Words by Phoebe McRae
There’s nothing better than ending a long hard day with a long hot shower. Or is there? In case you missed it, cold showers are totally trending right now and when my best friend mentioned she had started taking one almost every day (and was seeing some serious benefits), I immediately had to find out what all the fuss was about, so I spoke to family physician and owner and founder of award-winning medical aesthetics practice SOMA MD, Dr Monica Michel, to get the low down.
WHAT IS A COLD SHOWER?
According to Dr Michel, a cold shower is simply a shower with a water temperature that’s below 70°F (21.1°C). Linked to the better known Wim Hof Method and cold water therapy, “To reap the maximum benefits, both for your skin and overall health, it’s recommended to stay underneath the cold water for two to seven minutes at a time,” she tells The Sports Edit. “It sounds tough, but the more you do it, the more you’ll actually start to look forward to turning the temperature down and giving yourself a blast of cold water!”
WHAT TEMPERATURE IS A COLD SHOWER?
Though Dr Michel claims a cold shower can be any shower with 21.1°C, technically, the exact temperature varies on a case by case basis. “Most people start by slowly decreasing the water temperature toward the end of their shower and work their way toward 70°F (21.1°C) or below,” Dr Michel explains. “Similar to a cold plunge in a lake, you need to ease into it, and it takes time to get used to the colder water temperature.”
6 COLD SHOWER THERAPY BENEFITS
According to Dr Michel, cold showers acts as “a very mild form of shock therapy”, which makes total sense when I think about all the times the hot water hasn’t worked in my flat over the past year. Basically, “a cold shower helps to jolt your system into a more alert state and helps improve focus,” says Dr Michel, and from personal experience, I can confirm this is most definitely true.
Studies suggest that exposing yourself to the cold not only activates the sympathetic nervous system but also increases the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline and increases the synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain. Put simply, this means that jumping on the cold shower trend has the potential to increase your endorphins and even reduce depression. Yep, apparently, when you take a shower with a water temperature that’s below 21.1°C, it sends rapid electrical impulses to the brain, which are believed to have an anti-depressive effect.
Another benefit of a cold shower is improved circulation. “A cold shower has also been shown to improve circulation,” says Dr Michel. “When we submerge ourselves in cold water, our body has to work harder to increase blood flow and warm the body,” she explains, adding, “Over time, cold showers can improve circulation and the body’s ability to tolerate cold temperatures.”
Aids Muscle Recovery
Experiencing DOMS or muscle soreness? There’s a reason pro athletes take ice baths. In fact, according to a study published in the “Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews”, cold water immersion is one of the most popular interventional strategies used after exercise. While most athletes will immerse themselves in templates below 15°C (yikes!) to reduce the potential for DOMS and aid muscle recovery, we can only assume that cold showers offer a similar effect but to a lesser degree.
A cold shower is also considered to be a good way to practice mindfulness as it is considered to be meditative. “It forces us to focus on our body and our body’s response to the situation,” Dr Michel explains. As Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, told the NHS, mindfulness leads to a certain degree of self awareness, which enables us to recognise the signs, and ultimately manage and reduce, stress and anxiety.
If nothing else, a cold shower helps you care for your skin. “We tend to wash our face with warm and sometimes even hot water, which can be damaging and particularly harmful if you have a skin condition such as rosacea,” Dr Michel says. Rather than dry your skin out like hot water tends to, “cold water [and therefore a cold shower] is a great way to calm troublesome skin conditions.”
WHEN SHOULD I TAKE A COLD SHOWER?
If you’re serious about reaping the benefits of cold showers, you need to ensure it becomes a habit, but that doesn’t mean you have to have one every morning as soon as you wake up. As Dr Michel tells The Sports Edit, “When you should take a cold shower is dependent on why you’re taking a cold shower in the first place.” If you want boost your mood or increase alertness, a cold shower in the morning is your best bet. If you want to increase circulation or relieve muscle soreness on the other hand, take a cold shower post-workout. But what you don’t want to do is take a cold shower is before you go sleep. “A cold shower can increase your endorphins and “flight or fight” response, making it harder to relax and wind down.”
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF A COLD SHOWER
As you may have guessed, hypothermia and overexposure are the two major risks of a cold shower. If you’re sick or have an underlying medical condition like diabetes, or blood pressure issues, the practice of cold showers is also no-no as the chances of this happening is even higher. “Getting used to a cold shower may be taxing on your body, and depending on your immune system and other factors, can be dangerous.” If in doubt, speak to your doctor. However, if you are healthy, it’s extremely unlikely you will experience a negative reaction.
HOW DO YOU TAKE A COLD SHOWER?
While jumping in the shower and turning the temperature to below 21.1°C may seem easy, Dr Michel recommends gradually lowering the temperature over time to allow your body to adjust. “I recommend taking it slow and decreasing the water temperature in your shower by only a few degrees two to three times a week,” she advises. You should also start to practise deep breathing. “I suggest breathing in through your nose for a count of five, holding it for five, and then breathing out through your mouth for a count of five. This is an instant stress reliever and helps you focus on your breathing, not the cold water.”
Like almost anything in life, when it comes to the practice of taking a cold shower, you need to remember you won’t see the benefits immediately. As Dr Michel noted, the exact temperature of a cold shower varies from person to person, so it may take some time to determine what works best for you.