It used to be that taking a cold plunge was something to complain about when the boiler packed in. But, icy showers have become the morning ritual de rigueur among wellness aficionados unafraid to start their day with a cold spell.
The movement began with Dutch “Ice Man” Wim Hof, known for scaling snowy mountain peaks in nothing but his swim shorts, and bathing in bathtubs brimming with blocks of ice. Hof believes that the average human is simply not exposed to the extreme environments which would allow us to adapt to certain levels of stress. So, through a combination of breathing, meditation and cold exposure, he claims we can safeguard our bodies against sickness, environmental stress, and daily anxieties.
It May Help Fight Long-Term Depression
There’s a difference between feeling down, and being depressed. But, with one in four of us likely to suffer from some form of mental health condition in our lives, it pays to be open minded when it comes to treatments. Studies have predicted that 2-3 minutes of exposure to 20 degree Celsius water over several months would “send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could result in an anti-depressive effect.”
The theory here works by using the same system that causes us to get frostbite. If our body thinks we’re in danger of freezing, it re-routes blood from the extremities to the vital areas: the head and heart. By doing so, we increase levels of noradrenaline and beta-endorphin in the blood, which help boost good moods.
You’ll Lose Weight
Wim Hof believes that cold water exposure promotes the production of ‘brown fat’ cells in our body. As opposed to the ‘white fat’ most of us carry, brown fat historically keeps us warm, and boosts the metabolism. But we carry much less of it than we used to when we lived as hunter gatherers.
By exposing ourselves to extreme conditions, we can force our body to adapt, and re-grow this beneficial brown fat. In fact, one study found that three hours’ exposure to cold burned an extra 250 calories through brown fat activation, meaning that just six minutes per day over the course of a month will help you trim down any unwanted weight.
You’ll Get Less Sick
Studies have found those regularly exposing themselves to cold water took fewer sick days. Over the course of an experiment conducted by the scientific community, ten cold water swimmers were monitored and observers noticed an “adaption to repeated oxidative stress”. On a genetic level, there was an increase in the subjects’ levels of the antioxidant glutathione.
This in turn helps regulate the process of all other antioxidants in the body, thereby helping to reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease and other genetic illnesses. It’s reasonable, then, to assume that repeated cold showers may have a similar benefit.
You’ll Boost Your Libido
The idea that a cold water will get sex off your mind might not be true after all. Evidence shows that, in men at least, cold showers can boost your sex drive. Researchers found that cold water exposure increases testosterone production in men, presumably as part of our “flight or fight” response to perceived danger. Not only is your testosterone level responsible for your virility, it’s also a vital component of muscle synthesis.
Try Cold Showers for Yourself: But Take it Slow
It’s fine to alternate between hot and cold, or to start warm and ease yourself down to cold. But for best results, go in cold and aim for 30 seconds. It’s harder than it sounds. Try this for a week, and when you’re ready, up it to one minute at the end of your shower. You’ll feel the benefits, and any more is just showing off.