I distinctly remember my first cold shower — my first intentionally cold shower, that is. I was 12 or 13, and I had read in a magazine that a cold shower was the key to shiny hair. Naturally, I jumped into the shower, ready for my ice-cold anointing into the perfect-hair club.
I lasted approximately eight seconds. Nope. Not doing that again.
Or so I thought. Nearly two decades later, cold showers are my MO. Indeed, I had to work up to it. I started at 15 seconds (which, coincidentally, is as long as a “Hail Mary” prayer said really fast while shivering) and I can now last a whopping five minutes. Goodbye foggy mirrors, and hello health and happiness. Taking a daily polar plunge has been a game-changer for my health, my morning mood, and my general outlook on life.
Admittedly, I’ve seen no difference in my hair — but who cares? There are far more important reasons I’ve forever changed my showering ways.
1. It instantly pumps blood into my body, waking me up.
Some people wake up invigorated, gung-ho to take on the world. Most of those people are toddlers. The rest of us stumble over our lives until we pick up a cup of piping hot caffeine. It used to take me about 30 minutes of grogginess before I felt awake enough to have a conversation worth having. After a cold shower, though, my mind is fully operating within 30 seconds. (Thank you, adrenaline rush.) And as a new mom, this in itself is a huge win.
2. It decreases inflammation and sore muscles.
Here’s the real reason I started. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, maybe it was the lack of exercise, or maybe it was my terrible, inflammatory diet of processed foods — but shortly after having kids, my whole body felt as creaky as a wooden roller coaster. I wasn’t even 30, and I was starting to wonder if this was just my life now. Was this just what it felt like to get older? Turns out, it doesn’t have to be. Taking freezing showers pumps blood to the muscles, which greatly decreases inflammation. It’s like the ice-bath Olympic athletes take — except way more convenient.
3. It boosts immunity.
In a recent study conducted by Amsterdam’s Academic Medical Center, doctors found that those who showered with cold water consistently missed 29 percent fewer workdays than those who took hot showers. According to researchers in Britain, it’s because the shock of the cold triggers the release of white blood cells as the body tries to warm itself up. So if you’re particularly prone to the latest strain of influenza, consider taking the precaution of a cold shower in addition to that extra dose of Vitamin-C.
4. It helps with depression and anxiety.
People are facing depression and anxiety now more than ever — but the modern invention of the shower might be a helpful anecdote in fighting it. Immersing yourself in cold water activates the sympathetic nervous system and increases endorphins in the blood, all while releasing noradrenaline in the brain. As one study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine states: “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 in turn fights depression.
5. It fights white fat cells.
Modern society is also intent on keeping us quite plump through a combination of lifestyle, stress, and easily accessible bad food options. While cold showers certainly might not be the anecdote to losing a ton of weight, they certainly can help shed a couple of pounds. According to self-proclaimed “lifehacker” Tim Ferriss, the author of the bestseller 4-Hour Body, immersing yourself in cold water will burn extra calories as your body works harder to keep its internal temperature of 98 degrees. Moreover, habitual cold showers actually push the body to create brown fat cells (different from white fat cells), which boosts the metabolic process and does a better job at keeping the body warm.
6. It’s great for the skin.
Having healthy skin isn’t just about vanity. Your skin is actually the largest organ in your body, so taking care of it is an important way to serve your health. Cold water makes blood vessels constrict, which makes the skin look less inflamed. As New York Dermatologist Michelle Green tells Well and Good: “A cold shower tightens the pores and it also seals in moisture,” making your skin less itchy and far more healthy and balanced — which helps eliminates other skin problems, like dryness, itchiness, inflammation, and even eczema and psoriasis. Your hot shower, on the other hand, can exasperate skin problems by dying it out, causing itchiness, and inflammation — so cold showers might be the better alternative for your skin.
If my experience is any indication, I have noticed that I required less lotion this winter.
7. It makes the cold feel less horrible.
I used to be the sweater lady in the office. Co-workers joked that I was an old woman, constantly freezing in the land of over-air-conditioned cubicles. And I dreaded the cold of winter — I layered t-shirts and sweaters and coats with fanatic intensity. This past winter? Well, for the first time ever (and to the joy of my husband), I turned the heat down at night. I even recall one particular heavy gust of snowy wind — the kind that would have made me want to run inside in years past — and I just sort of I embraced it and thought, “Ah, reminds me of morning.” Maybe it was the brown fat cells (see #5), or maybe it’s just psychological strength to which I’ve habituated my body, but man, a cold breeze is kind of refreshing sometimes. It makes you feel alive.
8. It instills a sense of discipline.
Honestly, even a year into my cold shower experiment, I still didn’t want to get under that freezing stream. I wanted my cozy blanket! I wanted the comforting warm fog boiling water brings! I wanted to stay warm! Yet, I know the benefits, so I push through it (although, admittedly sometimes I give myself 30-seconds of warm water before I make it cold). And pushing myself out of a physical comfort zone on a daily basis is a great practice — it makes it easier to do the same in other areas of life. And most anything that is worth doing — creating, loving, growing in a skill — takes discipline to step outside of what’s comfortable and easy. After all, if you can face a cold shower first thing in the morning, you can really face the most uncomfortable things life inevitably throws at us.
9. It’s a small daily sacrifice, encouraging me to meditate on my blessings.
My grandpa — a practicing Catholic his whole life — had this weird quirk. Sometimes when he was out walking, he’d come across a small pebble and put it in his shoe. “It’s a little sacrifice,” he told me — “a little discomfort is good for you.” So he’d go on with his day, a pebble in his shoe. Ouch. So as I’m standing there in the freezing water and it’s been minutes (again, I suggest you work up to this), I think about those pebbles, and how forcing myself to be uncomfortable in this cold water does feel like foregoing a little modern comfort. It’s a small sacrifice, but it pushes me to meditate on what’s lasting, even beyond the discomfort. It also serves as a hedonic reset and reminds me just how luxuriously I really live.
10. It’s green energy, saving you time and money.
If you need another reason, taking cold showers will save Earth a little energy — and your wallet a little money (annually reducing energy costs by $87). Plus, your showers will be much, much shorter, which saves on your water bill, too. I’ve personally noticed that my showers are at least a third shorter than they used to be when they were steaming hot — which keeps me much more on schedule, keeping stresses slightly lower.
So, I dare you. Give it a couple of weeks. Don’t go all-in at first (I still start out with at least 30 seconds of warm water) — start by adding 15 seconds toward the end of your shower. (And say that prayer! You’ll need it!) And I promise you, if you commit, your mind and your morning won’t ever be the same.