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Are Cold Showers Good for You?

Updated: Apr 14, 2019

Don't you hate it when you step into the bathroom, all ready to enjoy a nice hot shower, and then you discover that the water heater doesn't work? Aaarggghh. That was me last week. And because I haven't been able to get the heater fixed yet, I've actually started to get used to my cold showers. Haha.

It also got me thinking about whether a cold shower has any benefits. If I have to suffer through this until I finally get around to calling the repairman, then it would be great to know I'm getting something out of it.

I do remember that when my kids were small and had problems with eczema, their dermatologist specifically said that they should only take cold showers (or lukewarm ones at least) because hot showers dry out the skin. Elite athletes jump into ice baths all the time. Cold water therapy proponents are everywhere, and there's even a 30-day cold shower challenge! And when you think about it, our ancestors had no choice but to jump into cold water for a bath unless they came across some hot springs. So the natural thing for everyone should also be to take cold showers right?

If you do a simple Google search, you'll see a whole lot of articles proclaiming why cold showers are the way to go. The benefits of subjecting yourself to a couple of minutes of uncomfortably cold temperatures supposedly include fat and weight loss, a stronger immune system and an increase in energy and productivity. They may even help in the treatment of depression. Interesting.

But what does the research say?

There's this study with 3,018 participants who started off with hot showers and then shifted to freezing temps for 30-90 seconds for at least 30 days. 29% of them reported a reduction in sick leaves, and the most commonly reported perceived benefit was an increase in energy levels, with many of them comparing it to the effects of consuming caffeine. Here's an interesting interview with the researcher by the Harvard Business Review earlier this year.

There's also a study on how regular winter swimming improves general well-being. They reported having elevated moods and relief from rheumatism, fibromyalgia and asthma. Too bad we're not getting any winter swimming done in these parts.

As for ice baths for sports recovery, even if many athletes swear by it, there are conflicting studies on whether or not it actually helps especially in the long-term.

So it seems there aren't a lot of super convincing, statistically-significant data on the side of cold showers, but plenty of anecdotal evidence. For me, it's been a week now, and yes I must say that taking cold showers does jolt me awake in the morning. And though a cold shower in the Philippines is not the same as a cold shower in the Netherlands or some other country with cooler temps, doesn't hurt.

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