You may have heard of Wim Hof. Also known as “The Iceman”, this Dutch athlete and speaker is famous for developing his trademark “Wim Hof Method” designed to withstand freezing temperatures. According to Hof, this method - a combination of breathing techniques, frequent cold exposure, and meditation - is the key to his ability to run barefoot marathons on snow or swim under arctic ice. Beyond that, Hof has attributed a number of health benefits to extreme cold exposure. According to Hof, increased immunity, lowered inflammation, and reduced symptoms to several chronic diseases can all be achieved through breathwork and ice baths.
But you don’t have to cannonball straight into the arctic ocean to enjoy the impact of cold water exposure. In fact, the possibility for improved immunity, better metabolism, and more resilience against stress is waiting in your bathroom. All of these benefits - and more - can be achieved simply by taking cold showers at home. Think of it as DIY hydrotherapy.
Of course, the idea of taking a frigid, cold shower isn’t exactly inviting - but the discomfort is actually a key part of cold water’s ability to improve circulation and immunity. Water that is much colder than our body’s natural temperature inspires our circulatory system to work harder to pump blood and heat our body. When cold showers are a part of a regular routine, they can cause circulation to become more efficient.
Likewise, the shock of cold water stimulates leukocytes in the bloodstream, the white blood cells which fight the common cold and flu. In fact, a clinical study from the Netherlands found that people who take cold showers took less sick days.
Cold showers additionally have a number of benefits for mental health and cognitive function. The “shock” of the cold water produces electric impulses which stimulate your brain into a state of clarity and alertness. Additionally, the sheer practice of willingly inducing a state of discomfort by taking cold showers helps sharpen willpower and hardens the body’s ability to respond to stress. As such, taking a cold shower a few times a week was found to reduce symptoms of depression in a clinical trial.
With all of the benefits of cold showers in mind, hot showers deserve a fair shake too. If you do end up getting sick, heat and steam can relieve sinus congestion by loosening phlegm and clearing nasal passages. You might also want to try a contrast shower. This technique involves taking a shower as cold as you can stand for one minute and then dialing up the heat for a minute, over the course of a few cycles. Alternating these temperatures dilates your circulatory system and has a detoxifying effect.