6 Science-Backed Benefits of Cold Water Immersion
If someone told you that they had a single natural solution to boost the immune system, eliminate inflammation, help fight depression, and perhaps even make you an all-round happier human, would you believe them?
And what if that solution was free – and available to you every day? Sounds too good to be true?
Well the good news is that you can experience a multitude of health benefits by getting started with this practice today. The bad news? It’ll deliver an almighty shock to the system.
We’re talking about cold water therapy of course, which has become increasingly popular over the past few years thanks to the legend that is Wim Hof.
Who is Wim Hof?
The wacky Dutchman is behind the natural health phenomenon that has spread across the globe called the Wim Hof Method. This is a powerful combination of cold water exposure, a breathing technique, and mindset practice which has been proven to deliver incredible health improvements in everything from anxiety and depression to fibromyalgia and arthritis.
One of the main reasons for this is because cold water exposure – either through cold showers or outdoors in nature – dramatically reduces inflammation levels in the body. Inflammation is at the root of virtually all disease.
Here at PRESS, we live and breathe natural ways to look after the body. In this article we’ll dive into seven cold water immersion benefits that you can experience simply by taking cold showers regularly.
And if the prospect of standing under a cold shower fills you with fear, don’t worry we’ll share a few tips at the end to help ease into the process until it becomes a breeze.
6 Brilliant Benefits Of Cold Showers
1. Boosts your mood and helps fight depression
One of the primary cold water immersion benefits is that it triggers a release of feel-good chemicals in the brain. One study published in 2000 showed that it increased levels of noradrenaline by 530% and dopamine by 250%!
Meanwhile, a 2007 study published by a molecular biologist named Nikolai Shevcuk found evidence that cold showers can help treat depression. He pointed to the cold water sparking a rush of mood-boosting neurotransmitters in the brain.
In the study, Shevcuk reported: “Exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline, and to increase synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain as well.
“Additionally, due to the high density of cold receptors in the skin, a cold shower is expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could result in an anti-depressive effect.
“Practical testing by a statistically insignificant number of people, who did not have sufficient symptoms to be diagnosed with depression, showed that the cold hydrotherapy can relieve depressive symptoms rather effectively.”
2. Builds mental strength
Okay, maybe you’d rather stick pins in your eyes than jump into a cold shower when you’re still half-sleeping. Cold showers are definitely not fun – at first.
But dedicated followers of Wim Hof and nearly 200,000 members in his Facebook group will tell you that it eventually become addictive.
This is understandable when you consider the huge surge in feel-good chemicals in the brain that we’ve just covered.
Another reason for people maintaining a cold water therapy practice is that it helps them build mental strength. Your mind typically comes up with endless excuses to avoid the cold setting.
“It’s the weekend, give yourself a break….” or “have a nice warm shower now, and you can maybe have a cold shower after the gym later.”
By overcoming your own excuses and doing what’s uncomfortable you strengthen your willpower, resilience, and set the tone for a productive day ahead.
3. Stimulates weight loss
There are two types of fat in the body: white and brown. White fat is the bad stuff that gathers where we don’t want it, and leaves us out of shape.
Brown fat, however, is good for us. It generates heat in the body and helps keep us warm. Taking cold showers activates brown fat, which leads to an increase in energy and calories being burned.
Wim Hof often talks about this effect on brown fat. Here’s a few words on it from his website: “While white fat stores energy, brown fat uses energy. In recent years, the interest in brown adipose was sparked as it is associated with increased metabolism and could even be a mean to fight obesity and type 2 diabetes.”
4. You can handle stress better
No matter how well organised and focused we are, we all get hit with unimaginable, unexpected crap some days. These stressful incidents can easily throw us off track – and be the difference between a great day and a disastrous day.
But with cold showers you’re better prepared. You’ve already faced something you didn’t want to face, and the slight shock to the system helps harden you to what life can throw at you next.
A 1999 study with winter swimmers shows that the cold acts as a smaller form of oxidative stress on your nervous system, which the body adapts to over time. Thus, cold showers can help you remain cool when life gets stressful.
5. Drains your lymphatic system
The lymphatic system is like your body’s sewer network. It carries waste out of the cells, however if your lymphatic system gets blocked then it’s likely you’ll get sick with colds, infections etc.
By blasting your body with cold water you’ll force the lymph vessels to contract, helping to flush lymph fluid and push that unwanted waste out of your body.
6. Quicker recovery from your workouts
Andy Murray, Conor McGregor, Cristiano Ronaldo…and most other top-class sports stars these days use ice baths. It’s widely known that this exposure to extreme cold helps soothe the muscles and bring down swelling and soreness.
You don’t have to rush to Asda, buy 37 bags of ice, and the rush home to plunge yourself in a bath of ice cubes. No, cold showers also have a significant effect in fighting those same inflammatory markers, as well as removing lactic acid from your muscles more quickly.
Warming Up For The Cold Approach
The idea of taking a 2-3 mins cold shower is probably a horrendous prospect to you right now. But if you’re new to this, it’s a much better idea to ease yourself into it and gradually adapt.
Here’s what we suggest…
- Take a warm shower as normal and then begin by turning the setting to cold for the last 20 seconds only. Do this each day for a full week.
- Do the same as above, but increase the time under cold water to 40 secs. Do this for another week.
- Cold shower from the beginning and, if need be, adapt to the cold in stages. i.e. run your left arm under the water for 5 secs, then your right arm for 5 secs, then your chest, then the crown of your head, face, and when you finally feel brave enough…flip round to your back.
With so many health benefits to be gained, it’s worth braving the cold and seeing how it goes.
Human physiological responses to immersion into water of different temperatures.
Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression.
Improved antioxidative protection in winter swimmers.