6 Ways Cold Showers Can Shock You Into Shape

8 min read
What You're About To Get Into
– The major benefits of cold exposure
– It’s not just about the showers
– Why discomfort is where all the fun happens

The Perfect Start To The Day

Depending on where you live, dunking your head under an icy jet may be the last thing you want on a frigid morning. Depending on how you slept, finding the will to crawl out from under the duvets might be enough to stretch your limits. But there’s more to this than a simple test of willpower. This isn’t just about pushing the danger button, buying a pet spider because you’ve been diagnosed with arachnophobia. 

Cold showers come armed with all manner of friendly health outcomes. By diving into freezing temperatures, silencing the panic, smiling at the pain, you can directly enhance the body’s physiology. Right down to the mitochondria.

I’m not going to give you the idea that this is a game-changer that you can’t afford to miss out on. And if you take all this in, and decide to stick with your warm shower heritage, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. In the pursuit of peak health, however, cold showers stack up. After a year of kicking off every morning with the dial firmly in the blue, I’m ready to report back on the science and sense of your worst nightmare.

And as you’ll find out, the benefits aren’t restricted to getting tangled in icy water. This spans all manners of cold exposure, short of frost-bite. If you’re braving through the winter season right now, it may be time to turn down the thermostat and sleep with the windows open. 

The Cold Exposure Package
Enhanced willpower (Lowers perceived difficulty of subsequent tasks)
Metabolic health (Mitochondria function through BAT activation)
Immune boost (Morning cortisol pulse)
Better sleep (Cortisol declines in the evening)
Morning energy (Pushes up body temperature)
Better skin (Tightens up pores and doesn’t strip the oil layer)

1. Enhanced Willpower

Let’s just get the mindset ™ out of the way.

Initially, I fell into this as a way to brush up on my morning mentality. And it did a great job of forcing me off the easy road. Days that start with a winter blast statistically give me a better chance of keeping my other habits in line. One simple step into discomfort, that makes the remaining challenges seem a lot less daunting. Standard brain hacks. 

2. Metabolic Health

If you’ve read some of my articles on chronic disease and ageing, you’ll have realised that peak metabolic health is synonymous with functioning mitochondria. Anything you can do to support and protect your symbiotic critters will have profound bottom-up effects on the entire body. 

One such way is cold exposure. When given the legs, it can prompt the activation of brown fat (BAT). Brown fat in turn has the ability to waste energy as heat, preventing the mitochondria energy production chain from getting clogged up with traffic. When there’s too much energy coming in, and not enough going out, the mitochondria get damaged by rampant reactive oxygen species (ROS). Repeat that cycle often enough, say over a lifetime, and the body gets into all sorts of issues. The state of your mitochondria, in effect, determine how many wrinkles you have on your trunk.

A lifestyle that involves plenty of cold exposure can only help out the metabolic front, and help you stay young as one decade leads to another. And if that vision looks a bit too far on the long-term side to be relevant, healthy mitochondria also means improved energy levels. As for increased BAT, that helps keep the timber off.

3. Immune Boost

In today’s epidemic-ridden environment, we need any help we can get. And cold showers have some good press on the immunity angle. It activates a strong sympathetic response, gearing the body up for a fight, and jacking up cortisol. This shouldn’t be a surprise, because it will feel like you’re skirting the line between life and death.

Intentionally activating the stress response has been shown by a Yale study to buffer the immune system. You can see the effect of a reduced stress response when you take time off for a vacation. Right around when a bug likes to strike. Another study had people taking daily cold showers over 30 days, and they ended up with 29% less sick leaves.

The mechanism can get a little deeper than simply switching on fight-or-flight. The morning cortisol spike enables the body to contain the immune cells that circulate overnight. It’s an essential part of the recovery cycle, acting as a switch to allow the immune cells to recharge. Cortisol, in its natural state, is anti-inflammatory.

Cold showers obviously aren’t the only way to spike cortisol in the morning, but it is an extremely effective one. And if you really want to score points, it’s easy to stack with other stress triggers. 

  • Exercise
  • Sunlight
  • Breathwork

4. Better Sleep

That morning cortisol spike doesn’t just shake you out of your morning stupor, it also lets you beat the night-time hyper. The natural circadian rhythm of this hormone contains a steep morning pulse, which then steadily declines to an evening lull. People who miss the morning pulse, often end up peaking around midday. 

As the evening comes along, cortisol is still running in large amounts up and down the bloodstream. Sleep inevitably takes a knock, and the next day the cycle can take another turn for the worse. Done chronically, irregular cortisol gives you the ‘tired but wired’ feel, and plenty of nasty suppression.

So it’s crucial to get that morning spike, one way or another. This also means you should lay off any evening cold showers, unless you’re planning on staying up past bedtime.

You can check out the cortisol problem, as well all the other insomnia triggers, in my article here.

The Sleep Guide

5. Morning Energy

Cold showers might be the perfect tonic for winter mornings, because they do a great job warming the body up. While things won’t feel particularly steamy during the attempt, they pick up in the aftermath as the body fights against the temperature drop. Whereas a warm dunk ends up cooling the body down.

This, along with the cortisol spike, is crucial for nailing the fresh-out-of-bed hype. Early alarms used to stress me out, now I never sleep long enough to reach them. Morning energy is dreadfully simple to hack. Pick when you want to wake up, and fill the next 2-3 hours with activities that raise the body temperature. The increased heat causes the circadian rhythm to sync up with your waking hours.

It may take some herculean efforts at first, but you won’t have to struggle for long. The body can switch up its internal clock with minimal fuss, just as long as you play the temperature game.

6. Better Skin

Hot showers are disastrous for people with sensitive skin. Which is most of us these days. It strips off the protective oil layer, which leads to dry, flaky, angry skin. Cold showers don’t just sidestep this problem, they also improve circulation to the skin and tighten up the pores. The result is a smooth, youthful look.

Not to mention keeping it cold means getting your business done fast. If anything, people are guilty of overwashing these days. The skin is getting destroyed with these twice-a-day marathon sessions. It’s not evolutionarily consistent. Ease up.

Cold exposure is just one of the many eggs you may want to keep in line, assuming you’re after the optimal muscle-building, fat-melting, energy-blasting lifestyle. My blog hosts an array of guides that tackle the other major players, and you can check a few of them out below.

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