"You could die."
That's the warning Wim Hof recounts getting when he was 17 years old. But that didn't stop him from plunging – buck naked – into an ice hole in a body of water in Beatrixpark in Amsterdam.
In the water, Hof said he felt amazing. So he took the plunge every day for 25 years. That's how the "Iceman" came to be... a polar bear of a human plunging into freezing cold water.
Hof says going into cold water makes you breathe more deeply and consciously. And that it is more than a feeling – it's physiology...
While a hot shower offers your body's tissues and systems a chance to dilate and expand in size (swelling) – the same way heat allows molecules to expand and speed up (think water turning to steam) – a cold shower allows your tissues and systems to tighten and slow down (think water turning to ice). You can see this life hack and method being used by professional athletes who use cold (even ice) water baths to recover quickly from strenuous exercise.
When your muscles and blood vessels contract in the cold water, Hof says it's almost electric the way your autonomic nervous system kicks in. Your autonomic nervous system regulates your heart rate, digestion, breathing, blood pressure, and sexual arousal. Stimulating these parts of you are important for your general health.
Hof has trained himself to withstand extreme cold through breathwork and mind control. And the science of cold-water therapy supports his claims...
Recent studies show cold water protects against neurodegenerative diseases like dementia, helps manage depression, and is an effective pain reliever.
Tempering is the conditioning process that builds up your tolerance over time through exposure to a stimulus (cold water in this case) in small, incremental doses. Through this process, your body eventually becomes used to the cold water and the initial shock of trying it will fade away.
Take a look at the difference between cold and hot showers...
In one study, researchers found that cold-water immersion led participants to experience reduced levels of cortisol. They also found that cold water (57.2 F) participants had an increase in their metabolic rate (the rate at which our bodies expend energy or burn calories) of 350%.
If you want to try out the benefits for yourself, do what I do... At the end of your hot shower, turn on the cold water for 20 to 40 seconds. It doesn't have to be ALL the way cold, but it should be quite cool...
A small 2016 study tested the effects of cold-water immersion on muscle recovery following knee flexion and extension exercises. The researchers found that the group that experienced the cold-water bath – as opposed to those who had no post-exercise intervention – had less oxygen taken from their muscles after exercising (a normal process of recovery) and reported less soreness the day after exercising. This was thought to be the result of their improved venous blood return caused by the cold water.
And lucky for you, you don't have to become an Iceman or Icewoman like Hof (although he does offer workshops if you're curious about taking the plunge) to enjoy these benefits... you can take cold showers instead.
Daily cold showers improve your health. They calm itchy skin, sore muscles, and invigorate you – like chugging two cups of coffee without the caffeine overdose.
Cold showers make your skin and body look good by promoting circulation, cell turnover, and potentially boosting weight loss. When you take a cold shower, your blood vessels constrict and blood flow to the chilled areas of your body is reduced. In this way, cold water helps with inflammation, swelling, and pain.
Cold water also redirects blood flow from the blood vessels near the surface of your skin to the ones deep within your body. In doing so, internal inflammation and swelling in the body goes down and the amount of blood that travels back to your heart increases.
When more blood gets pumped back to your heart, the waste products in your blood are removed and are replaced by nutrients for your muscles much faster. This change is called improved venous return.
Improved venous return also means improved circulation. Not only do our recovering muscles get the benefit of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood – so does the rest of our body (our organs, for example).
Cold showers also reduce our levels of a hormone called cortisol that directly contributes to our experience of stress.
Doc's Cold Shower Challenge
So now, I have a challenge for you...
You have just learned that cold showers are incredibly beneficial for your health. That's why you need to try my cold shower challenge... starting tomorrow!
The challenge lasts three weeks, but you can continue for as long as you like. Here are your weekly quests:
Every third day, end your shower with 15 seconds of cold water.
Every other day, end your shower with 30 seconds of cold water.
Every day, end your shower with 45 (or more) seconds of cold water.
Dr. Sharon Hame is an orthopedic surgeon and she told UCLA Health that when you're taking cold showers, it's best to keep the water below 60 F. And UCLA athletic trainers recommend their players alternate taking a hot shower for three minutes, followed by a cold shower for one minute. They say to repeat this pattern three times and always end the series with a cold shower.
So do what I do... take my challenge and start incorporating cold water into your daily shower routine.
What We're Reading...
- Something different: The real history behind Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
July 25, 2023