If you could do one thing each morning to improve nearly every aspect of your health, would you do it?
Well my cautiously courageous reader, that one thing is simply plunging yourself into a crisp icy cold shower in the grey hours of the morning.
Still with me?
You are quite the little adventurer. This character building activity you so boldly agreed to do, does indeed have numerous health benefits at the low cost of a few gallons of water and the bravery of your soul.
Gets the Blood Moving:
While you may think a cold shower would stop your heart outright, it actually improves its function. The cold water increases blood circulation which is needed for growth and repair of vessels. Plus, better circulation improves the ability to circulate the things in your body that you need, i.e. hormones, oxygen, and nutrients. On the flip side it also works to flush out what you don’t want hanging around, like CO2 and tissue damaging toxins.
One hormone and neurotransmitter in particular that cold exposure increases is norepinephrine. If you were to immerse yourself into water temperatures of 40°F for 20 seconds or use whole body cryotherapy for 2 minutes at -166° F, increases in plasma norepinephrine of 200-300% could be seen. Although, if you drop the water temperature to 57°F for 1 hour, release of norepinephrine increases by 530%!
So why is it important to boost the production of norepinephrine?
Norepinephrine is critical for alertness, focus and attention.
This is why after a cold shower you feel so refreshed and alert for hours!!!
This hormone has major impacts on pain, metabolism, mood, concentration, cognitive ability, and attentiveness. It even has the ability to decrease tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), which is known to increase inflammation, and is associated with Type 2 diabetes, cancers, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Watch Dr. Rhonda Patrick talk about the benefits with Joe Rogan in episode #773.
Weight and Fat Loss:
The cold jolt you get from a chilly shower can help you shed some pounds and fat, via thermogenesis. Through this you can get a boost in your metabolism, lower blood sugar, and spur brown fat (mitochondria-packed fat that generates heat…aka “good fat”) to burn your white fat (that’s the stuff that hangs around your belly and thighs…”bad fat”). The cold exposure accomplishes a lot of this because it releases the hormone adiponectin. This nifty little hormone helps to break down fat and shuttles glucose into your muscles. Low levels of adiponectin are associated with obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. So you definitely want more of that little helper hormone!
Cold exposure can raise levels of white blood cells that help fight disease and infection. Due to cold exposure, norepinephrine release is stimulated, which encourages leukocytosis and granulocytosis, an increase in natural killer cell numbers and activity, and a boost in circulating levels of interleukin-6. All these things combined improve immune function. One step further, cold exposure increases your cell’s longevity. It works much like calorie restriction works to clean up damaged cells and keep the hardy cells kicking like they should.
If you have soreness, fatigue, pain, or damage brought on by rigorous workouts, rheumatoid arthritis, or some chronic condition, then you know what inflammation is. Allowing your body to indulge in cold therapy can actually reduce the inflammation produced by those things. Doing this can reduce brain decline, premature body aging, and pain, as well as speed tissue healing, making your body feel better overall now and into the future.
Creates Happiness: Yes, when first thinking of subjecting yourself to icy temps of a cold shower your mind does not automatically go to thoughts of joy and bliss. However, the cold from the shower can actually enhance hormone production, including serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, melatonin, and testosterone. A boost in all these improves mood, reduces anxiety and depression, helps you sleep better, enhances libido, and gives you an overall sense of wellbeing. So yes, a frosty shower does equal the warm fuzzies.
Increase in Mitochondria:
RNA Binding Motif 3 (RBM3) is a cold shock protein in our brains, hearts, livers, and skeletal muscles that is of particular interest. When exposed to cold, synapses between neurons actually breakdown. However, as our bodies warm back up the lost synapses regenerate, but are dependent on the activity of RBM3. So, we have the amazing ability to regenerate parts of our brain if we have appropriate levels of RBM3 and cold exposure enhances our levels! Even a 2°F drop in body temperature will boost RBM3, which is a highly attainable temp drop. This could have astounding impacts on combating neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as muscle atrophy, particularly as we age.
PGC1α is a gene that is activated by cold exposure. This gene is important because it is the master regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis. This action is extremely important because, as we all learned in grade school science, mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell! Therefore, creating more of them will increase the capacity of the muscles to resist fatigue and improve aerobic capacity, as well as boost our fat burning capabilities! All this will increase athletic performance and muscle building capabilities. In essence, bumping up your mitochondria numbers will make a leaner, faster, stronger, and better you!
Makes You Alert: If you don’t buy into any of the other benefits of taking a cold shower here is one more for you. This one is pretty undeniable. There probably aren’t many people around that wouldn’t be woken up and put on the edge of alertness the moment the cold water hits their skin. So beyond all other reasons for taking a cold shower, do it just to feel the honest goodness of being truly alive!
For the Greater Good:
So if you aren’t convinced to take an arctic shower for the improvement your own health, how about indulging in the idea to help out the rest of the world? For all those out there that are conservation and environmentally minded, you can take an icy shower in order to reduce your footprint. The power used to heat up water for a warm or hot shower won’t be needed if you are taking a cold power shower. Plus, you will have a reduction in overall water consumption due to taking the abridged version of your morning shower.
What are my Options?
While we are focusing on taking cold showers to improve health, understand that cold exposure can involve different options. For most of us cold showers are simply the most accessible cold exposure method to partake in.
However, in case you are interested, here are a couple other options you could look into:
Whole (almost) body cold water immersion: The idea of this is to completely immerse your body (sans the head) into very cold water. While ice has the greatest ability to take heat from the body (which is the idea behind cold exposure therapy) cold water is the very capable second runner up. You could immerse your body in cold water by filling your bathtub or getting into a cold pool or lake. The longer you expose yourself the greater the benefits will be. As mentioned before, 1 hour of exposure at 57°F can increase norepinephrine production by 530%. The ability of cold water to allow us longer exposure times, which equal greater benefits, plus the low costs of this method, make this option rather feasible.
Whole body cryotherapy:
This method exposes the whole body, often including the head, to cold air (which isn’t as effective as water) to extract heat from the body. However, what’s amazing about cryotherapy is that it can expose you to temps clear down to 289°F (178°C), now that’s crazy cold!! Of course you won’t be staying in the cryotherapy chamber for more than a few minutes. And that can be a problem if you want to reap all the health benefits from cold exposure therapy. Many of the benefits discussed previously increase the longer your body is exposed to the cold. Another thing to think about is that cryotherapy treatments start to get expensive. In order to get that 300% boost in norepinephrine you would have to go 3x’s per week for 12 weeks. So your cost benefit ratio needs to be evaluated here.
The simple take home:
Cold exposure, with cold showers being the most accessible, makes a better you through improved health and environmental consciousness. What more could you ask for?
If you need to begin gradually to adopt this new method of health improvement you can start things out gently.
- Begin by simply splashing cold water on your face each morning.
- Move into ending your morning shower with a cold blast right before you get out.
- As you get harder (and braver) decrease the length of the warm part of your shower and increase the cold exposure duration.
- Eventfully move to nothing but full cold water streaming down in your shower. Refreshing isn’t it!
- On a side note: If you aren’t a morning shower kind of person, then take a cold shower at night instead. You will still receive the same benefits, and once the alertness factor has worn off, your body will be more relaxed and ready for a great night’s sleep.
Feel the Rush!
This exhilarating practice can make you feel more alive in so many ways. It may be hard to do at first, but don’t be afraid to test your mettle, and literally and metaphorically jump in! Ok, off you go! Turn that shower faucet on so cold that polar bears would gasp, shower and power up, and get ready to take on the world!
- Ergo-log. January 11, 2010. Ergo-log.com. Getting on? Cold showers are better for your testosterone levels.
- Shevchuk, 2007. Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression
- Greenfield, B. 2017. Ben Greenfield Fitness. Tips For Burning More Fat With Cold Thermogenesis (And Why Icing Really Does Work).
- Mooventhan, A., et al. May 2014. North American Journal of Medical Sciences. Scientific Evidence-Based Effects of Hydrotherapy on Various Systems of the Body. V:6 I:5. Pages 199-209. PMCID: PMC4049052. doi: 10.4103/1947-2714.132935.
- Olien, D. January 16, 2015. Olien Web, LLC. Heal, Investigation & Ground Breaking Research, Live Your Superlife. Cold Therapy: Cooler (for Your Body) Than You Can Imagine!
- Patrick, R. foundmyfitness.com. Cold Shocking the Body Exploring Cryotherapy, ColdWater Immersion, and Cold Stress.
- Sophie. August 23, 2016. The Best of Shower Heads. Showerremedy.com. The Ultimate Shower Head Collection & Buying Guide For You! 10 Amazing Benefits of Cold Shower You Probably Don’t Know.