Taking care of ourselves in the middle of what feels like a revolution can feel futile. Prominent issues like racial injustice, systematic oppression, the climate crisis, and pandemic are all coming to a head at the same time. So of course, it’s hard to prioritize our personal health and happiness. But in between protesting, petitioning, and educating ourselves, there is one act of self-care that will fit into a pre-existing part of our daily routines: showering.
Incorporating cold water into our daily shower routine has a variety of health benefits like glowing skin, supporting mental health, and boosting the immune system.
Every shower I’ve taken in the past month has ended with 1-2 minutes of cold water. I turn off all heat and blast the cold nozzle as far as it goes. The cold is certainly a shock to the system at first, but when I towel off after my skin cells are singing.
During COVID-19 there’s been little need to glance in mirrors, but when I stumbled into one recently I was surprised to find a new glow to my skin. It was certainly unexpected, given how drained and disheartened I’ve felt recently due to current events. Was it really the cold showers that brought life back into my skin?
What is Cold Water Therapy?
There are many variations to cold water therapy, but it basically consists of exposing yourself to cold water (under 70°F) for any period of time (typically between 30 seconds to 10 minutes). The cold water can come from your shower, a cold mountain lake, ice baths, or rivers carrying freshly melted snow.
Wim Hof, also known as “The Ice Man,” is infamous for his cold therapy feats. From running a half marathon barefoot above the Artic Circle, to climbing mountains wearing only shorts, Wim has broken countless records of cold exposure and is a cold water therapy teacher. He has and continues to work with various research institutions to learn more about the evidence-based benefits of cold water therapy. I highly recommend exploring his site to learn more about the science behind his cold water experiments. Wim is a big inspiration behind my new cold-water habit.
Benefits of Cold Water Therapy
The most prominent benefit I personally experienced (very unexpectedly) was glowing skin. As the research below indicates, my glowing skin might not just have been a trick of the light!
When cold water contacts our skin, it constricts circulation on the surface of our body increasing the circulation of blood in the deeper tissues in order to maintain our body’s ideal temperature. You can feel this sensation as the cold water sends tingles all over your body! Regular cold showers can even make our circulatory system more efficient.
Improved circulation can help our body transport oxygen and nutrients to our skin resulting in a healthy cells and a radiant glow.
Stimulates the Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system transports white blood cells (the cells that fight infection) through our body and is important for healthy skin. For more on lymphatic system and skin health, check out a previous post here. The transition between hot and cold water can stimulate the lymphatic system by causing lymph vessels to contract and relax, supporting lymph flow and movement.
But it’s not just skin health that cold water therapy can improve, it also:
Because of the increased circulation, cold water can support our body’s natural healing processes. Those of us who subject ourselves to long workouts only to feel the glory of sore muscles the next day might benefit from taking an ice bath. Submersing in ice baths (aka really cold water) has been shown to have positive impacts on recovery.
Cold water can stimulate leukocytes, our body’s cells that fight infection. But it’s more than just the common cold and flu that cold water therapy can prevent. A study published in 2007 found that cold water increased effectors of adaptive and innate tumor immunity, aka cancer-resistance.
Supports Mental Health
Cold Water Therapeutic Techniques
The cool thing (pun intended) about cold water therapy is that the technique used is completely customizable to you. One study suggests taking cold showers (20° C, 68° F) 1-2 times daily for 2-3 minutes. Some even recommend taking cold showers 5-10 minutes at a time. But start where you’re at. Even if that’s just 30 seconds at first. You can always build yourself up to longer cold exposure (wish me luck on hitting that 10 minute cold shower!).
My current routine is to shower with hot water while completing my normal shower routine (soap, hair care) and then the last 1-2 minutes of showering are with cold water only.
Contrast Water Therapy
Alternating between hot and cold water creates a contrast in temperatures that combines the benefits of both hot and cold showers.
Contrast water therapy routine:
- Hot water for 3 min
- Cold water for 1 min
Repeat cycle 3-5 times. Or if you have access to a sauna, you can alternate between the sauna and a cold shower.
My Personal Experiences
I’ve only been experimenting with cold water therapy for the last month, but I can feel it already becoming an integral part of my shower routine. At first, the cold sensation was uncomfortable and I couldn’t wait for my cell phone timer to go off. But now I’m accustomed to the sensation. Though that first cold shock still doesn’t come easily, the resulting vibrancy makes a few minutes of cold well-worth it.
What’s your experience with cold water therapy?
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