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We tried it. And we're better for it.
Look, I'm not a morning person. My sluggishness in the morning is partly why I stopped shaving, and the reason why I need a dedicated alarm clock. So any way in which I can become a more alert, productive person before lunch gets my attention. I kept hearing rumblings about cold showers—how everyone from pro athletes to lifehackers like Tim Ferriss swear by them. But, to me, I only really knew of cold showers as the punchline to a sophomoric sex joke. The truth is, there is a myriad of health benefits to starting your day under the icy rain of a cold shower, all backed by some solid science. Here are just a few:
A study by Virginia Commonwealth University found evidence that cold showers can help treat depression symptoms, triggering a flood of mood-boosting endorphins. Other research suggests that the cold water causes a small amount of oxidative stress on your nervous system, which your body learns to deal with over time, resulting in an increased tolerance to daily stress and aggravation. It also lowers levels of uric acid, and boosts levels of Glutathione in your blood, making you less stressed in general.
Cold showers improve circulation by means of sending a rush of blood throughout the body, down to your organs to keep them warm. The chill of the water also closes up the skin's pores and the cuticles that make up each hair, resulting in smoother skin and shinier hair. Unlike hot water, which can dry out skin and hair, the cold water keeps them from losing too many of their natural oils.
The deep breaths you involuntarily take during a cold shower dramatically increase your oxygen intake and heart rate. And while that's only during the few minutes you're under the water, the result is a natural dose of energy that lasts throughout the day. And a study by London's Thrombosis Research Institute found that as the body tries to warm itself during and after a cold shower, "the metabolic rate speeds up and activates the immune system, which leads to the release of more white blood cells," which is the key to fighting off sickness.
There are two types of fat in your body. White (or yellow) fat is the pudgy stuff that sits under our skin. And then there is the good brown fat (located in the upper neck, shoulders and chest) which your body uses to generate heat. And there's clinical evidence that suggests cold water activates the brown fat, which starts burning away the calorie-loaded fats called lipids that pile around your waistline.
These are all fantastic benefits, of course. But, by far, the greatest side-effect I've witnessed after several weeks of cold showers, is the sense of accomplishment I have while I'm toweling off. Because it's not easy. Especially at first. When that rush of chilled water hits your skin and your shoulders instinctively raise from the shock, it takes willpower to stand under that stream and let the water run down your back. Your breathing naturally speeds up and so you have to focus on long, deep breaths. But then I'm finished. I'm not even dressed yet and I've already overcome a tough situation. And that encourages similar behavior throughout the day. It emboldens my sense of determination and honestly, it changes the way I approach the things I'm afraid of or uncomfortable dealing with—all good things to master before heading into a work day. The fact that I'm also doing it for my health (and hair)? That's just a great added bonus.
Here's how I learned to endure the cold. Start your shower with warm water, as you typically would. Get in, lather up like normal then step out of the stream and turn the handle to all-the-way cold. You have to rinse off and now you'll do it in the cold water. Try to stay under the stream for at least a minute, counting and breathing the whole way. Increase to two minutes for added benefits.