Yes, you heard that correctly. Cold shower. I take cold showers. Before you think I'm insane (and that is a distinct possibility), please understand there are reasons. Consider the following.
1. Increased production of cortisone.
The first that I heard of possible health benefits from bathing in cold water was about 12 years ago. There was a human interest story on some news program that interviewed the five oldest people on earth and asked them what they believed was the secret to their longevity. One of the subjects was a woman that lived in Russia's northern Ural Mountains. She smoked, drank vodka, and ate red meat. However, her little home was next to the Usa River near the river's source. She claimed to bathe in that river every morning. Researchers on the show theorized that the regular immersion in icy temperatures of the river stimulated the production of cortisone for this little old Russian woman.
Cortisone is a hormone released as a response to stress - and the sudden subjection to frigid waters can be stressful. The hormone typically prepares our body for either fight or flight, however it also provides short term pain relief and can be used to ease joint inflammation.
2. Helps overcome fear.
Serious about this one. Last fall I began reading through some of the writings of Joel Runyon and his Impossible Blog. He's a big advocate of Cold Shower Therapy. Yes, therapy. He proposed the concept that fear holds us back from getting started with big projects like opening a new business or losing some weight (a concept that has been seconded by Jon Acuff in his book Start). Joel's solution to conquering that fear is to start with cold showers because the thought of a cold shower could be scary, but once you start doing it you realize that it's OK. In his words, "You might yell out a few Tarzan type screams, but once you decide to do it, you lean into it and you’re not afraid of it anymore."
The act of taking scary cold showers changes the way you think because when you face something else that frightens you, you recognize that feeling because it's the same sensation. You experienced before taking cold showers. And if you conquered the fear once, you can do it again. Joel wrote a fantastic piece about cold shower therapy - you should read it, especially if your fear is holding you back from doing something you've always wanted to do.
3. It's better than coffee.
I know many people who cannot wake up in the morning without the assistance of coffee. I happen to be related to a few of those people. Please don't misunderstand me, coffee is good. I'm not trying to say you need to give up drinking coffee - I still drink it myself.
But, do you know what's cheaper than a daily Starbucks habit? Cold showers. You know what is more effective than any caffeinated beverage? Cold showers. Nothing wakes you up quicker in the morning than standing under a falling stream of water that feels like it has been teleported from deepest and darkest recesses of space (or as Joel Runyon phrased it "we-just-piped-this-water-in-from -Antarctica-because-the-penguins-won’t-swim-in-it-cold"). As a side benefit, it also encourages shorter showers and less less water waste.
4. Burn more calories while showering.
A few years ago, some researchers wrote and published an article through PLOS titled Human Skeletal Muscle Mitochondrial Uncoupling Is Associated with Cold Induced Adaptive Thermogenesis. It's an fascinating read (if scholarly scientific studies are your thing) that points out a few interesting ideas.
The article focuses on the role that brown adipose tissue (AKA, brown fat) plays in the human body. Some of it has tangible research. Some of it is theoretical. But the short explanation of the data shows that exposure to cold stimulates brown fat and increases energy use. In other words - it buns more calories. This suggests that cold therapies could be used as a weight loss strategy. Exposing yourself to colder temperatures increases the amount of calories being burned; it accelerates your metabolism.
Part of the reasoning behind the changes to metabolism is due to the difference between your body temperature and the water's temperature. According to the laws of thermodynamics, everything seeks equilibrium. In order to counteract the effect the cold shower has on your internal temperature, your body reacts by increasing heat. That thermogenic process means your body is working harder, improving your ability to burn fat.
5. No more after-shower shock.
Do you know what was my least favorite part of taking hot showers? That moment when I opened the shower curtain to the cold bathroom air. It doesn't matter if the bathroom is heated, the air outside the shower is always colder than the steam and water inside the shower.
But with cold showers, I'm all ready cold when I step out. There is no difference between the frigid water and the chilly air. No bracing shock as you step out of the shower. I'm all ready acclimated to the icy feeling during the shower so I can just step out, towel off, and carry on. Plus, the bathroom mirror isn't steamed over.
There you have it. Cold showers are a good thing. Facing fear and losing weight. I've lost 16 pounds over the past couple of months. Granted, cold shower therapy is not my only weight loss strategy. I'm eating healthier and exercising more. But I believe that my weight loss journey is more successful because I decided to turn the dial down from Mordor to Hoth.