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Why You Need Cold Showers for Immunity & Immortality

Why You Need Cold Showers for Immunity & Immortality

Jumping into ice lakes and tubs are not just for crazy people and elite athletes.  Anecdotal evidence for hundreds of years has caused people to expose themselves to the cold, since it feels brisker than a Lipton Iced Tea commercial.  But recent science has shown that there is quite a host of benefits for the mind and body that are naturally engineered through evolution.  Cold exposure can cause hormesis, which is typically referred to as beneficial stress on the body.  Cold exposure mostly affects the norepinephrine pathway to positively influence the brain, immune system, metabolism, and athletic performance. 

 

Inflammation and Immune Response

Cold exposure reduces inflammation through decreasing pro-inflammatory cytokines (messengers) associated with systemic inflammation.  Cold exposure also boosts healthy immune cell population, to include lymphocytes that protect the body from cancer.  Lower inflammation will result in better recovery from hard workouts and better fitness gains!

 

Metabolism

If you’ve ever shivered from being so cold, then you already have experienced how cold will increase metabolism.  Muscle will contract involuntarily to produce heat in a process called shivering thermogenesis.  But the body can also produce heat in a non-voluntary thermogenesis, where norepinephrine ends up producing more mitochondria (the battery of a cell).  This converts the body’s “white fat” into “brown fat”, which we have more of as babies and is directly responsible for muscle growth and fat burning.

 

Brain Health

There’s a reason a nice bucket of ice water on someone sleeping is going to produce an energetic effect.  Besides being in a peaceful state of sleep and being awoken by a glacier, the cold exposure on your body will increase attention, focus, and mood thanks to (ding-ding-ding) the increase in norepinephrine.

 

Athletic Performance

Cold exposure has been anecdotally and scientifically measured to increase testosterone in athletes.  People have even begun to forego cold showers and immersions in favor of simply putting an ice pack right on their groin and chest area to rapidly cool down, recover faster, and produce more testosterone.  While it sounds counterintuitive, there’s a reason the human testes are on the outside of the body: sperm need to be kept cooler than the body’s internal temperature to survive.  Cold exposure to the testes will indeed produce more testosterone and increase libido and fertility.

 

But Cold Showers Suck, What Do I Do?

Start slow.  Cold showers indeed suck at first.  Take a hot shower, and for the last 30 seconds turn the shower to COOL.  Simply decrease the temperature each day to colder and colder water for the last 30 seconds.  Once you’ve hit the coldest water that your shower will produce, now you can increase the time duration.  You can also do contrast showers, which simply involve 30-120 seconds of hot water, followed by the same duration of cold water.  I always like to end the shower in cold water, since mentally it’s incredibly rewarding and leaves you energized.  The goal is to be in a cold shower for 3 minutes minimum.

 

When should I do it?

If you just hit a legitimate strength or hypertrophy workout, it may actually be best to wait til later in the day to hit a cold shower, since the intention of that workout is to cause inflammation and grow.  But if you’re looking to recover as fast as possible from that workout, let the cold water rip.  I would suggest not taking a cold shower within 1 hour of going to bed, since that much cold water would indeed increase your energy and attention.  But taking a cold shower at least an hour before bed will decrease your core temp needed to fall asleep quickly/deeply as we outlined in our nighttime routine article.

I’ve gone several months in a row with nothing but cold showers.   While I certainly felt like I had more energy and recovered better, to be honest, the best benefit from the cold showers was mental.  The fact that I did something incredibly uncomfortable like a cold shower was so invigorating and felt like a very large personal win to tackle the rest of my day.  Let’s face it: most of us reading this enjoy working out.  So we are very used to that kind of discomfort, and we often chase it down.  But the cold showers on some days, are very hard to muster the courage to step into.  So when I was done, everything else that day seemed much easier.

 

Go forth and be freezing.