in the Netherlands found that cold showers led to a 29% drop in people phoning in sick. Studies have also shown improved cancer survival rates.
- Relieves symptoms of depression – The sympathetic nervous system is activated by exposure to cold water, which increases the blood levels of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline, also increasing noradrenaline in the brain as well. Cold receptors in the skin creates an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which supposedly leads to an anti-depressive effect.
My own experience of cold showers started in March 2020, taking the advice of the Iceman I started my shower in the usual comforting way, but ran it cold for the last 30 seconds, using this time to wash the soap off, a simple and effective distraction from the discomfort.
After a week or so, I got used to the uncomfortableness, and really enjoyed the feeling after the shower, it reminded me of that old Ready Brek cereal advert, where the kid finishes a bowl and a warm glow of energy appears around him.
I felt a similar glow of energy and sharpness around me for about five minutes. Soon it became part of my morning routine, and I could easily stand under the shower for at least 2 minutes. Great! I mastered the art of cold showers, it was easy…………. and then I met October
The biggest challenge in cold showering
October brought a sharp fall in temperature, and even sharper for the pipes that carry water underground, suddenly the experience was completely different. At a rough guess I would say the piped water under my garden is less than 10 degrees (Dec 2021) and just 30 seconds under this temperature brings on immediate stiffness in my shoulders (bearable) and then a headache (less bearable) I can just about make it to a whole minute.
My wife can hear me outside and thinks I’m practicing to become an opera tenner. It feels much more extreme now, and I feel less Bear Grylls, in fact I feel like a defeatist unable to last 2 minutes.
The headaches I’m feeling, followed by momentary dizziness is the realise of cortisol. Cortisol is excreted from our glands when we face a threat, or moment of stress. It primes our system for danger and it can lead to performance enhancement.
It can also lead to long term stress and depression if your glands release too much on a daily basis (see blog on coping with depression) I’ve experienced stress headaches periodically during my teaching career and sometimes woke up with a headache or I can feel it slowly developing.
The cold shower brings me to that level in around 15 seconds, and then once the cold is switched off, the headache goes, the dizziness follows for a further 15 seconds and the warm Ready Brek glow kicks in, but this time it lasts much longer, sometimes even an hour. It certainly sharpens and focuses me for the day ahead.
After a couple of weeks, I’ve managed to build my time to almost 90 seconds. However, recently I bottled it for a few days and chose warmth and comfort. Surprisingly, I’ve found myself feeling lethargic, and even on occasions a bit moody (confirmed by the wife!) suggesting that my system has grown accustomed and prefers to kickstart the day with cold torture over warmth and comfort.
I also feel that my immune system is stronger. Having a daughter at nursery my wife and I, especially during winter, experience a bombardment of bugs, but the most recent wave I seemed to avoid.
Now I’m not suggesting that is all the empirical evidence you need to say that cold showers boost immunity, but my overall well-being and morning energy feels lifted, thanks to braving cold showers, so for now, its a routine that will stay firmly in place.
At Mu-shin Self-Defence we are always looking for ways to improve our health, fitness, well-being and security so we live longer, safer and happier lives. Learn more about our system here