Cold Showering. Should we?
Updated: Nov 13, 2018
A couple of months ago I was listening to a podcast in which the virtues of cold showers to boost your energy were extolled and ever since then, I've endured a minute under cold water at the end of every shower, because who doesn't want a bit more energy? The fact that I hate the cold, and now that winter is coming, the water coming out of the shower is really quite freezing has driven me to take a closer look at the health claims around this practise. In terms of how I feel, there certainly is an immediate 'sharpening' effect and I do seem to have a bit more energy, but that's probably got more to do with recent efforts to get more sleep.
So. What are the common claims for the benefits of cold showers.
1. Energy boosting. The claim is that even 1 minute under a cold shower daily can help to replace old and inefficient energy packs in our cells (called mitochondria) and replace them with shiny, new, powerful ones.
2. Fat burning. Cold water can promote the activity of brown fat in our body which burns energy.
3. Toning the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve runs from behind your ears down to your digestive system with branches off to key internal organs including the heart and lungs. It's important as we process stress, and is being heavily researched with regard to links between our mental and physical health.
What's the verdict?
1. Energy boosting. With regard to the idea that exposure to cold water can replace worn out mitochondria, yes, there have been trials with mice that demonstrated this mechanism but whether we can translate this directly to humans benefiting from a 1 minute cold shower, I don't know.
2. Fat burning. Again, there is evidence to show that exposure to cold temperatures, especially over a long period can activate brown fat. However, evidence that 60 seconds under a daily cold shower will achieve this is not available. I did watch an experiment on tv recently that demonstrated that around 10 minutes, fully immersed in an outdoor lake in the winter does have this effect.
3. Toning the vagus nerve. I'd say that this claim probably has the greatest validity, and I'm very keen to look after my vagus nerve. However, there are more pleasant ways of doing this, including laughing, singing and chanting 'OOOOMMMM' as you might do in a yoga class.
Despite the fact that the evidence of health benefits from cold showers is not 100% conclusive, and the experience is a bit of a challenge, I'm going to keep going as there is undoubtedly an invigorating effect and at the end of the day, it's only 60 seconds (which gets me out of the shower much more quickly than a lovely hot one). There's also a slight sense of achievement everytime I force myself to do it which I think is very positive mentally.