Using water-based methods like showers or baths to gain benefits in health, sports, exercise performance or even in medicine is a long standing tradition in both the eastern and western world. These methods are known as hydrotherapy and have been in existence since the ancient Greek times.
Everyone from sedentary individuals to Olympic athletes would baths, showers and steam rooms to help improve overall health, to help treat illnesses, and to recover from exercise.
Today, many of the benefits that the ancient greeks believed hydrotherapy possessed have held true today with the exception of some medical claims. One of the easiest and fastest methods of applying hydrotherapy is through showering since it is not as time-consuming as drawing a bath or as inaccessible as the use of a steam room.
The Cold Shower Method
Showering offers an easy method of hydrotherapy that anyone can apply. However, even within showering, there are a number of different showering methods such as cold showering, hot showering or contrast therapy, where the person showering alternates between hot and cold temperatures.
The most highly researched of these methods is the cold shower method. Studies show that cold showering is an effective method in which you can gain many positive health benefits.
1. Cold Showers May help Alleviate Depression
In one of the most interesting findings by one study in 2008, two 8 minute showers per day, which was gradually reduced in temperature to 20 degrees celsius (68 degrees fahrenheit), was effective in improving mood and alleviating depressive symptoms. (1)
Considering most of the benefits that occur due to showering have been more physical in nature, the beneficial findings of this particular form of hydrotherapy on mental health present an interesting new reason to begin taking daily cold showers.
2. Cold Showers Can Increase Energy and Alertness
By increasing the hormone norepinephrine, more commonly known as adrenaline, cold showers can act as a natural stimulant that can increase energy levels and alertness. (2) This can have a positive effect on waking up early, exercise, sport performance, learning, or job performance.
This makes cold showers an ideal activity for individuals who work late, who wake up early, who look to get a quick boost of energy for a workout, or for those who use it as a tool to work synergistically with caffeine . A lunchtime cold shower could also be a useful method to increase efficiency and productivity in the workplace.
3. Cold Showers May Benefit The Immune System
Another interesting benefit to cold showering is its potentially immune-enhancing effect. A study from the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that exposure to cold water may cause an increased activation of the immune system. (3)
This, along with the decrease in inflammation that is caused by cold showering makes a daily cold shower a good consideration for those worried about fending off any colds or flu during the winter months.
4. Cold Showers Can Decrease Muscle Soreness
For athletes considering cold water therapy as a means to reduce muscle soreness, you’re in luck. A cold shower can help decrease muscle soreness after a strenuous workout. (4)
This is particularly helpful for professional athletes or those looking to workout or train more than once a day. It’s also helpful for weight-lifting enthusiasts, as muscle soreness can reduce muscle strength and increase recovery time for individuals.
A cold post-workout shower may go a long way in helping to maximize the results of training and may help reduce recovery time between sessions.
5. Cold Showers Help Reduce Stress
In addition to the beneficial effects on depression, cold showering may also help reduce stress, tension and improve overall mood. (5)
A study looking at athletes exposed to cold water found reduced levels of tension compared to athletes who trained in warmer conditions. This further shows a potential benefit for cold showers for mental health and could be worth considering for use on stressful days.
6. Cold Showers Can Help Increase Testosterone
Cold showering may have more benefits to those who exercise regularly than just simply decreasing muscle soreness. Research has shown that exposure to cold showers of around 10 degrees celsius, or 50 degrees fahrenheit, can help increase testosterone. (6)
Testosterone is one of the most important hormones in strength and muscle development and has a list of beneficial effects on fat loss, mood and mental health.
This, along with the increase in adrenaline, could help explain some of the benefits mentioned earlier of cold showers and shows that these showers have a significant physical effect when used consistently.
7. Cold Showers Can Improve Blood Circulation
Exposure to cold water causes the blood vessels in the body to constrict and become smaller. This causes a ‘pump’ effect where the temporary increase in blood pressure helps improve blood flow throughout the body. (7)
This is yet another health benefit of cold showers. By helping to improve blood flow around the body, risk of blood clots is reduced and this can also help decrease blood pressure in the long term.
This makes cold showers a good option for those with restricted blood flow, such as elderly or overweight individuals and may be useful to take in the mornings before long travels.
8. Cold Showers Can Decrease Recovery Time From Exercise
Apart from reducing muscle soreness, cold showers can also aid the body in recovering after completing grueling workouts by reducing accumulated fatigue. (8)
This demonstrates that cold showers have a key place for gym goers and fitness enthusiasts who enjoy spending a lot of time in the gym, on the track, in the swimming pool, or wherever there activities may take place.
9. Cold Showers Can Increase Fertility
For men, cold showers can help increase sperm count and increase libido. This, along with the rise in testosterone levels, offer much needed aid to those suffering from low libido or fatigue and will help those looking for a natural way to boost sex drive. (9)
Again, this offers potential for elderly or highly stressed individuals who suffer from chronic fatigue and low libido, to help improve quality of life and increase overall well-being.
10. Cold Showers May Improve Weight Loss
Cold showers may help the body burn more fat by increasing overall energy expenditure. Due to the fact that the body has to burn a significant amount of calories to raise body temperature, inevitably it will result in more calories burned in a day. (10)
With all of the benefits associated with exercise, cold showers offer a great addition to any exercise program for weight loss and should be incorporated as a post-workout practice.
Contrast Therapy: Mixing Hot and Cold for Optimal Results
With all the evidence mentioned above, cold showers can have a wide range of benefits, both physical and psychological, when used consistently each day. However, there may be a way to attain all of the above benefits while increasing the effectiveness of the showers to further help improve recovery and even help improve elements like flexibility and improve pain threshold.
Contrast therapy is where both hot and cold showering is alternated, usually for 30 seconds each for around 5 minutes, to cause the blood vessels to widen and thicken and further create an artificial ‘pumping’ of the blood vessels.
Contrast therapy may possess all of the benefits of cold showering and may also be superior to cold showers in helping improve recovery from exercise and is also proven to be effective in alleviating pain.
While this method could be more effective, contrast therapy can also be impractical due to time restrictions or reasons. As a result, cold showering has proven to be more sustainable and effective at giving users positive health benefits.
Below are recommendations to make sure each cold shower is effective:
- Make sure to take 1-2 cold showers each day consistently.
- Make sure the temperature of the shower is between 5-10 degrees celsius, or 40-50 degrees fahrenheit.
- Each shower should last for around 5-10 minutes.
- If possible, implement contrast therapy by alternating between temperatures of 5-10 degrees celsius and 20-25 degrees celsius for around 5 minutes.
- If utilizing cold showers for exercise recovery, take the cold shower as soon as possible after the session is over.