I have been using cold showers for a number of years and I personally swear by them for a number of reasons. Jumping in the sea for 6-8 months a year in the UK (no wetsuit) always left me feeling great and alive for hours after, even if only immersed for a short amount of time. Studies are ongoing but this practice has been used for thousands of years including the Romans who moved through a number of hot rooms before jumping into a plunge pool at the end.
Inspiring individuals like Wim Hof, who I refer to quite frequently in this BLOG (link to his site here), have gone on to show both the mental and physical effects of cold water therapies and immersion, using carefully guided methods including meditation and breath work. All of which have drawn a strong correlation between the mind and body (which is arguably the same thing). He confesses to rarely getting ill and in my personal opinion I believe that exposure to the elements always help to build a strong and resilient immune system. Cold water therapy is also adopted by top athletes throughout the world, via ice baths, post exercise for reasons mentioned below.
I always like to dive into a bit of research to back theories, so here are a few of the benefits ...
Anti-depressant / Happy effects -
A 2007 study published by a molecular biologist named Nikolai Shevchuk found evidence that cold showers can help treat depression symptoms, and, if used regularly, might even be more effective than prescription antidepressants. There have been many people stating how the effects of these have dramatically changed their mood levels and make them feel great after, I can personally vouch for this! ... “The mechanism that can probably explain the immediate mood-lifting effect of immersion in cold water or cold shower is probably the stimulation of the dopaminergic transmission in the mesocorticolimbic and nigrostriatal pathway,” ... Basically it makes you feel happy!
Limiting inflammation and increasing venous blood return to the heart -
A sports scientist based in Australia who has authored several leading papers on cold water therapy said "Cold water immersion works by redirecting blood flow “from the peripheral to deep blood vessels, thereby limiting inflammation and swelling and improving venous return (the amount of blood returning to the heart).” What this means is that “metabolites and waste products built up during exercise can be efficiently removed by the body and nutrients quickly replenished to fatigued muscles.” Think of this like a detox ... a 'clean out'.
Potential health benefits / reduction of sickness -
A study on winter swimmers showed reduced symptoms from rheumatism, fibromyalgia, or asthma and reported that winter swimming had relieved pains. They also showed
“significant decreases in tension and fatigue and an improvement in mood and memory.” Another independent study went on to show the effects of a hot-to-cold shower over a period of 30/60 and 90 days. "Repetitive cold showering can modulate the physiological response. Our findings show that routinely showering (hot-to-) cold for at least 30 days resulted in a reduction of self-reported sick leave from work".
Returning to Wim Hof's work - The combination of breathing techniques, meditation and exposure to the cold completing extreme achievements have got the 'science' world thinking and although at the early stages of study I am confident that these results will prove how incredible the human body can be if we learn how to control it ...
At the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, professor of experimental intensive care medicine Dr. Peter Pickkers and his team have performed research on "Iceman" Wim Hof. Hof claims that he can influence his autonomic nervous system and immune response through concentration and meditation. The results obtained are remarkable, however, the investigators emphasize that so far, these results have only been obtained in a single individual. Therefore, they can not serve as scientific evidence for the hypothesis that the autonomic nervous system and the immune response can be influenced through concentration and meditation techniques. Further research with larger groups is warranted. Link to Study here
The video below includes numerous studies on the Wim Hof method. Wim Hof is interviewed by Doctor Rhonda Patrick who looks at these methods with a modern medical and scientific standpoint.
Training the mind -
To finish I feel this is the most important reason of all ... how comfortable have you become ? ... learning how to monitor stress and how you can learn to adapt to the external environment around you shows strength of the internal and the ability to adapt and overcome. If this is the only reason behind all of this, this alone makes it worth doing. We know very little about the capabilities of our minds ... so ... be a bit 'crazy' reduce your comforts and negate the excuses. Sometimes you just need to jump in and learn that uncomfortable is ok and the more uncomfortable becomes normal the easier your whole life becomes. You will walk out eventually, you will get warm and it will be worth it! A combination of efficient exercise, good nutrition and cold water therapy is sure to bring about great results ...
Try to start with this - have a hot shower then turn it to the coldest setting for the last 30 seconds, stick with this for a month. The first week won't be easy, the second will improve and then by the fourth you may realise, that a simple life change was one of the best things you ever did! ... and if you still aren't satisfied ... at least you'll save some money on your heating bill and hopefully have helped to save the planet for a little longer as well!
I will leave you with this great video ... check out this TEDx video ... it's your choice!