‘Yeah, he is somewhat of a ‘cold’ character,’ you may be thinking after reading that title. No…no….don’t read into that. Don’t follow that feeling. It’s not true! The truth is, as much as I do try to be a warm-hearted individual, an emotionally warm person…there are many benefits to being physically cold. And as our seasons are changing, introducing colder weather (it’s mid November 2022 as I’m writing) I’ll be more easily able to find those cold temperatures.
In the heart of winter in the Northeast, it’s simple enough to take the dog outside simply wearing shorts and shoes. Within minutes, the cold has been made it’s mark. In winter, water out of the faucet can get really cold, so my cold showers were able to become almost unbearable at times…where as in the summer, I can’t achieve that ‘desperation to escape’ type of feeling in the shower. An ice bath needs to be used for that.
Interestingly enough, most of the research shows that just a little cold is good for you. Even splashing cold water on your face in the morning, or alternating your shower from cold to hot back to cold, or turning down your thermostat a few degrees…all have a positive cold exposure effect on you. But similar to fasting (intermittent, prolonged, etc.), calorie restriction in general, as well as sauna use…it seems that more is better. Well, to be safe, please contact your physician before trying any of these exposures…and ‘more is better’ doesn’t mean hypothermia followed by a long term bake in the sauna on zero calories is the way to ultimate health. It does mean though, that the earlier these exposures are introduced, and the consistency and depth to which they are practiced in a safe way, have an extraordinary compounding effect on the health of individuals. Exercise, sauna use, cold exposure, and calorie restriction have many benefits on their own. When they are all practiced together, the benefits seem to multiply.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts like Go FAST, most of the research for these practices has been done on mice. Some on humans, but mostly on mice in a lab. I take full stock of that, and urge readers to consider that before implementing any of this. You are not a mouse! Even considering that fact myself, the evidence is too strong to stay away…the sway is intriguing for me. And, I simply love the experimentation process anyway. The journey of exploration is exciting and educational. Even if a particular piece doesn’t work in the small sample of a given experiment, the doing…the actions…the practicing gives feedback, and bigger and better lessons can be obtained. It’s so easy for me to sit and say, ‘that probably won’t work’ or ‘that could be a waste of time’ or ‘being cold is uncomfortable…so nah not interested’. But sitting, judging, and making excuses is probably one of the worst behaviors I can do. Being ‘comfortable’ in fact, is one of the worst ideas health-wise that we all ironically strive for. Our society’s idea of success is all wrapped up in comfort and security. Ewww. Is that really something worth striving for? Well, Ok. Yes, we obviously want to have that in our lives. Ironically, getting uncomfortable is what will bring you comfort. Discipline equals freedom.
Scientifically, we can call this ‘hormesis’…or the beneficial effects of dealing with increasing amounts of mild stress put on the body. It’s obvious how exercise does this. But let’s talk about cold exposure! Most of us take hot hot showers…almost as hot as we can take it. If you’ll notice, because we take this scorching shower…especially in the colder months…we don’t want to get out of the shower because we have then come into contact with the air that feels much too cold in comparison. This is all about contrast. This can then feed into feeling cold for the rest of the day. Everything feels cold compared to that hot shower. Try this experiment: Only use the coldest of water during your entire shower. If you haven’t done this, it’s going to be very hard. You can of course ease your way into this by starting warm and moving eventually to full cold. But I like the challenging stuff! Get into that shower even before the water is turned on, then only turn on the cold water. It’s going to suck, and you’ll hate it for the 5 minutes you have to deal with it. BUT…everything after the cold shower in contrast feels so so good. It’s short term suffering for long term comfort. When you get out of the shower, your body will turn red all over and it will actually begin to heat itself back up. It’s awesome to feel that your body can do this on it’s own. When you get out of the ice bath…this effect is even stronger! I’ve been so surprised, thinking that I’d have to run inside to dry off and then put clothes and blankets, and get close to the wood stove…but I can get out of the ice bath, and my body will again…turn red and heat itself back up to an acceptable level. Now obviously it’s not easy to sit and let that happen. It’s friggen cold! I guess what I’m saying is that there is a mental toughness component going on here. A mindfulness. And a self-reliant confidence in allowing your body to do this on it’s own. You’ll feel like a beast going through this process. It could take 10 minutes in the morning, and just think of how this mental strength can then roll into other parts of the day!
In addition to just feeling good physically after the cold, as well as earning a mental strength encouraged by the process, there are some positive effects to the body going on that are based in empirical literature. Here are some pros. Cold exposure can:
- reduce fasting glycemia
- improve fatty acid handling
- heighten immune system
- increase circulation
- give basic relief of muscle soreness
- help brain function
- help alleviate depression
- activate brown fat (increases energy expenditure, assisting in weight loss, etc.)
- Longevity? There isn’t empirical evidence here YET…but all signs show that there probably will be
There is definitely a risk involved with cold exposure. So you must take that into consideration. Consult your doctor before trying this. I like to think of the risk on the other side of doing these types of things though. There is risk in NOT doing this. And there is risk in sitting on my ass all day. Not many folks talk about the risk involved with a Standard American Diet (SAD!) and a sedentary lifestyle. There is a ton of risk with just staying comfortable as much as possible. I’d say much more than that involved with trying a cold shower. I guess it’s worth considering that we’re all at different levels, and there’s no need to judge ourselves too harshly on where we are starting. But we must take a step!
By the way, my current set up is a chest style freezer filled with water in the garage. In the warmer months, it needs power on a timer…in order to keep the water cold. You can set it to come on for a few hours every night in order to maintain the temperature that you want. In the colder months here in NH, no power is needed. It stays plenty cold! I actually have to use salt to prevent it from freezing. Pretty simple set up. Again, the entry-level is right in the shower, where you already go once a day!
Hope this was valuable to you. Please give me some feedback…questions or comments!