I took a cold shower for a week - here's what happened

Health

An icy blast may flood the body with feel-good endorphins, get the circulation going and improve alertness but can a cold shower a day really keep the doctor away? We challenged Sam to find out…

Cold shower benefits

Google cold water therapy and you’re likely to come across a man named Wim Hof. He’s a Dutch extreme athlete, also known as ‘The Iceman’, who swears by the healing properties of icy water.

He has a nearly superhuman ability to withstand freezing temperatures and has devised his own method, part of which involves taking a cold shower every morning.

Proponents say cold showers have many physical health benefits. For example, scientists have found it can speed up metabolism and boost your immune system. It is also said to decrease inflammation in the body and can help with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Furthermore, it has been linked to increased alertness and beauty perks such as healthier hair and skin.

And then there are the mental health benefits, which include boosted mood. A study by Virginia Commonwealth University found regular cold showers could even be used to fight off depression as it sends electrical impulses to the brain which trigger a flood of endorphins or ‘feel-good hormones’.

Now that all sounds great but the thought of taking a cold shower, especially in winter, is enough to make you shudder. So how to go about it?

According to Le Chalet Cryo director Lenka Chubuklieva, which is a clinic in London offering cryotherapy, you want to build up to it slowly. “We suggest easing your way into them by starting with a warm shower and gradually adjusting the temperature to make each successive shower slightly colder than the last until you’re ready for a full-on cold shower,” she says.

“It may also help to start with arms and legs first before fully stepping under a cold shower. In any case, it is always important to listen to your own body and its response to the cold shower. You shouldn’t step out of the shower and be in a state where you can’t stop shivering. That means your cold exposure is too long. Some of us can take cold showers for up to 5-10 minutes but it is totally fine for people to start off with just 30 to 60 seconds.”

I took a cold shower for a week - here's what happened
Photo: Wim Hof

With that in mind, I decided to challenge myself to take a cold shower every morning for a week. I followed Lenka’s instructions and took a succession of tepid showers to start the adjustment process. This felt fine, almost refreshing, so when it came to going all-in I thought I was going to be able to able to handle it.

Yeah, no. I was stood in the shower on day one fully ready to plunge myself masochist-style under the icy spray but I got a severe case of cold feet. Instead, I dipped my toe in slowly until I could pluck up the courage to cover the rest of my body. Let me tell you, nothing can prepare you for the onslaught of the cold blast when it hits your chest and takes your breath away. I let out a loud gasp, proceeded to have a quick wash and hopped straight out.

I’d love to say it got easier as the days went on but honestly it didn’t. What I did learn is that you have to psyche yourself up because it’s largely a mental battle. Taking a few deep breaths beforehand definitely helped and I recommend doing it as soon as you get up before your brain realises what you’re doing.

Unpleasantries aside, I have to say though the science seems to stack up. I’ve never been an early bird and always feel sluggish in the morning and having a cold shower first thing did make me feel more energised.

I also totally get now why athletes take ice baths because it did wonders for my aching muscles. Another thing I noticed was my hair was extra soft and shiny.

My final verdict? I’d like to try and work a cold shower into my morning routine because even though I probably won’t ever look forward to it, once it’s over everything else feels like a breeze.

By Sam

Get your weekly DOSE fix here: SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER

      A destination for healthy hedonists that fuses the worlds of fitness, healthy food and drink.