What is Cold Water Therapy?

Most people love a hot shower in the morning. Even those who don’t live in cold climates. For many people, they just can’t get started on their daily routine without that hot shower. As those of us who have lived through the aftermath of hurricanes in recent years can attest, one of the first things you miss about not having electricity is not having hot water. But maybe it’s time to rethink the whole hot water theory. More and more evidence is coming out to support the historically-based anecdotal concept that starting the day with a cold shower is better for you.

Cold water helps to keep your blood pressure stabilized. One of the reasons that people have been known to survive for a long time while submerged in freezing water is because the body has a natural reaction known as the autonomic nervous system. This system controls such bodily functions as breathing and heart rate. Cold water works by triggering the autonomic nervous system, which raises blood pressure. The more you expose your body to cold water, the stronger the autonomic response gets. So by showering with cold water each day you may in fact be also stabilizing your circulatory system for the long run.

Cold water doesn’t just trigger the autonomic nervous system, it also causes cytokines and similar substances in the body to be released. Cytokines and those other substances are essentially like hormones, and their triggered release is thought to improve the body’s immune system. Several studies have found that patients who underwent cold water therapy actually experienced an increase in levels of white blood cells, which are used to stem off disease.

As if that weren’t enough, consider also that cold water stimulates the body to release endorphins. Endorphins are those hormones that not only give you that “runner’s high” after any kind of intense workout (including sex), but also are key in fighting off pain. In essence, endorphins are the body’s own natural pain relievers and, unlike certain pharmaceutical companies, the body doesn’t charge you an arm and a leg to use them.

Cold showers can also put you in a better mood, believe it or not. In addition to the stimulating qualities of the endorphins, the cold water also activates some of the nerves in your brain. The result is an exhilaration upon leaving the bathtub that you don’t feel after a warm or hot shower. How often have you stepped out of the shower in the morning and felt sluggish as you get dressed and ready to roll? Next time try a cold shower and see if you don’t feel more uplifted afterward.

There are some caveats, of course. Aren’t there always? If you are particularly thin or in poor health, your ability to tolerate the cold water may not be advanced enough to experience the benefits. It’s also a good idea to check with your doctor if you suffer from back pain, hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure or other circulatory problems. This is especially true if you suffer from hypertension and aren’t being treated for it.

Now for the rules of cold water shower therapy. Yes, you knew there would be rules. Well, one rule actually, but it has several components to it. Don’t just hop into a cold shower. The sudden shock of cold water, especially on a hot day, can actually serve to make your circulation worse. Instead, start out with a warm shower, but not hot. Stay in for a few minutes, just until you feel warm and your skin begins to prickle. Then get out of the shower and turn the hot water off so that only cold water is running. Step in so that just your get wet, then your other extremities and face. Finally step completely into the cold water and stand so that the water hits the top of your head and runs down your front and back. Your first time out in the cold should only last about ten seconds total, until you finally work your way up to a minute in the cold water.

And that’s all it takes to jumpstart your day with a cold shower.