In this post, we’ll unpack all you need to know about Cold Water Therapy, defining exactly what it is, viewing it through the lens of evolution, the science behind it, the benefits and more.
What Is Cold Water Therapy?
Cold Water Therapy, also known as cold therapy or hydrotherapy, is the practice of using water in any of its forms (water, ice and steam) that’s around 59°F (15°C) to stimulate health benefits.
The Evolutionary Perspective
For most of human history, people bathed in cold water. Only those who were fortunate enough to live near a natural hot selling could regularly enjoy a hot bath. In other words, we evolved for the cold.
The Science Behind Cold Water Therapy
As a therapy, cold water exposure has been used for hundreds ― if not ― thousands of years. For good reason too.
Cold water exposure at temperatures below 14°C increase noradrenaline levels by up-to 530% and dopamine levels by up-to 250%. This means that cold water exposure increases dopamine levels more than chocolate, nicotine and even sex.
10 Benefits Of Cold Showers
For those that are used to indulging in hot and steamy showers, then even just the thought of turning the dial and switching to cold will make you shiver.
However, while cold showers might sound a ludicrous way to start the day and probably not how you’d imagine ending it, they provide a substantial amount of benefits to both mind and body.
Below we’ll explore 10 proven health benefits of Cold Water Therapy, specifically cold showers.
- 1) Improved Skin & Hair
Cold showers tighten your cuticles and pores which in turn temporarily reduces the ingress of pollution in the skin. They also help aid in closing your hair cuticles allowing the hair to reflect more light, which results in serious shine.
- 2) Increased Alertness
The moment you step into a cold shower you’ll immediately notice a natural response to take deep breaths as your body comes to terms with the shock.
Deep breathing dramatically increases your overall oxygen intake, releasing a rush of blood through your entire body, which helps keep you warm. This process provides you with a great natural dose of energy.
- 3) Improved Sleep
Cold showers aren’t just a great way to help you wake up. Cold showers are also a great way to help you sleep.
Your body temperature naturally drops during slumber, so with some cold therapy we’re effectively triggering your sleep signals.
While a pre-bedtime cold shower may mean you doze off ten/twenty minutes later, it will result in a much more deeper and restful sleep.
- 4) Relieved Depression
One of the most significant and potentially life-changing benefits of cold showers is their role in combating depression.
A study by Dr. Nikolai Shevchuk in 2008 noted the following: “Exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline and to increase synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain as well.”
“Additionally, due to the high density of cold receptors in the skin, a cold shower is expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could result in an anti-depressive effect.”
- 5) Strengthened Immune System
When cold water hits your body, it increases blood circulation and stimulates the production of immune cells which help fight things such as flu and the common cold. On top of this, cold showers can also lower blood pressure and clear blocked arteries.
- 6) Increased Will Power & Sense Of Accomplishment
Whether you’re a first-timer or long-time pro, taking a cold shower takes willpower.
Voluntarily doing something that both your mind and body are resistant to requires a tremendous amount of courage and mental strength. Committing to it on a daily basis also takes huge discipline
Willpower, courage, mental strength and discipline are all amazing attributes to have at your disposal that you can use in every other area of your life.
- 7) Weight Loss
- Brown Fat ― The ‘good’ fat which helps keep us warm.
- White Fat ― The ‘bad’ fat that is stored which leads to obesity.
When taking a cold shower, we increase the brown fat activity in order to generate heat. Therefore, the calories used to maintain body temperature result in weight loss.
A study conducted in 2009 found that exposure to cold temperatures increases brown fat by 15 times. This can result in 9 pounds of weight loss in a single year.
- 8) Boosted Fertility In Men
Cold showers have been proven to increase fertility.
In fact, a the University of California San Francisco conducted a study which found that when men eliminated their exposure to 30 minutes of wet heat each week, their sperm count increased by an enormous 491%.
- 9) Reduced Stress
It may sound counter-intuitive, but cold showers do indeed ease stress levels.
When you immerse yourself in cold water, you evoke a stress response (also known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response). This is a physiological reaction you experience when encountering a threat.
This reaction results in your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate all increasing and stress hormones being released which leads to a process we call ‘hardening’.
In other words, by taking a cold shower regularly, whether on a daily or weekly basis, your nervous system gradually gets used to handling moderate levels of stress, thus the stress response is reduced.
- 10) Improved Lymphatic System
Your lymphatic system is a network of vessels that remove toxins and wastes from the body via lymph. Lymph is a fluid containing lymphocytes (types of white blood cells) which kill bacteria and fight infection.
If your lymphatic system becomes slow or inefficient, your lymph stagnates and toxins build. This can lead to colds, join pain, infections and in some cases diseases.
Your lymphatic system relies on muscles contraction in order to pump the lymph fluid through your vessels. Therefore, by taking a cold shower, the cold water forces your lymph vessels to contract and pump lymph round body.
Cold Water Therapy (CWT) is the practice of intentionally exposing oneself to water with a temperature of below 15°c to achieve therapeutic benefits for the mind and body.
Extensive research shows that Cold Water Therapy can have a profoundly positive impact both psychologically and physiologically.