Cold showers were considered beneficial as early as 1600 B.C. However, thanks in part to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Lab on Netflix, The Wim Hof Method brought the benefits of cold showers into mainstream American media.
Wim Hof, also known as The Iceman, is known for his ability to tolerate extreme temperatures. He credits this ability to a series of breathing exercises, meditation, and exposure to cold temperatures. One study suggests that the Wim Hof Method leads to a release of brain chemicals, which result in decreased sensitivity to cold and increased feelings of euphoria.
However, the benefits of mindfulness and breathing exercises are already widely known while less is known about the benefits of cold exposure. So, is there any merit to this particular facet of the Wim Hof Method?
This article will focus on cold exposure—the history, benefits, and how to take a cold shower to maximize its benefits.
Cultural Practices Related to Cold Exposure
In ancient Rome, individuals walked through multiple heated rooms that culminated in a dip into a cold pool. This practice is called “frigidarium.” It is still practiced today in spas and saunas.
In Finland and Norway, it is also a common practice for individuals to intermittently expose themselves to cold temperatures while sauna bathing. Individuals may do so by stepping outside during cold weather, sitting in the snow, or taking a cold shower. In warmer weather, individuals may step into ice-water between sunbathing. For instance, during five to fifteen minutes of sunbathing, they may step into ice-water three to five times for five seconds or longer.
In Russia, individuals celebrate an event called “Epiphany” by swimming in the cold. In the Orthodox Calendar, Jesus was baptized on January 19th. Therefore, to recognize this date’s significance, individuals will plunge themselves into ice-holes three times. To prepare for this, they take cold showers every day for a week leading up to the event.
Moreover, winter swimming is commonly practiced in countries such as Lithuania, Finland, Poland, Denmark, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, the Czech Republic, and Latvia. How is that for an extreme sport?
The Dark History of Cold Showers
Conversely, in the early 1700s, cold showers were reserved for individuals with mental disorders. At that time, mania was believed to be a condition that could boil the blood and the brain, and a cool shower appeared to be the natural cure.
By the 1800s, mental illness was believed to be caused by inflammation, but cold showers remained a treatment of choice in mental asylums. Unfortunately, this resulted in treatments designed to shock individuals with intense water pressure and prolonged cold exposure.
Fortunately, by the 1900s, these practices were abandoned, but the rising concern of hygiene led to the development of the showers utilized today. Nearly 150 years after they were developed for use in asylums, showers become a mainstay of modern hygiene practices.
The Benefits of Cold Exposure
Here are three main benefits of cold exposure or taking cold showers to your overall health.
1. Fewer Sick Days
A study found that individuals who take cold showers take 29% fewer sick days than those who do not. This shocking statistic can be achieved in as little as 30 seconds of cold water exposure for 30 days. Nevertheless, the individuals were not sick any less, they just tolerated it better.
2. Improved Appearance of Skin and Hair
Cold showers may also help to improve the appearance of your skin and hair. How does it work? Exposure to cold constricts blood flow, leading to a glow. Furthermore, cold water helps keep the skin hydrated, giving it a better appearance.
3. Increased Well-Being
Exposure to cold water may also have an impact on your mental health. In a case study on cold swimming, one woman was able to decrease her use of anti-depressants and eventually replace them entirely with cold swimming. However, this is just one example. Further research is needed to support the use of cold therapy for the treatment of depression.
Regular winter swimming is associated with decreases in fatigue, tension, and negative mood states. It has also been linked with decreased pain for individuals diagnosed with rheumatism, fibromyalgia, or asthma. In the general population, winter swimming is linked with increased well-being.
How to Take a Cold Shower for the Best Health Benefits
Cold showers have been around for centuries, both as a cultural and medical practice. However, there is limited research that suggests the right way to shower to obtain the most health benefits. Therefore, this is not a prescribed approach. This is simply a suggestion as you begin to experiment with cold showers, and the effects may vary from individual to individual.
While the evidence is limited, there are many cultural practices in place for individuals curious about cold showers, bathing, and swimming. Many spas may offer hot and cold water therapies as a form of relaxation. Furthermore, many individuals around the world enjoy sitting in hot and cold springs. Yet, one does not need to travel to experience this for themselves. Try it for yourself: simply turn down the dial during your next shower and see how you react to cold exposure.
Taking a Cold Shower for Fewer Sick Days
Here’s a very simple three-step guide to taking a cold shower.
Take a shower at your usual temperature.
At the end of the shower, turn the faucet to cold and remain under the cold water for at least 30 seconds.
Repeat this practice daily for at least 30 days.
That is it. This method may help decrease your sick days by 29%. To further increase the odds to 54%, you could also try adding regular exercise into your routine.
Cold showers are not an adequate replacement for mental health or medical treatment. Furthermore, individuals with underlying medical or mental health conditions should consult their medical professionals before engaging in cold showering.
Ultimately, there is no prescribed empirically-based method for the benefits of cold showers. Research is still inconclusive when it comes to most of the major benefits of cold showers. Nevertheless, many individuals who practice this technique swear by the benefits.
The Wim Hof Method is just one example of cold exposure gaining momentum in the health and wellness industry. In fact, this practice has been around for centuries, and it is clearly here to stay.
While research still needs time to catch up, there is only way one to find out what works best for you. Give it a try, turn down the dial, and turn your shower into a day at the spa. You have as little as 30 seconds to lose and potentially a lot more to gain!
More Benefits of Taking a Cold Shower
Featured photo credit: kevin Baquerizo via unsplash.com
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