One week of cold showers can make you feel on top of the world, are you up for it?
Now, before we talk cold showers, I want to tell you a story. Back in January, a colleague of mine asked if I would like to jump into the Amstel River with her and a group of friends. It was a bleak time, so the idea of giving my adrenaline a kickstart appealed. Next thing I knew I was standing in a tracksuit on the edge of the river on a grey day in the pouring rain. We quickly undressed to our swimsuits, and proceeded one by one to climb down the icy ladder, to the icier water below. The cold hit me like a tsunami taking my breath away, I involuntarily gulped for air, feeling like the cold shock had squeezed all the oxygen out of my body. I flailed around for about 20 seconds trying to catch my breath before clambering out of the water to the warm(ish) relief of my towel.
Sounds hideous, right? But afterwards I felt incredible. I had energy! I felt alive! I felt like I could take on the world! I felt happy and I am rarely happy in the depths of frigid January. And so, I chased that feeling. I joined for more cold-water dips and I started heading for cryotherapy sessions in a dry, sub-zero chamber that gives the same energy- and mood-boosting effects as the icy waters.
The trouble is, jumping in icy waters and heading to cryo chambers isn’t exactly convenient, I’d heard cold showers can have the same effect but I wasn’t convinced. So, I put it to a panel of experts to find out whether you can reap the same wellbeing benefits with a cold shower at home... The answer might surprise you.
Cold water: The benefits
My perceived benefits are just the tip of the iceberg (pun, intended) when it comes to the positive effects of the cold on not just our minds but our bodies too.
“Scientific evidence has shown that cold showers can cause vasoconstriction, which is the narrowing of blood vessels. This may help improve blood circulation, potentially benefiting cardiovascular health and promoting efficient nutrient and oxygen delivery to various body tissues,” says Abbas Kanani, pharmacist at Chemist Click Online Pharmacy. “Cold showers also stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, leading to an increase in alertness and a feeling of invigoration. Some studies suggest that cold exposure may also stimulate the release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters, leading to improved mood and reduced symptoms of depression.” Which explains why I felt on top of the world after jumping into the river.
And whilst some may worry that immersing your body in cold water could make you sick, the science suggests the opposite. Sir Christopher Ball, co-founder of The Oxford Longevity Project, says, “cold showers are known for stimulating the immune system, which is why studies have actually shown those who take them are less likely to get sick.” Abbas Kanani agrees, “cold exposure activates the body's stress response, leading to an increase in white blood cells and potentially enhancing immune function.”
But it doesn’t stop there, beyond those incredible benefits there are more. “Cold exposure is often used as an aid in post-exercise recovery because scientists have found that this process can help to reduce inflammation, muscle soreness, and oxidative stress, allowing for faster recovery and improved performance,” says Kanani. “Cold water also helps tighten the skin's pores and reduce oiliness, potentially benefiting acne-prone skin. Cold showers may even improve the overall health and appearance of the hair by enhancing its shine and reducing frizz.” Convinced yet?
How to get the benefits of cold water
When it comes to cold exposure, outdoor swimming provides comprehensive cold exposure to your entire body and cold baths allow for precise control over the water temperature and duration, but cold showers are the most convenient way for us all to reap the benefits. But before you jump in, you’ll want to acclimatise. “My advice is to enjoy a warm shower first before lowering the temperature to cool but not freezing, start off with just one minute before increasing this,” suggests Dr. Ross Perry Medical Director of Cosmedics. “Keep moving in the shower so the cold doesn’t only concentrate on one area of the skin. And don’t start off with just the face as this can trigger a reflex which lowers the heart rate and can lead to fainting.”
Want to get specific with the temperature? Abbas Kanani suggests to use water that is around 68°F (20°C) or lower to experience the desired effects of cold exposure. “It's best to experiment with different temperatures to find what works best for you.”
Tony Pemberton, an epigenetics coach, says that 3 minutes is optimal so try to work up to that. “Just mindful to not hyperventilate!” he warns. “This is a great time to coincide breathwork like slowing down your breathing, which induces a state of calm.” If you want to make it an even more mindful moment, Sir Christopher Ball recommends using this time “to think about the challenges of the day and week ahead and ensure that you feel positive about them."
And it’s worth noting that cold showers aren’t for everyone and that’s okay. “It's important to pay attention to how your body responds to the cold water,” notes Abbas Kanani. “If you start feeling excessively uncomfortable, shivering intensely, or experiencing any negative symptoms, you should stop and warm up because this can lead to adverse effects. If you have any underlying health conditions, such as cardiovascular problems or Raynaud's disease, it's advisable to consult with a doctor before taking cold showers.”
Try the Rituals Cold Shower Challenge
Want to give cold showering a go? Try the one-week Rituals Cold Shower Challenge. If you’re new to cold showers, start with your usual temperature and then switch to a cold burst for the last 30 seconds, then increase the time each day.
Day 1: 30 seconds
Start with a short, sharp burst of cold water.
Day 2: 40 seconds
Today, increase that time by just 10-seconds – you can do it!
Day 3: 1-minute
Feeling good? Today, try 60 seconds, focus on your breathing – keep it slow and steady.
Day 4: 75 seconds
Just 15 extra seconds today, remember your breath will get you through.
Day 5: 90 seconds
Today, combine your slow, deep, breathing with taking this time to think about three things you are grateful for.
Day 6: 2-minutes
The challenge is almost over! Today, combine the slow breathing with this – think of 10 positive things in your life – it could be your friends, that vacation you booked, your favourite food, anything! Before you know it, the time will be over.
Day 7: 3-minutes
Okay, today is the biggest leap in duration – I believe in you but also if you don’t make it to the end of the three minutes you can try again tomorrow. During this time, remember to breathe slow and deep – your breath is your greatest friend here. Today, play your favourite upbeat party song to help boost those happy hormones and get you through.
Cold showers are an easy way to supercharge your wellbeing every single day, so once you’re done with the challenge don’t stop there.