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A How-To for “Cold-Shower Therapy”

W.O.W. #8, March 1st, 2021

A How-To for  “Cold Shower Therapy”

Cold showers as “therapy”?  If this sounds too unbelievable or just too weird for you, give it just a minute or so for our resident “Cold Shower Guy” to educate, and maybe just convince you.

He’s been taking cold showers consistently for the past year or so. Here’s his experience.

I started taking cold showers for an energy boost and for the health benefits I discovered. I’ve truly enjoyed both the process and benefits of cold exposure. 

It definitely takes a little getting used to, but over time it will become much easier and your overall tolerance for the cold will increase in all aspects of life; so not just showers but cold rainy days, snow days or other exposures.  Putting the body in uncomfortable settings increases your resiliency  and allows the body to acclimate by activating the “brown fat” we all have, to heat the body. 

“Brown fat? Certainly, we all know about  good fat, bad fat, all kinds of fat but what could this new brown fat be?

Brown Fat & the Benefits of “Cold Water Showers”

I’d read a little about the whole health argument for this cold water “therapy” and was anxious to try it. But I did want to see what I could really expect. So, I went to several websites, read a few blog posts. Here’s what I found (in a nutshell; we’ve provided links below so you can look at them yourself).

Exposure to cold has many benefits to the human body.  Including the recruitment of brown fat (“BAT” – brown adipose tissue), which increases metabolism and is considered the “good fat” in your body that helps facilitate temperature control. 

Wim Hof, “The Iceman” – is a Dutch extreme athlete noted for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures

While doctors may no longer instruct their patients to take a cold bath and call them in the morning, a shot of cold water can still impart real health benefits including: 

• improve circulation,
• strengthen immunity,
• increase fertility,
• relieve some depression symptoms,
• keep skin and hair healthy and improves complexion, and
• increase energy and overall well-being.

This last one is the benefit that attracted me to cold water in the first place; learning of these other benefits just motivated me even more and have kept me taking cold showers all this time.

Here are more details on the benefits listed above. Links are also given at the end of this Insight.

1. Improves circulation.

Good blood circulation is vital for overall cardiovascular health. Healthy blood circulation also speeds up recovery time from strenuous exercises and work. Alternating between hot and cold water while you shower is an easy way to improve your circulation. Cold water causes your blood to move to your organs to keep them warm. Warm water reverses the effect by causing the blood to move towards the surface of the skin. Cold shower proponents argue that stimulating the circulatory system in this way keeps them healthier and younger looking than their hot water-loving counterparts.

2. Strengthens immunity.

According to a study done in 1993 by the Thrombosis Research Institute in England, individuals who took daily cold showers saw an increase in the number of virus fighting white blood cells compared to individuals who took hot showers. Researchers believe that the increased metabolic rate, which results from the body’s attempt to warm itself up, activates the immune system and releases more white blood cells in response.

3. Increases fertility.

Trying to become a dad? Cold showers are good for your little swimmers. Your testes aren’t meant to get too hot; that’s why they hang outside your body. Sperm counts decrease when the temperature of a man’s testes increases. Experiments done in the 1950s showed that hot baths were an effective contraceptive. Men who took a 30 minute hot bath every other day for 3 weeks were infertile for the next six months. More recently, the University of California at San Francisco did a study with men who were exposed to 30 minutes of “wet heat” (hot baths and such) a week. When the men cutout this heat, their sperm count went up by 491%, and their sperm’s motility improved as well. While switching from a hot to cold shower may not have as dramatic an effect, if you’re trying to create some progeny, it surely won’t hurt.

4. Relieves depression.

Lots of great men from history suffered bouts of depression.  Henry David Thoreau is one such man. But perhaps Thoreau’s baths in chilly Walden Pond helped keep his black dog at bay. Research at the Department of Radiation Oncology at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine indicates that short cold showers may stimulate the brain’s “blue spot”– the brain’s primary source of noradrenaline — a chemical that could help mitigate depression. I guess a bout of the blues isn’t so bad after all.

5. Keeps skin, hair and complexion healthy.

Hot water dries out skin and hair. If you want to avoid an irritating itch and ashy elbows, turn down the temperature of your showers. Also, cold water can make your manly hair look shinier by closing up your cuticles and your skin look healthier and by closing up your pores.

6. Increases energy and well-being.

Every time I end a shower with cold water, I leave feeling invigorated and energized. Your heart starts pumping, and the rush of blood through your body helps shake off the lethargy of the previous night’s sleep. For me, the spike in energy lasts several hours. It’s almost like drinking a can of Diet Mountain Dew, minus the aspartame. And while it hasn’t been studied, many people swear that cold showers are a surefire stress reducer. I’m a believer.

The Benefits of Cold Showers | The Art of Manliness
The Benefits of Cold Showers | The Art of Manliness
Brett McKay, the Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Art of Manliness (And an all-around cool guy!)

The How-To’s of Taking Therapeutic “Cold Water Showers”

As I mentioned earlier, it takes a while to get used to a shockingly cold shower first thing in the morning or any time you choose. I found the following tips on how to take a cold shower extremely useful. And I promise, if you decide to try it, you’ll want these as a guide.

  1. My suggestion (based on personal experience) is to gradually decrease the temperature of the water so your body can adjust.  Start with a comfortable warm water temp and slowly decrease to the coldest setting.
  2. Try to relax and control your breathing.  Stay calm.  Don’t tighten or clench up every muscle.  Focus your mind on the pain; you must suppress your impulse to shiver.
  3. Try to remain in the cold shower for at least one minute the first day; work your way up to 5 minutes. You can take your time getting to 5. You might try just one minute for several days in a row before you step up to 2 and such. Keep working until you get to 5.

Editor’s Note: We recommend taking a timer into/near the shower.   You can’t reliably measure 60 seconds out while coping with the cold, even if following these tips.

In closing

So, with the research and facts and a strategy for actually taking these cold showers perhaps you’re ready to take to plunge, so to speak. Go for it. Think of it as the reverse of an ice bath athletes take after an intense workout/performance.

And don’t think for a minute that this doesn’t belong in the Work Out of the Week (W.O.W.) series. Remember, we are an inclusive group – fitness, health and wellness. It all goes together. And these W.OW.s are meant to give you a little of each.

References: The two primary web sources Rudy learned from and used as sources for this WOW are: www.artofmanliness.com and www.huckberry.com – specifically for the Benefits information https://huckberry.com/journal/posts/cold-showers .

If you’d like to contact Rudy, reach him at [email protected]. He’d enjoy talking about cold-water therapy as well as other specific wellness or fitness topics. And if you want to incorporate these into your fitness space offerings, he’s got great, practical ideas to share on that too.


*The information in this feature is intended for educational purposes. Always consult your healthcare practitioner before participating in exercises or activities that are contraindicated or more advanced than you are accustomed to. Discontinue if you experience chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, dizziness, or unusual pain or fatigue.