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Why You Should Take Cold Showers

Cold showers, ice-bathing, and cryotherapy use cold water to impose stress on the body called hormesis. Hormesis forces an adaptive response in the cells of the body. This stress response can be beneficial because it ultimately leads to activating gene pathways involved with rejuvenation.

In this article we will discuss all the benefits you will experience from adding cold showers into your daily routine.

DISCLAIMER: Be sure to check with your doctor before performing cold water showers. While intermittent cold showers and brief periods of cold-water immersion might be safe and beneficial for the general population, it is important to consult your doctor for approval especially if you are on any medications or have a medical condition. This post is meant to inform and educate– cold showers and water hydrotherapy are not meant to be a replacement for medical advice and should not be treated as such.

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Reduce Inflammatory Pain

It is not uncommon to suffer from joint aches and pains or sore muscles. Cold water therapy is known to help with pain relief in the body. The skin has an extremely high density of cold receptors. When those receptors are stimulated they fire electrical impulses from the peripheral nerve endings in the brain causing a pain-relieving effect. Cold water therapy has been shown to relieve musculoskeletal pain such as knee and lower back pain, as well as relieve painful symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.

In a Finnish study, subjects suffering from inflammatory arthritis were subjected to cold mist showers twice a day for 2 minutes over the course of 5 days. At the end of the trial period subjects reported significant decreases in arthritic pain.

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Increase Circulation

When we are exposed to cooler temperatures our body’s blood vessels naturally contract. This process is known as vasoconstriction. Vasoconstriction increases blood pressure and circulation. Vasodilation on the other hand is when the body is exposed to warmer temperatures and blood vessels dilate leading to a drop in blood pressure.

Alternating hot and cold temperature allows the body to send oxygen-rich blood to areas that may not have as much blood supply when we are in a natural state of comfort. This method of improving blood circulation is also known to have a tonic effect on the blood vessel walls which strengthens them over time.

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Our lymphatic system also reaps benefits from cold water therapy. The lymphatic system does not have a pump and instead relies on muscular contractions and movement for flow to occur. Therefore alternating between cold and warm temperatures can stimulate the lymphatic system which is our immune powerhouse that carries away waste and kills foreign invaders. The full-body contractions experienced during child showers increase lymphatic flow.

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Burn Fat Using Your Fat

Humans are known to have both brown adipose tissue (brown fat) and white adipose tissue (white fat). Brown adipose tissue produces heat making it thermogenic. The more brown fat you have the more heat you can produce. Brown adipose cells have many mitochondria. Exposure to cold temperatures increases serum triglyceride uptake from the brown adipose tissue to be used as energy. This means you literally use fat to burn fat.

When the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated the way it is when using cold water therapy the brown adipose tissue dissipates as heat through the body. Research has shown that cold acclimatization significantly increases brown adipose tissue. Brown fat slows the aging process, fights obesity, reduces the risk of degenerative disease, and has an increased ability to uptake glucose when exposed to cold water stimulation.

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Shorten Exercise Recovery Time

Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is something most people experience after a tough workout. The reason it is referred to as delayed is that the soreness usually starts to occur 24-48 hours after the workout. Muscle soreness occurs because we create micro tears that repair themselves allowing for muscle growth. This process can cause inflammation which contributes to the pain when the muscles recover.

Because of the anti-inflammatory effect, cold water therapy has, it has been shown that cold water showers can speed up the healing process of muscles. So if you start to experience DOMS after a tough workout, be sure to hop in a cold shower to feel better faster.

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Strengthen Your Immune System

Not only do cold showers increase endogenous antioxidant production but the number and activity of immune cells have been shown to increase rapidly. Increased numbers of peripheral cytotoxic T-lymphocytes and natural killer cells play a major role in adaptive and innate tumor immunity. Plasma levels of tumor necrosis factor-a, IL-2, and IL-6 have also been shown to increase mildly with cold stress used over a period of 5 days to 6 weeks.

It is suggested that this increase in proinflammatory cytokines— along with interplay with hormones— is what leads to the body’s adaptive response that allows it to restore immune homeostasis. In a study involving hundreds of test subjects, cold shower treatments significantly decreased sick days over a 90-day period by 29%.

This means you can use cold water showers to help you avoid catching a cold.

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Improve Memory & Can Help Combat Symptoms Of Depression

Studies have shown that cold water therapy improves memory through the increase of norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in executive function, regulation, cognition, motivation, and intellect. Cold water exposure can also cause a significant decrease in tension and fatigue, as well as help elevate mood. Cold water reducing stress is a key mechanism by which it helps improve memory.

Cold water showers may be able to impact mental health. Cold water therapy has been shown to increase synaptic release of norepinephrine and raise blood levels of both beta-endorphin and norepinephrine. Endorphins are known as the happiness hormone and are associated with a sense of well-being while norepinephrine plays a major role in many cognitive processes that are important to maintaining social relationships. Social dysfunction is one of the most important factors that affect quality of life.

In a controlled trial, 3 weeks of cryotherapy (cold exposure) caused 34.4% of people with mood/anxiety disorders to experience a decrease of 50% of depressive symptoms on a depression scale. This is compared to a 2.9% decrease in the controlled group. The study also found that 46.2% of the cryotherapy group experienced a decrease in anxiety symptoms of at least 50% on an anxiety scale and compared to zero in the control group.

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While this study was done with cryotherapy, there is room to believe the same benefits could be achieved with cold showers. There are also no known long-term side effects or withdrawal symptoms of including cold water therapy as one of your tools to combat depression symptoms or simply enhance your mood.

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