An icy soaking is said to boost heart and head health whilst melting fat. I spent two weeks seeing if we should cool the hype.
Warm showers let the day sidle up to you like warm coffee and dippy eggs. Between my drafty flat and the chill of a draconian air-conditioning regime at work, the 6 or 7 minutes I spend under warm water is about as close to a hug as it gets. Bliss.
Cold showers are different. They jolt you awake, don’t hold the lift for you and then give you the finger as they drive away on the bus you just missed as you wonder what just happened.
Underneath all this unpleasantness, however, research shows that cold showers are boosting your metabolic rate, improving your cardiovascular health and upgrading your mental state.
So when it was decided that someone should look into the accuracy of these rumours (“you’re in to this kind of thing aren’t you?”) I got my shivering started early, turned the dial all the way to the left and haven’t looked back since.
The first time was grim. I was scared, unhappy and done in about 60 seconds – such is life. It was a real stretch to think that I would be continuing with this or even leaving the house that morning.
The second was altogether different.
Admittedly it came after a continued argument with my snooze button, but within seconds of stepping under the frigid downpour, and after the initial screams that prompted a cautious “are you ok?” from my housemate, a cool acceptance washed over me.
You’re taking a cold shower, get over yourself.
The moment of clarity comes to almost anyone in that sudden chill. A huge dose of the hormone norepinephrine floods the body and you start feeling very calm. It’s difficult to focus on anything else if I’m honest.
After the initial huffing and puffing slowed each time, I started to regulate my breath. It was similar to the breathing based focus that gets you through a yoga pose, or a heavy lift. I did feel more alert, and my head was cleared for the morning where usually I just missed my duvet.
Research from the Journal of Medical Hypotheses has found some pretty convincing stuff on this link between a sudden switch to cold and improved mental state. The overwhelming amount of electrical impulses trigger an analgesic effect that lasts longer with continued chilly-dipping.
In fact, cold showers might just fight and prevent depression – harking back to a primeval day when a cold dip reset our biological rhythms.
My personal experience went like this; I hated every moment leading up to showering (still do) and then loved every minute after. Be it because of the showers themselves or the want to get it over with, I’m now up and ready much quicker in the mornings – feeling more alert and awake too.
I even have more time to forgo the instant and make real coffee. Which is a big deal.
Ice in your veins
The ice induced upgrade flows through the rest of your body. In order to maintain temperature, the body gives the sympathetic nervous system gets a kick start. Blood flow increases and so does the efficiency of the cardiovascular system.
Findings show that I’m not the only one to feel the benefits. One study showed that 90 days of cold showers bolstered the immune system and circulation, decreasing sick days by 29%.
It all attests for the added pep I had at work and the little extra boost in any exercise I’ve done. If it’s placebo, then it’s a welcome one.
Try starting with the temperature just below normal and turning the heat down incrementally. No one needs the trial by ice I subjected myself to and easing yourself in works just as well. Either first thing in the morning or after a workout is best.
If you’re not convinced and want some tangible benefits from something so damn unpleasant, a 2009 study showed that cold showers might help to burn up to 400 more calories a day. The process of adaptive thermogenesis, basically an unregistered shivering, gets your metabolism really motoring as your body fights to keep warm.
After a week my early morning alarm didn’t ring so shrilly and my snooze function was rendered redundant. I wanted the cold shower. Not because I enjoyed it but because of how it gave my morning a kick up the arse and a shunt towards the door.
I’m worried that I have set a precedent for turning up to 8am meetings relatively chipper now though. I may never be able to have a hot shower again.