The thought of icy-feeling water washing over you may not be the most appealing thing to most people, but cold-water therapy has gone big time—if my social media is anything to go by.
I spend a lot of time on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok and, without fail, every day I'm met with a video of someone immersing themselves in a freezing cold ice bath. There are various types of cold-water therapy but, of late, it's the fact they're advocated by the Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof that has popularized them.
There's cold-water immersion, which involves putting your body—from the neck down—into cold or icy water; a whole-body cryotherapy chamber, which exposes the body to freezing temperatures; and cold showers.
As someone who is keen to try the latest health trends, I’ve tried all of these. However, ice baths are the toughest. Plus, an ice bath requires maintenance and, if you’re using a portable ice bath (in the garden for example), you also need space.
A cold shower may be an easier option, and it has been shown to provide benefits—one of them being support for the immune system. In fact, research has found that going from a hot shower to a cold shower could help with fending off viruses.
A study published in the journal PLoS One in 2016 found that people who turned their shower to cold for anytime between 30 to 90 seconds took fewer sick days than those who didn’t.
Supposedly, cold water is such a shock to the body that it can help to stimulate the blood cells that fight infections. Still not sold on the cold-shower trend? Here’s what I’ve noticed from 30-second cold-water blasts every day.
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1. My hair looks glossier
Think about it, hot water pouring over your hair probably isn't going to do it any favors. I'd read that finishing your hair wash with cold water would help increase its shine, and a friend of mine used to credit her constantly shiny hair to cold-water blasts.
Since finishing my showers with icy-cold water, I believe there is truth in the cold-water-glossy-hair rumor. And it feels like a cheaper option than taking fish oil for hair growth as well.
2. It helps control my breathing (and reduces my stress)
When I flick the shower to cold, you can bet your bottom dollar I will start to hyperventilate, with my breaths becoming short and sharp. I have to consciously stop and slow down, forcing myself into a normal breathing pattern.
It takes a few seconds for me to fight the urge to breathe rapidly but, when I've slowed down, I can withstand the cold for longer. I've found that doing this consistently makes it easier to apply this to everyday life.
Learning how to slow down and calm myself has become a useful skill, which I now apply to several different situations. When I've got a work deadline looming and I'm falling behind, or perhaps when I get a message or email that infuriates or upsets me.
This is very similar to developing a mindfulness practice, either through guided meditations or learning how to build mental strength. The aim is to focus on the present moment and pay attention to your breath, which is what happened during my cold showers.
3. I feel invigorated and happier
The cold water leaves me feeling refreshed. Any sluggishness is swept away, and on the morning's where I've not slept particularly well a 30-second blast of cold wakes me up. I also feel as though I’m happier after an icy blast in the shower.
Research published in the journal Medical Hypotheses backs this up. It has revealed how cold showers can be a potential treatment for depression. The study reports this is because exposure to cold activates our sympathetic nervous system while increasing levels of beta-endorphin—a hormone that blocks the feeling of pain—and noradrenaline.
4. It could be the reason why I recover fast after exercise
I can't be certain, but I do seem to bounce back quickly from intense workouts and endurance events. Considering that I don't devote that much time to stretching, I think that my recovery time is fairly short. Could the cold showers be having an impact?
Although we often use ice on joints to relieve inflammation and swelling, research has found that a cold shower doesn’t necessarily have the same effect on recovery. This makes me think it may be a psychological thing.
Who knows, but something I’m doing is helping my legs recover. If you're not sold on the cold showers by now, then you could give yourself a quick massage with a foam roller instead to promote blood flow to your muscles and boost your recovery.
30-second cold showers: the verdict
I get it, these cold showers aren't fun, but if you want to feel alert, productive, invigorated and refreshed, then make the switch to cold, even if it's just for 30 seconds.
I've found it to be a game-changer in helping with stress, as I can now calm myself quickly. It also wakes me up post-workout or just generally in the morning, and it kickstarts my day. Who needs coffee?
Keen to try it yourself? First off, it may not be appropriate for everyone, especially if you have a pre-existing heart condition. It's always worth checking with a medical professional if in doubt.
After you've washed yourself, quickly switch the water from hot to the coldest setting. To help control your breathing you could even count to 30 slowly, out loud or in your head. Stay under the water for the entire time, before switching the water back to warm, or stepping out.
Over time see if you can increase the amount of time you spend in the cold; if anything it's a great test of your mental resilience.