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Published on June 23, 2021

How To Take a Cold Shower For the Best Health Benefits

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How To Take a Cold Shower For the Best Health Benefits

Cold showers were considered beneficial as early as 1600 B.C.[1] However, thanks in part to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Lab on Netflix, The Wim Hof Method brought the benefits of cold showers into mainstream American media.

Wim Hof, also known as The Iceman, is known for his ability to tolerate extreme temperatures. He credits this ability to a series of breathing exercises, meditation, and exposure to cold temperatures.[2] One study suggests that the Wim Hof Method leads to a release of brain chemicals, which result in decreased sensitivity to cold and increased feelings of euphoria.[3]

However, the benefits of mindfulness and breathing exercises are already widely known while less is known about the benefits of cold exposure. So, is there any merit to this particular facet of the Wim Hof Method?

This article will focus on cold exposure—the history, benefits, and how to take a cold shower to maximize its benefits.

In ancient Rome, individuals walked through multiple heated rooms that culminated in a dip into a cold pool. This practice is called “frigidarium.” It is still practiced today in spas and saunas.[4]

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In Finland and Norway, it is also a common practice for individuals to intermittently expose themselves to cold temperatures while sauna bathing. Individuals may do so by stepping outside during cold weather, sitting in the snow, or taking a cold shower. In warmer weather, individuals may step into ice-water between sunbathing. For instance, during five to fifteen minutes of sunbathing, they may step into ice-water three to five times for five seconds or longer.[5]

In Russia, individuals celebrate an event called “Epiphany” by swimming in the cold. In the Orthodox Calendar, Jesus was baptized on January 19th. Therefore, to recognize this date’s significance, individuals will plunge themselves into ice-holes three times. To prepare for this, they take cold showers every day for a week leading up to the event.[6]

Moreover, winter swimming is commonly practiced in countries such as Lithuania, Finland, Poland, Denmark, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, the Czech Republic, and Latvia.[7] How is that for an extreme sport?

The Dark History of Cold Showers

Conversely, in the early 1700s, cold showers were reserved for individuals with mental disorders. At that time, mania was believed to be a condition that could boil the blood and the brain, and a cool shower appeared to be the natural cure.[8]

By the 1800s, mental illness was believed to be caused by inflammation, but cold showers remained a treatment of choice in mental asylums. Unfortunately, this resulted in treatments designed to shock individuals with intense water pressure and prolonged cold exposure.

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Fortunately, by the 1900s, these practices were abandoned, but the rising concern of hygiene led to the development of the showers utilized today. Nearly 150 years after they were developed for use in asylums, showers become a mainstay of modern hygiene practices.[9]

The Benefits of Cold Exposure

Here are three main benefits of cold exposure or taking cold showers to your overall health.

1. Fewer Sick Days

A study found that individuals who take cold showers take 29% fewer sick days than those who do not. This shocking statistic can be achieved in as little as 30 seconds of cold water exposure for 30 days. Nevertheless, the individuals were not sick any less, they just tolerated it better.[10]

2. Improved Appearance of Skin and Hair

Cold showers may also help to improve the appearance of your skin and hair. How does it work? Exposure to cold constricts blood flow, leading to a glow. Furthermore, cold water helps keep the skin hydrated, giving it a better appearance.[11]

3. Increased Well-Being

Exposure to cold water may also have an impact on your mental health. In a case study on cold swimming, one woman was able to decrease her use of anti-depressants and eventually replace them entirely with cold swimming. However, this is just one example. Further research is needed to support the use of cold therapy for the treatment of depression.[12]

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Regular winter swimming is associated with decreases in fatigue, tension, and negative mood states. It has also been linked with decreased pain for individuals diagnosed with rheumatism, fibromyalgia, or asthma. In the general population, winter swimming is linked with increased well-being.[13]

How to Take a Cold Shower for the Best Health Benefits

Cold showers have been around for centuries, both as a cultural and medical practice. However, there is limited research that suggests the right way to shower to obtain the most health benefits. Therefore, this is not a prescribed approach. This is simply a suggestion as you begin to experiment with cold showers, and the effects may vary from individual to individual.

While the evidence is limited, there are many cultural practices in place for individuals curious about cold showers, bathing, and swimming. Many spas may offer hot and cold water therapies as a form of relaxation. Furthermore, many individuals around the world enjoy sitting in hot and cold springs. Yet, one does not need to travel to experience this for themselves. Try it for yourself: simply turn down the dial during your next shower and see how you react to cold exposure.

Taking a Cold Shower for Fewer Sick Days

Here’s a very simple three-step guide to taking a cold shower.

  1. Take a shower at your usual temperature.
  2. At the end of the shower, turn the faucet to cold and remain under the cold water for at least 30 seconds.
  3. Repeat this practice daily for at least 30 days.

That is it. This method may help decrease your sick days by 29%. To further increase the odds to 54%, you could also try adding regular exercise into your routine.[14]

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Contraindications

Cold showers are not an adequate replacement for mental health or medical treatment. Furthermore, individuals with underlying medical or mental health conditions should consult their medical professionals before engaging in cold showering.

Conclusion

Ultimately, there is no prescribed empirically-based method for the benefits of cold showers. Research is still inconclusive when it comes to most of the major benefits of cold showers. Nevertheless, many individuals who practice this technique swear by the benefits.

The Wim Hof Method is just one example of cold exposure gaining momentum in the health and wellness industry. In fact, this practice has been around for centuries, and it is clearly here to stay.

While research still needs time to catch up, there is only way one to find out what works best for you. Give it a try, turn down the dial, and turn your shower into a day at the spa. You have as little as 30 seconds to lose and potentially a lot more to gain!

More Benefits of Taking a Cold Shower

Featured photo credit: kevin Baquerizo via unsplash.com

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Reference

More by this author

Olivia Schnur

Olivia is a Clinical Mental Health Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher. She writes about healing, health and happiness.

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

7 Reasons Why Your Body Feels Heavy And Tired

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7 Reasons Why Your Body Feels Heavy And Tired

Interestingly enough, this topic about our bodies feeling heavy and tired has been assigned right around the time when I have been personally experiencing feelings of such “sluggishness.” In my case, it comes down to not exercising as much as I was a year ago, as well as being busier with work. I’m just starting to get back into a training routine after having moved and needing to set up my home gym again at my new house.

Generally speaking, when feeling heavy and tired, it comes down to bioenergetics. Bioenergetics is a field in biochemistry and cell biology that concerns energy flow through living systems.[1] The goal of bioenergetics is to describe how living organisms acquire and transform energy to perform biological work. Essentially, how we acquire, store, and utilize the energy within the body relates directly to whether we feel heavy or tired.

While bioenergetics relates primarily to the energy of the body, one’s total bandwidth of energy highly depends on one’s mental state. Here are seven reasons why your body feels heavy and tired.

1. Lack of Sleep

This is quite possibly one of the main reasons why people feel heavy and/or tired. I often feel like a broken record explaining to people the importance of quality sleep and REM specifically.

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The principle of energy conservation states that energy is neither created nor destroyed. It may transform from one type to another. Based on the energy conservation theory, we need sleep to conserve energy. When getting quality sleep, we reduce our caloric needs by spending part of our time functioning at a lower metabolism. This concept is backed by the way our metabolic rate drops during sleep.

Research suggests that eight hours of sleep for human beings can produce a daily energy savings of 35 percent over complete wakefulness. The energy conservation theory of sleep suggests that the main purpose of sleep is to reduce a person’s energy use during times of the day and night.[2]

2. Lack of Exercise

Exercise is an interesting one because when you don’t feel energized, it can be difficult to find the motivation to work out. However, if you do find it in you to exercise, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by its impact on your energy levels. Technically, any form of exercise/physical activity will get the heart rate up and blood flowing. It will also result in the release of endorphins, which, in turn, are going to raise energy levels. Generally speaking, effort-backed cardiovascular exercises will strengthen your heart and give you more stamina.

I’m in the process of having my home gym renovated after moving to a new house. Over the past year, I have been totally slacking with exercise and training. I can personally say that over the last year, I have had less physical energy than I did previously while training regularly. Funny enough I have been a Lifehack author for a few years now, and almost all previous articles were written while I was training regularly. I’m writing this now as someone that has not exercised enough and can provide first-hand anecdotal evidence that exercise begets more energy, period.

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3. Poor Nutrition and Hydration

The human body is primarily comprised of water (up to 60%), so naturally, a lack of hydration will deplete energy. According to studies, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.[3] If you don’t consume sufficient amounts of water (and I suggest natural spring water or alkaline water), you will likely have more issues than just a lack of energy.

In regards to nutrition, a fairly common-sense practice is to avoid excess sugar. Consuming too much sugar can harm the body and brain, often causing short bursts of energy (highs) followed by mental fogginess, and physical fatigue or crashes. Generally, sugar-based drinks, candy, and pastries put too much fuel (sugar) into your blood too quickly.

I have utilized these types of foods immediately before training for a quick source of energy. However, outside of that application, there is practically no benefit. When consuming sugar in such a way, the ensuing crash leaves you tired and hungry again. “Complex carbs,” healthy fats, and protein take longer to digest, satisfy your hunger, and thus, provide a slow, steady stream of energy.

4. Stress

Stress is surprisingly overlooked in our fast-paced society, yet it’s the number one cause of several conditions. Feeling heavy and tired is just one aspect of the symptoms of stress. Stress has been shown to affect all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.[4] Stress causes the body to release the hormone cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal glands. This can lead to adrenal fatigue, the symptoms of which are fatigue, brain fog, intermittent “crashes” throughout the day, and much more.[5]

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It’s important to look at stress thoroughly in life and take action to mitigate it as much as possible. Personally, I spend Monday to Friday in front of dozens of devices and screens and managing large teams (15 to 30) of people. On weekends, I go for long walks in nature (known as shinrin-yoku in Japan), I use sensory deprivation tanks, and I experiment with supplementation (being a biohacker).

5. Depression or Anxiety

These two often go hand in hand with stress. It’s also overlooked much in our society, yet millions upon millions around the work experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. Many that are depressed report symptoms of lack of energy, enthusiasm, and generally not even wanting to get up from bed in the morning.

These are also conditions that should be examined closely within oneself and take actions to make improvements. I’m a big proponent of the use of therapeutic psychedelics, such as Psilocybin or MDMA. I’m an experienced user of mushrooms, from the psychedelic variety to the non-psychedelic. In fact, the majority of my sensory deprivation tank sessions are with the use of various strains of Psilocybin mushrooms. Much research has been coming to light around the benefits of such substances to eliminate symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more.[6]

6. Hypothyroidism

Also known as underactive thyroid disease, hypothyroidism is a health condition where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce sufficient levels. This condition causes the metabolism to slow down.[7] While it can also be called underactive thyroid, hypothyroidism can make you feel tired and even gain weight. A common treatment for hypothyroidism is hormone replacement therapy.

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7. Caffeine Overload

I’m writing this as someone that went from five cups of coffee a day to now three cups a week! I’ve almost fully switched to decaf. The reason I stopped consuming so much coffee is that it was affecting my mood and energy levels. Generally, excessive consumption of caffeine can also impact the adrenal gland, which, as I covered above, can almost certainly lead to low energy and random energy crashes.

Final Thoughts

The most important thing is to identify that you feel heavy or tired and take action to improve the situation. Never fall into complacency with feeling lethargic or low energy, as human beings tend to accept such conditions as the norm fairly quickly. If you’ve made it this far, you’re on the right path!

Examine various aspects of your life and where you can make room for improvement to put your mental, emotional, and physical self first. I certainly hope these seven reasons why your body feels heavy, tired, or low on energy can help you along the path to a healthy and more vibrant you.

More Tips on Restoring Energy

Featured photo credit: Zohre Nemati via unsplash.com

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Reference

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