Occam’s razor concludes answers to big problems may just be the simplest solution. This is certainly an applicable principle when noting the health benefits of simply being exposed to cold environments.
As warm-blooded creatures humans tend to prefer temperate areas, this has been true throughout history and most likely will remain true into the future. But what if moderate cold exposure enhanced human vitality? Would everybody start moving to Antarctica? Well, cold exposure has numerous studies confirming health benefits and we don’t have to move since most people have access to showers they can make cold! There is evidence from culture, history, and scientific studies which all make the case humans live healthier longer lives in cold climates.
For people who have never tried cold showers, it may even be interesting to blindly take them for a week without knowing the effects and then feel the differences; if not, the benefits are covered below. But just before those, here are some basic practicalities. Taking cold showers to reap its benefits are done in a couple of ways. They may be done starting off warm then turn the knob to cold, take a less than temperate shower, or taking a freezing shower all of this will work! As for the time of day, this should be done in the morning; cold showers are known to give more energy and taking them before bed could disrupt sleep patterns. Lastly the length of the shower time doesn’t matter so much, as long as they’re done consecutively the notable affects will come shortly. Even cold showers as little as 30-second will work.
Clearer Skin and Healthier Hair
Before mentioning cold, warmer showers dry out skin and strip away nurturing oils. For example, when skin dries out due to warmness the dead skin cells will cause flaky and wrinkly skin. On the opposite side, cold showers tighten pores keeping healthy oils adequate; and they block out dirt and grime, which may cause acne or other skin blemishes. On the scalp, cold showers have shown to nurture sebum; an oil that keeps hair strong which can help prevent baldness.
Increased Alertness and Energy
The shock of a cold shower sends blood rushing to keep vital organs safe and warm. As blood flows through the body and the heart rate increases, oxygen spreads at a faster rate than usual, which provides alertness and a long-lasting jolt of energy; this affect also helps with circulation.
In a study conducted by the National Center of Bioinformation Technology (NCBI) a group of people with depression were instructed to take cold showers at 20 degrees Celsius for 2-3 minutes once or twice a day. At the end of the study, it was observed that exposure to cold activated the sympathetic nervous system and increased the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline to increase the synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain. 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. This evidence could argue cold showers may be more effective than prescription antidepressants.
Helps with Weight Loss
There are two main types of fat in the body, white and brown fat. White fat stores large reserves of energy and is the fat people like to get rid of. While brown fat stores smaller droplets to generate heat and more expendable energy.
A 2009 study found that exposure to extremely cold temperatures activated brown fat in participants by a 15-fold increase, meaning someone could lose up to nine pounds in a year if they kept this practice up. Cold showers can stimulate healthy brown fat, which is found in the upper neck, shoulders, and chest, and can help burn away calorie-loaded fats called lipids, which pile onto your gut and waistline. And in a 2014 study, a group of people was exposed to colder temperatures while sleeping for three months under normal living conditions. With this cold exposure alone, the candidates reported a 42% increase of brown fat volume and a 10% increase in fat metabolic activity.
Speeds up Muscle Recovery
Athletes use ice baths to speed up muscle recovery, but for the everyday person, this can be mimicked with cold showers. In one study, it was found that 24-minute cold-water baths were effective in relieving sore muscles one to four days after exercises, the water temperature was at 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 to 15 degrees Celsius. However, some studies involved colder temperatures. The way this works is cold-water immersion redirects blood flow from the peripheral to deep blood vessels, thereby limiting inflammation and swelling and improving the amount of blood returning to the heart.
Strengthens Immune System
When the body is uncomfortable it adapts. In the case of adaption to cold exposure studies show the immune systems work smarter to keep the body safe, and even tricking it with cold showers shows to have lasting affects on improving health. The Immune system strengthens up and repels harms such as high uric acid levels – which could lead to gout or kidney stones, mitigate or eradicate migraine headaches, prevent winter sickness, and more. The process goes along the lines of during times in the cold the body works to heat itself up producing more white blood cells.
These benefits have been noticed by cultures around the world and worked into everyday routines. There are some people who even go ice swimming for the sensation of mental fortitude and to stay fit. These people have been studied and their body’s take on the exact benefits as listed above. But probably the most aggressive, convincing, and extraordinary, proof of cold benefits is the “iceman” himself, Wim Hof. There is a lot to read about Wim Hof, but in summery, he has gained the ability to regulate his body’s systems through meditation and cold exposure. By focusing inward he has fought off diseases that would kill the average person, spent hours in freezing temperatures, ran through deserts without water, and much more. Wim Hof is constantly under medical study and teaches courses on how to focus within to control the body systems like he does.
The list of benefits from cold exposure seems like its never-ending. But still, even for most people, the discomfort of the cold outweighs its benefits. There is no arguing that its unfavorable at first, but with the proper mindset changes cold showers and exposure can be something that is looked forward to! This article aimed to outline hard facts of benefits, explain practicalities, and give real live examples of cold adaptation. Hopefully, more research will continue to unlock the secrets of the cold but as to what we know now, here is a high-level overview explaining known benefits of each body system from the National center of Bio-Information to end on.