7 Benefits of Cold Showers and Cold Therapy
Forget saunas and steamy showers. First popularized by Dutch motivational speaker Wim Hof, American science writer Timothy Ferris, and biohacker Dave Asprey, more and more fitness enthusiasts — from Olympic athletes to casual weekend warriors — are embracing the hot benefits of ice-cold showers.
The next time you need to rinse off after a long run or a sweaty gym session, turn the shower dial to blue and see what happens!
The 7 Benefits of Cold Showers That Will Transform Your Health and Fitness
From cold showers to ice baths, cold therapy provides a multitude of perks.
1. Reduce Muscle Pain & Boost Exercise Recovery
Those aches and pains you feel after going hard in the gym are often due to two factors:
- Pinched or irritated nerves
- Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) from post-workout muscle inflammation
Cold temperatures from an ice bath or icy shower helps to numb and soothe irritated nerves. Numerous studies have also found that very cold temperatures improve athletic recovery and workout performance by reducing inflammation and soothing sore muscles.
2. Heighten Your Mood and Balance Your Hormones
You've heard of the so-called "runner's high" — the mood boost and sense of increased happiness and reduced stress you feel after exercising. That's because exercising releases feel-good brain chemicals known as endorphins.
Cold showers have the same effect, and the resulting endorphin "high" can help you think more clearly and feel more energized and optimistic.
3. Increase Your Muscle Strength and Endurance
Do you want to swim faster? Run longer? Swing that kettlebell harder? These movements incorporate post-activation potentiation (PAP), in which you need to contract your muscles to generate a lot of power and endurance.
4. Increase Blood Circulation
When you step out of that cold shower and glance in the locker room mirror, you may notice that your face and body appear red and flushed. That's not just your imagination. Exposure to cold temperatures increases your body's circulation. Better circulation may:
- Flush out toxins and metabolic waste, such as the waste generated in your muscles and tissues during exercise
- Flood your muscles with more oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood, thus improving muscle recovery and performance
- Enhance your overall health and wellness
5. Improve Your Hormone Balance
Several hormones can positively or negatively impact your health and fitness. For example, testosterone is important for supporting muscle growth, muscle strength, and muscle size. In contrast, the stress hormone cortisol is linked with a slower metabolism, increased weight gain (and specifically fat gain around your belly), poor sleep, and slower exercise recovery.
6. Enhance Your Immune System
There's a positive and negative link between exercise and your immune system. For example, working out helps flush out bacteria and viruses and may also help circulate white blood cells through your body. But too much exercise can also weaken your immune system.
A cold shower may be the balancing antidote. Cold showers help to stimulate illness-fighting immune cells known as leukocytes, which may be why people who take cold showers statistically take fewer sick days at work.
7. Protect Against Oxidative Stress
"Oxidative stress" is the clinical term when there are more free radicals (unstable, chemically reactive atoms or molecules that damage other cells in your body) in your body than antioxidants (nutrients that neutralize free radicals). Free radicals constantly bombard you through:
- Environmental toxins, such as air pollutants or household pollutants
- Unhealthy ingredients in a poor diet, such as excess sugar or processed foods
- Lifestyle habits, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or having too much sun exposure
- Excessive exercise
How to Incorporate Cold Showers and Cold Therapy Into Your Wellness Routine
Enjoying the benefits of cold showers is as simple as it sounds:
- Turn the shower dial to as cold as your shower allows
- Grit your teeth and step in
- Set your timer for 30 seconds
- Increase how long you spend in the shower by five-second increments until you're able to withstand a full shower in ice-cold water
You can also take it to another level with a few strategic approaches:
- Try an ice bath immersion: Fill a tub with cold water and a few bags of ice and submerge your body in it for 15-20 minutes. The longer and colder exposure may increase the benefits. For instance, one study found that it reduced leg muscle fatigue in athletes by more than a third.
- Try contrast showers: Turn the temperature dial back and forth in your shower in 30-second increments. The alternating heat and cold may heighten the effects of the cold shower.
- Try ice packs: If you're short on time or can't take a cold shower after a workout (for instance, perhaps you're rushing back to the office after working out in the gym), try applying ice packs or ice wraps to sore, fatigued muscles.