I was persuaded to try cold showers having listened to a podcast where the guest, (the renowned Dr Joseph Mercola) was discussing their benefits, specifically, cold thermogenesis. It seemed to me that the benefits of subjecting yourself to cold temperatures were too many and too compelling to ignore. Here are my top 5 reasons why cold showers are good for your health, and why you should start experimenting with cold therapy now.
Brown fat activation
Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is a type of fat that is typically found around the collar bones, sternum, neck and upper back. It’s a unique type of fat that generates heat by burning the white fat on the stomach, rump, hips and legs. One study found that cold therapy increases the activation of BAT by up to 15 times. Individuals who are frequently exposed to bouts of cold temperatures tend to have more BAT, which can also cause metabolic up-regulation and an increased production of heat in skeletal muscle, which means you’ll be burning more calories as you go about your daily business.
Improved immune function
Cold exposure can increase your levels of immune system cells that fight disease and infection. Researchers believe that shivering, or just subjecting the body to cold, increases the body’s metabolic rate and that has the effect of activating the immune system. Cold exposure has also been found to increase testosterone, which has an energy-boosting effect for both men and women.
Improved mood and increased resilience
When the cold receptors under the skin feel the cold from a shower for example, electrical impulses are sent to the brain via the peripheral nervous system which causes a boost in mood (according to a 2007 study). You’ll become more resilient because you will be used to putting your body under a form or stress, and learning to endure it. Mentally, you’ll be tougher.
Improves recovery from exercise sessions
Moving between hot and cold water for 30 seconds each for the duration of your shower has the effect of contracting and expanding the blood vessels which helps to pump out inflammation. This means potentially less inflammation, reduced effect of DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) and faster recovery.
Stimulates the vagus nerve
The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system and part of the autonomic nervous system state responsible for the rest and digests functions. The vagus nerve literally affects every part of the body and has an impact on our mental health. Stimulating the vagus nerve with cold water is an easy and effective way to wake up these organs.
If you’re tempted by cold exposure therapy, here are a few suggestions on how you can go about it:
- Start by having a glass of cold water in the mornings
- Next, start your day by splashing cold water on your face
- Next time you take a shower, turn the tap on cold for the last 30 seconds
- Now graduate to alternating between hot and cold for 30 seconds each
- Gradually increase the amount of cold over hot
- Step into a hot shower but immediately turn on the cold
- The full-on 5 minute cold shower
This article first appeared in the September 2017 issue of SE22 magazine.