Cold Showers

The legendary Ice Man, Wim Hof, doing his thing. Flickr.

I love cold showers. I love the euphoric and invigorating feeling I achieve from a brief rush of cold water. Pound for pound, it’s one of the most efficient ways to lift my mood. It’s quick, cheap, and the results are immediate. If I’m feeling under the weather, it’s one of my first remedies.

I’ve been taking daily cold showers for a few years now. Generally I’ll slot in a 30 to 60 second torture session in whatever shower I’m in, using the coldest possible setting. Over time I’ve become more accustomed to the cold, limiting the teeth chattering that can sometimes accompany this activity. I’m not saying I’m any sort of Wim Hof. Far from it. I’m an amateur in this regard, but definitely a proponent of this daily habit.

But Seriously. Why?

If you believe the hype, cold showers are a powerful tool that can build your immune system, and fight depression. I’ve certainly experienced less sickness in the last few years, but I can’t confidently attribute this to cold showers. And I definitely find cold exposure lifts my mood, but I would be hard-pressed to say it could tackle any serious depression. But again, it’s quick, cheap, and immediate. So if it doesn’t work as well as advertised, no big loss for me.

The theory behind cold (and heat) exposure makes sense. Our body’s are amazing adaptation machines. Given the right stimulus, our body’s will adapt to changing environments – within limits. So just like our body adapts to the stimulus of a loaded barbell on our back – by increasing the strength of all the supporting muscles – so to the theory goes that our body adapts to bouts of cold exposure, incrementally improving its ability to withstand the same stress in the future.

Like I discussed in a previous post, these short cold showers can be viewed as acute stressors (versus chronic stressors). These brief periods of stress can in turn force adaptation. This all harkens back to the idea of hormesis, the phenomenon where the exposure at one dosage level might be beneficial (or rather, not harmful enough to do damage, but just enough to elicit your body to adapt and improve), while a dosage at a higher level could be adverse. A perfect example is vaccines, whereby we actually expose ourselves to a particular virus (in a limited quantity) with the intention of triggering an adaptation response, and hopefully, be better suited to fight higher exposure of that virus in the future.

Hormesis: Dose Dependent! A lower dosage may stimulate, but after a certain point inhibit. Wikipedia

Whether the science truly supports the benefits of cold showers is yet to be seen, but the risk and cost of taking them is seemingly low, so why not at least give it a try?

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