A hot shower is for some considered one of the great pleasures of winter, that feeling as the hot water covers the body and warms it through. While it and hot baths may be pleasurable in the moment, in the short and long term it may do little good. Although having a cold shower in the morning may feel like a counterintuitive act during the middle of winter, some studies have found that it can strengthen the immune system. Studies have also found that it can improve brain function and improve symptoms of depression.
The data comes courtesy of two studies, one from the Netherlands and one from the Czech Republic.
Research in the Netherlands was conducted on over three thousand people and found “a routine cold shower resulted in a statistical reduction of self-reported sickness absence in adults without severe comorbidity”.
Meanwhile the Czech study concluded that when athletic men were immersed in cold water three times a week for six weeks that it boosted their immune system.
However, while the conclusions of the study were positive the researchers cautioned: “The biological significance of the changes observed remains to be elucidated.”
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Other benefits of cold water immersion, showering or bathing include the activation of the sympathetic nervous system.
This part of the nervous system governs the body’s fight or flight response which creates a hormone known as noradrenaline.
It is for this reason that cold showers are thought to lead to health improvements as the production of this hormone increases the heart rate and blood pressure.
Furthermore, immersion in cold water is thought to improve circulation.
As well as providing physical benefits, cold showers and immersion in cold water is thought to potentially have mental health benefits too.
This includes the treatment of depression, in 2008 Nikolai Shevchuk proposed how this works.
Shevchuk suggested that during a cold shower an overwhelming number of electrical signals are sent to the brain due to the high number of cold receptors in the skin suggesting that this results in an anti-depressive effect.
In a trial of his theory Shevchuk discovered: “The therapy was found to have a significant analgesic effect and it does not appear to have noticeable side effects.”
The idea of cold water improving overall health is backed up by the existence of Cold Water Therapy, a form of medicine that has experienced a revival in recent decades.
Athletes too have harnessed the power of cold-water immersion with ice baths becoming a common feature of training routines since the turn of the century.
These ice baths are used as a form of cryotherapy to enable muscle recovery, alleviate soreness, and reduce the risk of injury.
Overall, there is significant evidence to suggest a cold shower in the morning, while uncomfortable and shocking at first, could have notable long-term benefits.