A cold shower in the middle of winter sounds like a terrible idea, but a daily icy rinse may actually have some benefits.
Personal trainer Amanda Thebe of Fit & Chips of Toronto, says taking cold showers is not a new phenomenon.
“It is an ancient ritual that has embraced around the world for thousands of years,” she tells Global News.
“The stimulation you get from that cold water temperature hitting your body will release that feel-good hormone adrenaline, it will also help you become more alert and get your circulation moving as more oxygen gets to every part of your body.”
Some studies have shown taking five- to 20-minute cold water baths, or cryotherapy, reduced muscle soreness by about 20 per cent, Men’s Fitness reports.
“It is important to consider that cold water immersion induces a degree of shock on the body,” researcher Dr. Chris Bleakley of the University of Ulster said in the study.
“We need to be sure that people aren’t doing anything harmful, especially if they are exposing themselves to very cold water for long periods … Most of these studies are done in pretty elite athletes, [and] their physiological reserves are probably greater than most people. I think you have to be careful that you don’t generalize these conditions to everyone.”
And while 20-minute plunges are one thing, a quick cold shower can improve blood circulation, increase alertness and reduce stress, says personal trainer and wellness specialist Bryan O’Connor of Candiac, Que.
“Cold showers produce an energizing effect on your nervous system boosting your mood and giving you a “pick me up and go” feeling that helps your overall well-being. Take a cold shower for a couple of minutes per day. The benefits are undeniable,” he tells Global News via e-mail.
Thebe agrees and adds there has also been research to suggest cold showers send electrical pulses from to the nerve endings to the brain, which could also have an anti-depressive effect on some people.
“[This] has been shown to reduce the level of serotonin in most regions of the brain and also appeared to have a significant analgesic effect. ”
And for cryotherapy in particular, she says other research suggests it can help with reducing inflammation, migraines, and pain relief.
There have been many anecdotal stories across the web of people taking part in cold water challenges and the results seem to be similar.
Writer Nick Greene decided to take cold showers for a week, and according to Prevention magazine, he felt more motivated, focused and had “some serious willpower.”
“This trend continued throughout the following mornings as well. If I knew how great it made me feel, then why didn’t I eagerly throw myself underneath the icy spray?” he wrote.
Writer Sophie Kreitzberg of Refinery 29 took a cold shower every morning for a month, and said after a week, the showers became a routine and her mood was better, as well as her stress levels.
“While there is not a huge amount of scientific data out there dedicated to the idea of ‘cold hydrotherapy,’ I consider it low-risk for most people who would like to try it,” board-certified general internist Dr. Holly Phillips told Refinery 29.
Dr. Julia Caroll, of Compass Dermatology in Toronto, says while a cold shower could prevent the dryness that follows a hot one, there really are no added benefits for switching to cold showers every day or washing your face with it, for example.
“Extremes on either end are a no-no,” she says.
How to do it
But if you’re interested in seeing what it can do for you, especially something simple like a week-long challenge, Thebe suggests gradually starting to turn down the temperature in your shower, instead of walking into an ice-cold blast of water.
“Don’t feel like you need to stand in a cold shower for long, try doing just 10 seconds to start with and slowly build up to 30 seconds over time,” she continues. “Research shows the benefits kick in when this is done as a habitual practice.”
She says taking a challenge will also help people build willpower — it takes a lot for someone to give up a hot shower.
“We know that working on strengthening our willpower has been shown to help us make stronger life decisions. ”