The Weekly Journal | Health

By Yenia Hernandez Fonseca - April 21, 2022

SKIN DEEP

5 HEALTH BENEFITS OF COLD SHOWERS

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

We know a fair bit about alternative medicine – acupuncture, meditation, yoga, homeopathy, ayurveda, therapy – but what are the benefits of using holistic approaches when caring for chronic health issues? 

From drinking it to bathing in it, water helps us treat diseases and stay healthy. As a natural element, water can be used in a variety of healing and cleansing treatments. In hydrotherapy, water is used to treat conditions such as arthritis, rheumatic complaints, and other ailments. 

Dating back to ancient cultures, like those in Greece, India, Egypt, and China, hydrotherapy has been used to treat both mental and physical concerns. Research has proven that water therapy can provide multiple physiologic and therapeutic benefits to people with conditions like acne, muscle disorders, headaches, and even depression. 

Hydrotherapy uses the physical properties of water, including temperature and pressure. Various therapies employ water jets, underwater massages, mineral baths, and contrasting hot and cold baths to stimulate blood circulation. 

In the past few years, cold showers have become something of a trend. Benefits are said to range from boosting immunity to slowing aging. Even Netflix's second episode of The Goop Lab, ‘Cold Comfort,’ explores how cold exposure can boost physical resilience, cultivate willpower, increase alertness and productivity. 

But how can a thermal shock to the system improve our health? 

A cold shower involves water that is roughly between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, or 15 to 20 degrees Celsius.

When the body is exposed to cold temperatures, it releases a rush of stress hormones like cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline. The sudden gush of cold water shocks the body which then enters in a brief fight-or-flight state. This causes other non-essential bodily functions, such as inflammatory responses, to shut down momentarily. 
The recovery period after the high release of stress hormones is as beneficial to the body as with other good stressors, such as fasting, exercising, starting a new job, or going on a holiday. As a result, our body’s natural tendency to adapt to harsh conditions makes us more resistant to stress. 

The benefits of taking cold showers

1. Mental clarity and alertness

Are you having trouble reading simple texts such as emails? If you get to the end of a paragraph and feel the need to restart because you can’t recall what you’ve just read, chances are you’re experiencing brain fog. 

While brain fog isn't a medical condition, it is a term used when certain symptoms affect your ability to think. It is characterized by confusion, forgetfulness, and a lack of focus and mental clarity. If you’re having difficulty with thinking or experiencing memory issues, cold showers can improve mental clarity and focus. Other uplifting effects of cold exposure include an increase in perceived energy levels and productivity.

2. Enhanced circulation

Taking cold showers increases the body's ability to adjust to stress and becomes more resistant over time. Such beneficial change results in enhanced immunity, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal functions. The shock of cold water increases the production of certain cells and molecules that play a role in immune function. It increases white blood cell production that helps the body fight infections and diseases. 

Cold exposure also reduces muscle soreness and inflammation the same way icing an injury helps reduce pain and swelling. This is why taking cold showers and ice baths are common practices among professional athletes. Cold showers boost heart rate, blood flow and oxygen uptake increasing muscle recovery and cardiovascular functions after exercising.

3. Boosts metabolism

Your body converts what you eat and drink into energy through metabolism, so a higher metabolism represents more calories burned. While it’s unlikely to cause substantial weight loss alone without the combination of a healthy diet and exercise, cold exposure increases the body’s metabolic rate to maintain a normal temperature. 

4. Lifts our mood 

The electric shock effect from cold showers increases alertness, mind clarity and energy levels which has a positive impact on fighting the effects of depression. Taking a cold shower helps activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase blood levels of neurotransmitters, endorphins, and other chemicals that make you feel more alert and excited. Endorphins are the feel-good hormones in your brain that relieve pain and create a general feeling of well-being.

5. Enhanced skin and hair health

Washing your face with hot water dries out the skin. Washing your face with cold water, on the other hand, tightens and constricts the blood flow giving your skin a healthy glow. Cold exposure reduces inflammation and helps you get rid of toxins, dirt and excessive sebum from the body. 

Cold water helps retain the moisture on your scalp. It also seals back the cuticle of your hair and locks in the moisture from your conditioner. You'll notice your hair is hydrated and shinier.  

Before you start turning the cold tap on towards the end of your shower, consult your doctor if you’re thinking of including complementary holistic practices to your lifestyle. This article is designed to entertain and inform – not provide medical advice. 

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