Cold showers

Want to experience the benefits of hormesis very directly? Take a cold shower! And don’t just try it once, make it a habit and take cold showers daily.  I have been doing it daily for the past six months and am loving it!

As one form of hydrotherapy, the health benefits of cold water therapy are numerous.  Cold showers provide a gentle form of stress that leads to thermogenesis (internal generation of body heat), turning on the body’s adaptive repair systems to strengthen immunity, enhance pain and stress tolerance, and ward off depression, overcome chronic fatigue syndrome, stop hair loss, and stimulate anti-tumor responses.

Some people advocate starting with a warm shower, and switching over to cool or cold water only at the end of the shower. This is fine, particularly if you are afraid that a pure cold shower would just be too uncomfortable or intolerable.  But I prefer just jumping right in. When you start with cold water, you will experience the phenomenon of cold shock, an involuntary response characterized by a sudden rapid breathing and increased heart rate. This in itself is very beneficial. The extent of cold shock has been shown to decrease with habituation, and exposure to colder water (10C or 50F) appears to be more effective than just cool water (15 C or 59F) in promoting habituation. The habituation itself is what is most beneficial, both objectively and subjectively. There is an analogy here with high intensity resistance exercise and interval training, both of which elevate heart rate and lead to long term adaptations to stress, with improved cardiovascular capacity and athletic performance.

But cold showers provide a different and probably complementary type of habituation to that which results from exercise. A study of winter swimmers compared them with a control group in their physiological response to being immersed in cold water:  Both groups responded to cold water by thermogenesis (internal production of body heat), but the winter swimmers did so by raising their core temperature and did not shiver until much later than the controls, whereas the control subjects responded by shivering to increase their peripheral temperatures. The winter swimmers also tolerated much larger temperature differences and conserved their energy better. Other studies confirm that the benefits of habituation show up only after several weeks of cold showering. For example, adaptation to cold leads to increased output of the beneficial “short term stress” hormones adrenaline and thyroxine, leading to mobilization of fatty acids, and substantial fat loss over a 1-2 week period.

So regular cold showers, like high intensity exercise, and intermittent fasting, appear to provide similar, but not identical hormetic benefits.

But now I’d like to focus on the subjective experience of taking cold showers, something not commented on in many of the studies I’ve read. If you follow my approach and plunge right into a cold shower, you’ll get the initial “cold shock” mentioned above:  a quickened pace of breathing and a pumping heart.  Often I find myself involuntarily smiling or even laughing.  For waking up, this beats caffeine. I keep the water cold the whole time. It helps to brace yourself when entering by gritting your teeth and stiffening your muscles. Go in head first and alternate from back to front to make sure you are getting cold all over, including your hands and arms and any sensitive zones. After about a minute, you’ll find the cold water starts to become more tolerable, and after 2 or 3 minutes you’ll feel your body getting warm by its own efforts. This is thermogenesis. I make a point of staying in the shower until I’m no longer uncomfortable.  I found that at first my hands were the most sensitive part, and now they are no longer as sensitive, so they have habituated.

When I started taking cold showers, I measured the water temperature at around 60 F (16 C), but over time I have reduced this somewhat to 50-55 F (10-13C) as my body has adapted. (You can determine this by bringing into the shower a plastic cup and meat or candy thermometer and collecting some water once the temperature equilibrates).  Of course, depending on where you live and the season, there is a lower limit to how cold you can go, but in general you should be able to get at least as cold as 60F in most places. Also, my cold showers used to be very short, maybe 4 or 5 minutes, but now they last as long as my previous warm showers, perhaps 10 minutes.  I still take the occasional warm shower, perhaps once every week or so, but I prefer the cold ones.

I find that cold showers are great for the mood.  Not only are they physically invigorating, they make you feel alive, vital and ready to take on the day. They stimulate thinking early in the morning. I also believe that they have the effect of slightly raising blood glucose very quickly — by perhaps 10 mg/dl, and thereby have an appetite suppressing effect. Generally, this rise in blood glucose is relatively short in duration, but that’s good enough to prime the pump and get the day started.  This effect of cold showers works well with my practice of skipping breakfast most days and often fasting until dinner.

These effects are apparent with the first cold shower. If you continue the practice for several weeks, you’ll find the psychological benefits are even greater. First and foremost, cold showers appear to have improved my stress tolerance, by buffering emotional reactions. What I mean by this is that bad news, surprises, arguments, or events that would have previously caused a brief surge in adrenaline or an emotional flush, no longer have that effect, or at most have a very attenuated effect.  I think this is a consequence of becoming acclimated to the the adrenaline-producing effect of the cold shock.  A deeper explanation of why cold showers are effective in boosting mood, and why the psychological benefits of cold showers increase the longer and more frequently you take them is addressed in my recent post on the opponent-process theory of emotions.

As with any application of Hormetism, you can experiment with the intensity of cold, the duration, and the frequency of cold showers to improve your tolerance at a tolerable rate.  If you find that your heart is beating uncomfortably fast or you are going numb or experiencing pain of any sort, that’s a good reason to ease into the routine more slowly with water that is not so cold. Check with your doctor first if you have a heart condition, migraines, or pain.  But don’t sell yourself short and rush through a cold shower, because you may find that extending a few more minutes provides the greatest benefits in adapting your body to tolerate stress. Not just cold stress — but physical and emotional stress in general.

January 29, 2012 update:  If you want to take cold showers to the next level, check out this recent article on The Iceman.

February 17, 2014 update:  For details on the hormonal mechanisms of cold-induced thermogenesis and weight loss, see my post on What cold showers and exercise have in common.

July 21, 2014 update:   For hard evidence that cold showers improve stress tolerance by altering cardiac function and the parasympathetic nervous system, see my post on Track your HRV to boost adaptive reserves.

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126 Comments

  1. Jbird

    I can relate this to my swimming in cold lakes in northern Wisconsin when I was growing up. My family vacationed there to escape the summer heat (much like East Coast people going to Maine), but the water was very chilly, even in August. After the initial shock, there’s nothing more exhilarating! I also prefer to swim in a cooler pool. I’ll have to give cold showers a try!

    Reply
  2. Franklin Caruso

    I love cool showers. I’ve been taking them for the past week, and actually find them enjoyable. I think usage of the term “cold shower” is a misnomer. Certainly makes the thought of taking cold shower off-putting. But, in fact, the experience of is opposite to the thought it, in many ways.

    Reply
    • It can’t be named incorrectly (misnomer). It’s cold, it’s a shower, it’s a cold shower. FYI, I just took one as a hangover cure. It’s winter here in Bulgaria and we partied from 9pm until 7am, i woke up and warmed up halfway through the experience. The shower didn’t cure my hangover, but it made me feel alive; everything is far more tolerable now!! Happy New Year.

      Reply
  3. Sugardude

    Oh man. I guess I’ll have to try this but I’m not looking forward to it.

    Reply
  4. Franklin Caruso

    Try swimming in a unheated pool. In early spring. I did today– the pool was very cool (I haven’t measured it). But you get used to it, just like a cold shower. The benefit of the pool is you are immersed in the cold, unlike a shower. It was really very pleasurable.

    Reply
  5. Kate

    I used to have to take cold showers due to lack of warm water where I lived. I hated it, and rather than smile/laugh, I used to quietly yell “ahhh”…probably not a good idea, but it kept me from literally jumping out of the shower as the adrenaline hit! I take them in the summer, to substantially lower my temperature. It lasts (the sensation of coolness) for hours.

    Reply
  6. thanks for the advice. i like your site it’s good. just had my cold shower for the morning, feeling chilled and refreshed. think just walking straight in like you said speeds up the chill factor. that warm feeling came allot quicker today.

    Reply
  7. john sanderson

    Hey…been trying the cold showers now for about two weeks……
    and my body is certainly getting used to them and less shocked…tho i still get head pain (brain freeze!) when rinsing hair…..Im about to start sea swimming on the firth of forth, scotland with a view of swimming it from north berwick to fife, a distance of approx 7miles….its the north sea so pretty cold….as they say that which dosent kill you, makes you stronger

    Reply
  8. Todd

    John, Glad to hear you are adapting well to the cold showers. That’s interesting that you got “brain freeze”. The same thing happened to me when I started. My shoulders, neck and hands were also especially sensitive. So I made a point of emphasizing those sensitive areas, and the brain freeze and discomfort have disappeared. Another interesting observation: I no longer experience the rapid breathing and elevated heart rate that I did when I started taking cold showers. I can plunge in head first and maintain my slow breathing rate, which I take to be a sign of adaptation.

    Your 7 mile swim through the North Sea sounds bracing! Take a photo and you can post it on this site with an account of your experience, if you would like to.

    Reply
  9. Cold shower is so damn good! I just love taking cold showers early in the morning, like, 5 in the morning — Oh Man, it makes my senses alive! haha!

    Reply
  10. NoGasMan

    I was forced to try a cold shower when my gas was out of service. I googled the chances of having a heart attack and was reassured enough to at least try it. WOW! Talk about a boost! You know the commercials for “refreshing” soda where people are super happy and go “ahhhhh!” after a sip? It’s like that x10! I don’t know if I’ll keep doing it, as I shower at night and it’s the opposite of relaxing, but if you’re ever feeling down or exhausted and want a pick me up, this is “the miracle pill” without a doubt!

    My guess is since we would have to do this in nature anyways, our bodies use our reward systems after to balance out the initial discomfort in order to promote keeping ourselves clean for self preservation. Or maybe even for hunting, as you would both be more energized and clear-headed, as well as you would be cleaning your scent to not alert prey. So those that liked to bathe in the morning before hunting would fare better to spread their genes?

    Anyways, I don’t need a lab study to tell you I am pumping endorphins after! I can see how this would be addictive!

    Reply
    • Todd

      N-G Man, glad you found cold showers to be a “miracle pill”. And you are right about human history — plumbing and water heaters are very recent on the scale of human evolution. So cold water must be regarded as the “norm”, except for those who lived near natural hot springs.

      Stick with it — the joy of cold showers gets better every week. An occasional warm shower every couple weeks is nice, but if you make cold showers the norm, you’ll find that you never want to go “backward” to modernity.

      Reply
  11. Sadie

    I’m interested that taking cold showers stimulates the production of thyroxine. I have autoimmune thyroiditis, and I really suffer in the cold, despite taking thyroid medication– a good cold snap brings on something like a full-body ache. I wonder if switching to cold showers could improve my cold tolerance? I’m also curious how this would relate to Raynaud’s syndrome, which is a pretty common symptom across the autoimmune-disease board and happens in response to cold or stress.

    Reply
    • Todd

      Hi Sadie,

      There is at least some anecdotal evidence supporting your idea to try cold shower’s for Raynauld’s syndrome. I did a little searching and found this comment on Mark’s Daily Apple, in the comment section:

      I have suffered from a mild form of Raynaud syndrome all of my life. When I started using cold water therapy a few years back, one of the benefits that emerged several weeks later was a increase of blood circulation to my fingers and a cessation of the Raynaud Syndrome.

      I’ve not found any research specific to autoimmune thyroiditis. However, I think it is worth trying. Adaptation to cold showers will activate thermogenesis and you’ll at least have a countervailing mechanism that triggers your body to generate its own heat, and leave you feeling warmer most of the time. Don’t be afraid to experiment with this and see what works for you. The main advice I have is to make sure you take the cold shower for at least 5 minutes — shorter showers are not so effective. Grit your teeth and bear the discomfort the first time and have a warm towel ready when you get out. The real benefits kick in after about a week of doing the cold showers consistently. (Switching back to warm showers tends to cancel the benefits and you start over). So give it a week before you make a judgement.

      If you find no benefit after a week, what have you lost? It’s certainly less expensive that going to see a doctor!

      Please follow up and post what you find — pro or con.

      Todd

      Reply
  12. Todd – I was curious from where do you got all those small & precise details about cold showers ?

    Reply
    • Todd

      Mihai,

      The scientific details in the first half of the article come from studies that I hyperlinked (just click on the underlined text). The second half of the article comes from my personal experience and self-experimentation. Try these things for yourself, but give yourself a full week before you draw any conclusions. Also, time yourself to make sure you are in the cold shower at least 5 minutes, to get the full benefit.

      Reply
  13. Might be interested in The Four Hour Body’s section on ice baths/showers/cold weather walking. He does not go into mood elevation but utilizes it for fat loss.

    I have been doing my own tracking self experiment in regard to mood. Thus far it seems to help with strong up-ticks 5 min after the shower and lasting for 2 hours. It seems to, at the very least, give me momentum (if I use it) to keep the mood going. The biochemistry? I wish I had the tools to measure that.

    Here is Ray Cronise’s site that Ferriss took his cue from when writing the Four Hour Body. Nasa guy: http://hypothermics.com/home/

    Reply
  14. Sonia

    I found a good way to go about it for myself :
    -I warm up the bathroom just for the shower time
    -before hand, I fill a basin with cold water, soap up a washing glove.
    -I start scrubbing all over with a hemp body mitt, starting from the feet and up (I find it helps meeting with the cold water, does it defeat the hormesis effect?)
    -I then enter the shower space, and with a cup, I splash the water all over, starting from the feet.
    -I wash real fast.
    -then, I rince using the cup, and pour the basin over me, fill it again and pour it again, or use the shower.
    -after the cold shower, I find important to dry off completely, and then wear something warm immediately, including warm socks and hand gloves, and I do movements.
    I do that because I’m skinny, and my hands and feet, once they get cold, tend to remain that way for a long time…

    I also heard that you should first wet the back of your neck witht the cold water before the rest, to avoid a strong shock. Is it true?
    The feeling of a cold shower is truly amazing!
    I’ll keep doing it!

    I find your articles very interesting!

    Reply
    • Todd

      jscott, Sonia,

      Great to hear about all the method variations for cold showers. Tim Ferriss investigated 20 minute ice baths, which he likens to torture (he calls them “Guantanamo Bay baths”), sometimes even consuming cayenne pepper or an ECA drug supplement to accelerate thermogenesis. But he concluded that you can still get the effect using less extreme methods, including ice backs on the next and upper torso, or cold showers. Ferriss recommends starting out warm for 2 minutes, then going cold for 1-3 minutes. Sonia, I see that you also approach things gradually.

      My personal preference is to jump right in and get past the brief, intense discomfort. Try this. If you find it too bracing or even shocking to just jump right into a cold shower, then start warm, but gradually cut back on the amount of time before you switch to cold. The “shock” gets progressively shorter and less intense the more you do this. My personal experience is that you need at least 5 minutes in the cold to have a real benefit, and going to 7 minutes or longer gives a MUCH stronger benefit. It is important to exposure your most cold sensitive parts — for me, that includes my head, shoulders and particularly my hands. By the seven minute point, all the discomfort is gone and I’m feeling great.

      I’ve found that cold showers are not only great for mood, but (in combination with intermittent fasting and high intensity workouts), cold showers have definitely helped me lose significant body fat and gain lean muscle mass and strength.

      Reply
      • Sonia

        Thanks Todd for your reply and help, I’ll try jumping right in and lengthen the shower time to 5 minutes.
        Do your hands and feet stay cold afterwards? Mine are so skinny (like little sticks of wood…), do you think in time they will adjust temperature faster?
        Anyway, it feels great already, I look forward to getting stronger.

        Reply
        • Todd

          Sonia, yes, your hands and feet may take a little while to warm up after the shower. That effect should get more tolerable after a week or two. You may want to turn up the heat in your house or apartment a little or dress more warmly if it’s too cold.

          Consider a resistance exercise routine plus high protein and moderate carbs after workouts to put some muscle on your bones. That should also help you generate a little more “internal heat”.

          Reply
  15. Lee

    Thanks for all of the information.

    So if I start the cold showers for at least 5-7 minutes a day, how soon should I start seeing fat loss?

    Reply
    • Todd

      Give it 1-2 weeks. But remember: fat loss is not the same as weight loss. You can check out Tim Ferris (The 4-Hour Body) on accurate methods of measuring fat loss. Short of that, a very good test is to ignore the scale but pay attention to whether your pants are fitting more loosely. A thinner waist is a fairly reliable indicator of fat loss.

      Please come back and post your results here, whether or not you see the fat loss. This is all about 2-way learning and I (along with everyone else here) want to learn from your experience.

      Reply
  16. Sonia

    Hi Todd,

    I’ve been doing the cold showers for almost 2 months now, and I love it. I feel great.
    My question is : I just developped a bone spur on my wrist a few days ago, it’s the first time. I’ve had some joint pain for the last 3 years that come and go, but the cold shower didn’t seem to trigger that at all. It hasn’t bothered me too much lately.
    Do you think the bone spur is totally unrelated to the cold water?
    Just would like to make sure…

    Reply
  17. Sonia

    Thanks Todd.
    I actually did pull hard on my wrists last week, hanging from my hands on a vertical board to lengthen my spine, and then trying pull-ups. I remember now that it had hurt my left hand and arm…
    I think I should start an exercise routine more gradually.
    I do want to start a high intensity weight training though for strengthening in general.
    Thanks for the links, it’s very good information.

    The cold showers are great. I might soon try the cold baths.
    And I cut down on carbs already.
    It all feels very energizing.
    Thanks a lot for the great posts.

    Reply
  18. Modou

    Todd-i have to commend you on a job well done. You are indeed saving lives whether you’ve realized it or not. Kudos!
    I found out about cold Showers reading “God and Vitamins” by Majorie Holmes; you guys need to see if you can get a copy. The writer talks about natural ways to get your temple (body) natuarally clean, healthy and vibrant.
    I’d had some medical procedures where i’d been doped up and down week on and week out. After my treatments, i must have had a bunch of chemical toxins in my system as i had developed slight anxiety and a mild case of the blues.
    With Cold showers, after just three weeks, i felt much better. Evenutally i lost the jitters when brushing and just felt rejuvenated. My skin never breaks out and i’ve not had the cold in God, 2 years now.
    My friend have noticed since i’d always been the sickly one out the crew.
    Just some advice to those wanting to sleep sound at night; get a Hot Shower before bedtime.
    As a matter of fact, it will help those having sleep problems to wake up early right before bedtime, have a nice cold shower and then a hot one before bed. This basically resets your circadian rhythm (your bodys sleep clock).
    My blood pressure is great now, i used to feel the negative electric charges leave my body sometimes after cold showers. Kind of like tingling in my feet and hands. All that has now ceased. I feel Great!!

    Reply
    • Todd

      Modou,

      I’m so happy to hear that cold showers have been helpful to you, and that you are doing so much better. Thanks also for your book recommendation and your advice about warm evening showers to help with sleep. I also find that a late evening hot bath is very relaxing.

      Todd

      Reply
  19. This is so great! I actually read an article talking about some of the benefits of cold showers on http://www.artofmanliness.com a while back. Since then I’ve started to implement the occasional (couple times a week) temperature drop at the end of the shower.

    Now after reading this article I think I’ll go back to some occasional cold showers.

    Reply
    • Jon

      Here’s that link:

      http://artofmanliness.com/2010/01/18/the-james-bond-shower-a-shot-of-cold-water-for-health-and-vitality/

      Interesting references in the comments like this one:

      The ritual of taking a cold shower will show you facets of you are truly made up of and will very quickly and noticeably develop your willpower and discipline.

      “Beyond sheer pain thresholds, dousing will massively increase your overall body awareness or what researchers call “kinesthetic intelligence”. Kinesthetic researchers have found one common truth in their studies: it is difficult if not impossible to move a body part unless you are first able to feel it. From this perspective alone, cold water dousing will give you an entirely new awareness of your total body and make you able to explore and discover new subtleties in your movement. In Systema, we often say that you will live the way you douse. If you run away from the challenge of dousing and choose the comfort and warmth of your bed over the conditioning and intentional work of dousing, you are in effect choosing to reinforce weakness and the self-image of yourself as a quitter. If you douse, but race through the activity as something you simply “should” or “must” do but fail to appreciate the practice, then you will likely live most of your life in the identical way, without the mindfulness and joy you deserve. As Jack London wrote, “the purpose of man of to live, not to simply exist.” The way in which you douse will also evidence your body’s natural flinch responses.

      *** If during your douse, you flinch, hunch your body, grow tense and forget to breathe, you would likely react in the same manner in the face of any pain or extreme stress. ***

      Dousing will reveal much of your true nature. ” – http://www.systemanorway.com/default.asp?iId=JLEIH

      Reply
  20. Sonia

    Todd – I had access to a bath tub for a few days since I visited someone last week, so I was able to switch from the cold showers to the cold baths… impressive! It’s quite an experience. The rush of heat after is so intense, you dry off almost instantly, then there’s a wave of cold that settles for 10 minutes, and with a hot tea I was able to get back to my normal feeling of warmth.
    It reminded me of a day when I bathed in the English Channel during the month of October a few years back. The feeling was so exhilarating and powerful.

    Reply
    • Todd

      Sonia,

      Sounds delicious! I had a similar experience recently swimming in the Pacific Ocean last month. There was nobody else in the water but me — I suppose most people thought it crazy to be out there in the winter. But it is exquisitely invigorating. Glad to know you enjoy it.

      Todd

      Reply
  21. Aileen

    Todd, your blog is amazing. I love it. I just discovered it last week and I have been *devouring* it :)

    I used to (in my chronic cardio days) jump into my unheated pool after long runs on the weekend, while training for marathons. I never had any overuse injuries that many of my running friends had. I didn’t know anything about hydrotherapy, I was just hot and sweaty and would jump right in with my clothes on. I’d be freezing at first, my hubby would bring me tea or coffee and in a few minutes I was fine.

    I’ve heard of cold showers before, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Well. After reading about the concept of hormesis on this blog last week, I felt a pull, I felt drawn. I started on Friday.

    I stepped in and under, and immediately started to hyperventilate. And then started laughing uncontrollably. I had the fleeting thought that this must be what it feels like to skydive. I looked at my watch and it was 40 seconds! Holy crap. I kept changing postitions, rubbing my face helped alot, as did vigorously rubbing my head (as in shampooing) I kept laughing at the absurdity of it.

    At about 2.5 minutes I realized I was not freezing cold anymore. And that I felt GOOD. It was still cold, but bearable. My family thinks I’m nuts, they could hear me whooping and yelping and laughing.

    I was BRIGHT RED when I stepped out! Skin tingling. Felt like a million dollars. I’ve been doing it every day since, and a second time if I have an intense workout. Its only been a few days, but I know I am hooked.

    I will get back to you in a few months to report any changes in health. I have Raynaud’s, am slightly overfat, have anxiety and some sleep problems.

    Thank you for your blog.

    Reply
    • Todd

      Aileen,

      Sounds like you’ve got yourself hooked onto the absurdity and thrill of cold showers! It makes me smile to hear how similar your reactions are to mine — the laughing, fast breathing and eventual feeling “like a million dollars”. The hesitation to first step in and the initial shock never totally go away, but they do diminish significantly with time. (Check out my post on the opponent-process theory for an explanation of this). And the memory of how great cold showers make you feel is almost always sufficient to convince me to get through the first minute.

      Regarding Raynauld’s syndrome, check out comments #12 and #13 higher up in this comment thread, from December 13-14, 2010. in response to Sadie, who also had Raynauld’s. It seems that cold showers might help. Several others who were constitutionally cold have said cold showers keep them warmer during the day. I’ve also heard that fish oil is helpful in reversing Raynauld’s syndrome.

      For sleep problems, you might actually consider warm showers or baths right before bedtime.

      Glad to hear you are having fun exploring the blog. I find that hormetic practices are synergistic — if you combine hydrotherapy, calorie restriction, high intensity exercise and other practices the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. But each person has to find what works for his or her unique situation.

      Todd

      Reply
  22. lolaviee

    I totally totally totally despised cold showers. My boyfriend recommended it and I turned that down as quickly as I could bat an eye. The problem was, I was getting sick all the time. Not just ohhh you have a sniffly nose, I’m talking full body aches, head aches, runny nose, nauseous stomachs, horrendous coughs… and I had them all the time. Literally, one after the other and it was interfering with my daily life!

    So, I decided to take my boyfriend’s word.

    I don’t take completely cold showers. I rinse and shampoo in hot, then about two minutes before I’m ready to leave, I turn the nob to cold and just try to relax. It’s important to not be high stressed when in the cold shower. Try to relax. I stay in for a full two minutes and when I’m done, the feeling is like no other.

    Can I say amazing? My skin has cleared up, I stopped getting sick all together. I feel it coming on and then it just goes away!

    DO IT. Americans are too over medicated. COLD SHOWERS will make your skin clearer, your immune system will strengthen. I guarantee it! good luck ya’lls!

    Reply
    • Todd

      lolaviee,

      That’s great that your skin is clearer and you’re not getting colds any more. I also don’t get colds, even in winter, and I take cold showers even on the coldest days, as it seems to make me warmer the rest of the day. I also think that limiting dietary sugars helps you fend off colds and flus, and intermittent fasting really seems to starve those little buggers.

      Your approach of adding a “cold leg” at the end of a warmer shower seems to work for those who just can’t bear jumping into a cold shower. I’m all for gradualism and what works for where you are. But personally, I find that jumping straight in works best for me.

      Reply
  23. David

    Todd – I have been having these cold showers everyday for the past couple of months because of this blog and they’re awesome! I’m just wondering if the brain aches I get from these cold exposures are bad or not. Also I read elsewhere that they overwork the heart in trying to maintain thermoregulation of core temperature and limbs, and having them regulary can be fatal. The resource is probably false but I’m just curious.

    Also… Are they more hygeinic than hot water? And do they promote hydrated skin from enhanced osmosis?

    Reply
    • Todd

      David,

      Glad to hear you are enjoying daily cold showers. I used to get the “brain freeze” effect in the middle of my forehead — similar to eating ice cream too fast — in the beginning, but it went away after a few weeks of adaptation. I would not worry about that or overwork of your heart unless you have some kind of heart condition. After all, it is probably only within the last 200 years of our our 200,000 years of evolution that humans have even had regular access to heated water. I suppose the source that warned you about cold showers might also suggest that you should always drive and never walk, because you might collapse from overexertion when you walk.

      Regarding hygiene, my research and personal experience suggest that cold showers promote lustrously healthy skin and hair. Soap and shampoo work more effectively in warm water, so you may want to have an occasional warm shower if body oils or odors are a concern.

      Reply
      • David

        Ah okay, thanks alot!
        I think I read something suggesting that ancient Romans only bathed/showered like once a month anyway but true!

        Another question… Can the cold showers be unhealthy straight after excercising? (And still hot?) Due to rapid temperature change? – Because I got a little gym in my house and I usually shower after, (plus its winter!)

        Reply
        • Todd

          David,

          It’s not quite the same thing as what you are asking about, but this article on alternating hot and cold baths showed they improved markers of cardiovascular health in 70% of those with prior ischemic heart conditions:
          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9771141

          And this article found contrast baths more effective than either icing or heat for post workout recovery, to prevent soreness and inflammation:
          http://www.warriortrackandfield.uwaterloo.ca/tf/documents/baths.pdf

          I would have no worries about cold immersion after a workout unless you have a pre-existing heart condition that concerns you. If that is the case, see your doctor. You can also try using a graduated series of progressively cooler shores or baths to see how you adapt.

          Reply
  24. Schuyler

    Hey Todd,
    I first found links to this article on Highexistance.com one of my favorite websites these days. A lot of people in the community were talking about how great these were going for them so a few days ago I decided I would try it out. So I just said, “Yeah! Lets do this! Come on Schuyler.”(I really enjoy challenging myself and practicing various methods of self-discipline) I cracked the nob all the way to the cold and went in head first. Woooo! What a rush! I immediately began to “whoop” and laugh uncontrollably, it was such a thrill and awesome feeling. I absolutely loved it, like wow I couldn’t stop smiling. All your words rang true through the shower and afterwards as my body warmed itself and my alertness was taken to a new level. After just a few days of these I can also already see a great change in the rosacea (redness of skin) that had never left my face since my early teen years, it has greatly reduced and I’m betting it will barely be evident at all in the coming weeks. I can guarantee that I’m hooked and won’t be returning to the hot showers, just after these couple days. So thank you Todd, you’ve brought a great positive to my life and I’m very grateful :)
    -Schuyler

    Reply
    • Todd

      Schuyler, that’s great to hear that cold showers not only make you feel great, but have helped reduce your rosacea. A lot of people have commented that cold showers improve the feel and look of their skin and hair. That’s interesting to me, and I would be interested to find out what the mechanism might be for such changes. Keep in mind that cold water was probably the “norm” for most of our evolution, so perhaps it is not surprising that it’s best for our health.

      I hope you take the opportunity to root around on other postings on this website and forum about hormesis and, as you say, “challenging yourself and practicing other methods of self-discipline”. That’s what we’re all about here!

      Reply
  25. David

    Hey Todd, another question.
    Is it possible that you could get an overactive thyroid or hyper thalamus disease from 2 cold showers daily? Because of the high demand of thyroxine for metabolism? Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • Todd

      Hyperthyroidism is much less common than hypothyroidism, and there is no evidence that it could be caused by cold showers. Symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism are difficulty concentrating, fatigue, frequent bowel movements, heat intolerance, increased appetite, sweating and nervousness. I’ve found no evidence that any of these have been reported by people taking cold showers, and certainly they are symptoms I’ve not experienced. The typical causes of hyperthyroidism are excess iodine, Graves disease, inflammation or noncancerous growths on the thyroid gland, and taking excess thyroid hormone. Cold exposure is not listed among the causes.

      The hypothalamus (I assume that is what you meant by “hyper thalamus”) does play a role in regulating body temperature. However, if anything, intermittent cold exposure improves the ability of the hypothalamus to protect against cold stress, according to this study, although if taken to an extreme (another study with rats raised with constant cycling between 3 and 24 degrees C), there can be oversensitization of hypothalamic neurons and impaired immune function. However, as with everything else on this blog, what I advocate is intermittent, moderate stress — not chronic extreme stress!

      Reply
  26. Just took my first cold shower. Wasn’t as hard as I thought, and I feel great! Just like after swimming in the sea or river, but I didn’t realise I could have that same endorphin rush at home!

    Reply
    • Todd

      Great to hear. You’re “de man”. But don’t stop at one cold shower. Make it a habit, and you’ll experience the real benefits.

      Reply
  27. Alan

    I famously hate cold showers. But when my gym experienced a fault in the gas supplies this weekend they put up a sign at the entrance to warn us of the lack of hot water. I thought about turning around and going back home, but thought “Oh well. I’m here now.”
    I need to point out at this stage that I sweat like a pig most of the time and I find it really uncomfortable in the heat (fortunately I live in Scotland).
    After my workout I braced myself for a rough time. I counted to 5 and just jumped in, making sure I got my whole body wet as soon as possible to help acclimatise to the terror. I notice the cold most on my back and sides so I got these areas wet pretty quickly.
    The first thing I noticed was how my breathing changed and I was quite tense. But I loosened up after about 10 seconds and began enjoying it. Once I’d finished the hygeinic tasks of lathering and rinsing I stood under the flow for about 2 minutes longer than necessary.
    When I stepped out I felt dry almost immediately and had a nice cool feeling. I felt like I could go back and do the workout all over again!!
    Usually I start sweating again in the changing rooms which stops when I step into the cool air outside. And then I’ll normally sweat on the train home. But not anymore!! I’ve done this 3 times now (including a frosty blast at home) and have recommended it to my brother who also tends to sweat like crazy.
    I’m a total convert now. My fear of cold water – my squeamishness – has vanished. With any luck this will rub off on other areas of my life and make me a bit more disciplined. Often I procrastinate and it makes me feel disgusted with myself. Cold showers and generally grabbing life by the unmentionables could be a good regimen for me. It beats the spell in the Navy that my grandpa always prescribed to us when we were kids!!
    Great blog by the way. I’ll need to have a look at the other articles.

    Reply
  28. Arlo

    I did the cold shower thing for about a week a few months ago, but just started back into it today. Actually, about half an hour ago.

    I have to say, it’s pretty amazing how exhilarating it is. I almost immediately feel like moving and vocalizing and if my housemates aren’t around (like today), I do. Acted pretty silly, but it was fun and hardly not enjoyable.

    I don’t start off super cold to start with. Usually a minute warm/hot, then dropping it in increments until it’s flat out on the coldest setting. It’s amazing the first few times, you think, “This can’t possibly get any colder”.. but it does, oh yes, it does!

    Reply
  29. Chuck t

    TODD- for the past 10 years now I have been taking cold showers morning and night and now I go skiing with only shorts and Tee-shirt and it is amazing!

    Reply
  30. Cool showers were a central practice described in detail in the book “The Cold Diet” by Dr. Paul-Robert Thomas. He also advocated dressing cooler and drinking min. 2 litre a day of cold water.

    Reply
    • Correction: the title of the book was “The Cool Diet” which was a translation of the french book “Refreshingly Thin” circa 1986. Dr. Thomas did a lot of research into the physiological effects of living just below our thermal neutral point (where we feel neither hot nor cold).

      Reply
  31. peterpatch

    I started taking cold showers about 4 days ago. I still start off with warmish water and then dial it down( maybe 3 times) until it is as cold as possible. Today I did about 5 minutes at the coldest possible temperature (59-60 degrees). I am gradually decreasing the start temperature and eventually will just jump right in at the lowest temperature, which is my way of practicing hormesis within hormesis. I have noticed that my mood is always elevated right after the cold shower and I feel ready to take on the day. I feel very awake after the cold shower, I have always had a hard time getting the cobwebs out of my head after waking up and this clears my head much better then caffeine ever did.

    Today I observed that right before I got into the shower a part of me was saying “don’t do it!” louder then it ever had before. However I thought about it and there was no logical reason for this thought, I think it was just some sort of homeostatic response meant to get me back to my old habits. So I just jumped in the shower and I feel great now. I think you mentioned that jumping in the shower when you feel least like doing it is good for habit forming as it sort of crushes that homeostatic response and better establishes the desired positive response to the cold shower stimulus. Hopefully through jumping into the shower when my mind is screaming no I will be able to overcome this hurdle.

    One other point that I haven’t seen observations on is that cold showers make me about how our perceptions of time work. When I am in the cold shock phase of the cold shower every minute seems like 5 or 10 minutes have passed. I time my cold showers and when I check my time I sometimes can’t believe how little time has passed. In the past when I took hot showers I used to be able to fall into a sort of highly relaxed stupor and when I got out I couldn’t believe how much time had passed.

    Thanks for the great info I will be scouring your blog for more useful info.

    Mike

    Reply
  32. larry

    I stumbled on the cold shower thing a few months ago when reading Rafa Nadal’s autobiography. In the intro he says that before every match he takes an ice cold shower to get focused and centered. I became curious and sure enough there was a lot of info on the web as well as some published papers about the benefits. Anyway, I have been doing it for the past several months (I start warm/hot and go ice at the end) and I have to say it has bloody well changed my life. I am quite aware of placebo effects but I can say that the results of this practice are quite real. As others have said, I feel a distinct and difference all day. It may have to do with the HPA axis or neurotransmitters, or whatever, but it is definitely a more stable, centered feeling of well-being.
    I also want to point out a couple of things I haven’t seen mentioned but which I think may be important. First, I think the cold shower must also cause the release of endorphins which may be responsible for some of the mood lifting/stabilizing effects. The other thing is that by using self-discipline to stay in the cold you are working those brain areas involved in “will power.“ This is not trivial and may also contribute to the overall benefits. It is not for everyone and I don’t usually suggest it to others lightly but the results can be pronounced.

    Reply
  33. Elliott

    I love turning the dial to cold, I have one slight issue though that makes me suffer more than anything else.
    When putting my head uner the cold water I get really bad brain freeze!
    I try to endure it but the pain is really bad.
    The rest of my body is ok with the cold but not my head.
    Any tips?

    Reply
    • Troy

      Just one word Elliott. Patience.

      Reply
  34. Oliver

    Okay, I have only one concern with cold water therapy that I havent had resolved and that is: is it okay/good for the joints?

    Reply
  35. I’m quite into jogging and about a month ago started taking cold showers. Usually when I jog I get to about about 7 miles, hit the “the wall” and go home. However, after taking cold showers for a month I have found I am able to breakthrough “the wall” and have increased my longest run to 11 miles. Whether this is purely down to the cold showers, I don’t know, but it sure has helped!

    Reply
  36. Nathan

    Todd,
    Thank you for the excellent article and comments. I was taking cold showers only occasionally in the past, primarily when I needed a good wake up, but for the last month they have become part of my daily routine and I love it. I see significant change for the better in my body and mind.
    I have read the questions and your responses on cold showering after exercising. However, what I very much like doing is take a 5-10 min cold shower before starting my exercise routine. This invigorates me and the exercise warms me up nicely afterwards. Your thoughts?
    Nathan

    Reply
    • Todd

      Hi Nathan,

      I’m glad to hear you’ve found the benefits of making cold showers a daily habit, as opposed to an occasional refresher. Daily exposure to cold water fosters a long term adaptive response.

      While cold showers are no doubt useful as a post-workout “cool down”, which helps to reduce possible inflammation, I think the effect of starting out with a cold shower is different. Starting with a cold shower when you are not already warm tends to induce so-called “shivering thermogenesis” (as opposed to non-shivering thermogenensis). This generates internal body heat, which is useful in your pre-exercise warm up. And if you take cold showers routinely, your hypothalamic control of body temperature is improved, so you learn to heat up more quickly and efficiently.

      The other “paradox” that athletic trainers understand is that cold treatment is typically more effective and fast-acting than warm treatment in reducing inflammation and injury. (Adding warmth later on can provide other benefits associated with enhanced circulation). So your pre-workout cold shower probably protects you to some extent against pulling a muscle.

      Todd

      Reply
      • Nathan

        Todd, thanks for the thorough reply. Indeed, the cold showers are invigorating and, the more I get used to them, enjoyable. My objective is to undertake a regimen of one in the morning and a second before by workout in the afternoon.
        Thanks again for all the great information.

        Reply
  37. Satvari

    Great post!

    All these positive feedback is encouraging me to give it a try.

    A couple of questions:
    Is it necessary to take more than one cold shower throughout the day to feel the full benefits, or is one cold shower in the morning enough?

    How long should the cold shower be for a beginner?

    How long should it be when one has adapted to the coldest water temp?

    Reply
  38. I grow up having cold showers in Brazil but now living in Ireland I find impossible come back to the old time. My shower time is getting worst, because is nearing boiling water.

    Reply
  39. Matt

    After reading 4 hour body it’s difficult not to try and learn more about cold showers. It came as kind of a surprise to me that the things that are generally associated with hot water aren’t mentioned. Because of the how water sitting in your water heater I’ve read that it has metals and rust in it. Cold showers would also avoid the rapid absorption of chlorine associated with hot showers.

    I guess what I’m getting at is cold showers = less toxins. Any thoughts?

    Also I was wondering if there could be any improvements to the scheme. I guess heating the areas where you wanted to lose fat externally wouldn’t help because the consumption of calories in our example is full body and internal. So if that wouldn’t work maybe targeting you problem area with exercise? If that would have any effect would it have more of an impact before or after?

    Thanks for reading and posting this blog.

    Reply
  40. ben

    For the last 40days i take cold showers every morning and night before sleep.

    I take 2mins hot shower then 3mins cold shower ,then warm shower ,

    then 5mins cold showers .

    Is this better ?

    or only cold shower 10mins for heath?

    Reply
    • Todd

      Ben,

      What you are describing is known as a “contrast shower”, by analogy with contrast baths that involve moving back and forth between hot and cold water immersion. Many people advocate this on the basis that alternating cold and hot helps circulation and helps “expel toxins” by cycling between vasoconstriction and vasodilation. There may indeed be some benefit to that. But the benefits from pure cold showers are different. I find that adaptation to the cold is stronger and more sustained if you avoid alternation with hot or warm water. And cold water adaptation has many of its own health benefits, as noted above.

      So there is no straightforward answer to your question “which is better”? I think the health benefits are different. My advice is to experiment yourself, and observe what works best for your immunity (fewer colds, etc.), your mood and energy level, and your metabolism. Don’t trust too much in what you read — always try it for yourself and observe!

      Todd

      Reply
      • ben

        Don’t trust too much in what you read — always try it for yourself and observe!

        Very good advice tks a lot .

        I ll tell more my result a month later : what i feel and how to do ?

        Reply
  41. Nathan

    Todd,
    thanks again for the excellent article and blog. Now that summer is in full swing and tap water has gotten considerably warmer, I am concerned that any adaptation I acquired during the winter months will be lost. Any suggestions as to how to maintain cold water adaptation? I have tried ice water dousing, which I find invigorating, but only lasts a few seconds, as I can only prepare a couple of gallons at a time in my refrigerator.
    Thanks,
    Nathan

    Reply
    • Todd

      Nathan,

      You can still foster cold adaptation and reap its rewards using water that is not ice cold, but merely cool. The key factor is not water temperature but the rate of heat transfer away from your skin. The more of your skin that is immersed, and the more rapidly the water around your body moves at the skin surface, the faster you will lose heat. Static water on your skin surface warms at the boundary layer, greatly slowing the temperature gradient that drives heat transfer. Turbulent water transfers heat much more rapidly.

      If you are using cold showers as your preferred mode of cold immersion, use a shower head with maximum flow and constant move around directly under the shower head to wet all the most sensitive parts of your body — especially hands, head, neck, shoulders and armpits. If you are using cold baths, avoid being too still in the water. You can actually get faster heat transfer by swimming or splashing about in a 65-70 degree pool, lake or river, than by soaking passively in a 50 degree tub. You can also use a tub or fill a large hot tub, cistern or barrel with water out of the hose and make a point of sloshing around actively. If you are rapidly moving your arms and legs, and letting the cool water get into your armpits and under your body, you’ll feel a lot cooler than if you sit in the tub as still as rock.

      So forget all the ice dousing and try increasing your degree of immersion and movement in the cool water. It’s mainly about heat transfer rate, not water temperature.

      Todd

      Reply
  42. Jerry202

    The best thing I ever did was start taking cold showers about a week and a half ago when I read about it. I used to take abnormally hot showers but never really thought about it until I read about the benefits of cold showers. I always thought hot showers were good for you if anything. My skin was dry, flaky, and not tone at all. I felt aching throughout my body for years and suffered from insomnia. That all went away when I started taking cold showers. I feel great, I feel better than I ever did in my life, except when maybe I was a little kid prior to torturing myself without knowing it. I highly recommend cold showers, they basically saved my life(not literally, I wasn’t suicidal,) but they did got my life on track. lol.

    Reply
  43. Steve L

    Thanks for all this. Upon discovering cold therapy on Mark Sisson’s site, I started taking cold showers a little over a month ago. After discovering your wonderful blog, shortly thereafter, I have become addicted. I don’t think I’ve missed a day. An added benefit–after nearly 40 4-H New York City summers (Hazy, Hot, Humid, Horrid)– we’re in the midst of our second heat wave of 2012, it’s been no problem. In the past I’d always dreaded summer here, a 3+ month condemnation to purgatory. I’m not a believer in miracles, but this is close. Thank you. Cheers, SL.

    Reply
  44. Reka

    I thought having heavy gasping was my extreme reaction, good to see that it’s normal in the beginning!

    Reply
  45. Hardcore

    For beginners taking cold showers.
    When you jump under that cold shower.
    Inhale strongly ,deeply through your nose.
    Exhale through mouth.This helps me against the first cold experience stress…
    Iv been taking cold showers for 6 months now. Great feeling!
    I take a warm shower once a week and end it with cold.

    Take cold showers less then 8 minutes. Keep them short.
    Off course not in out ;-) 1 sec
    I also take them before i go to bed. Great experience.
    Jump under the sheets….warm up…and you will sleep like a baby!
    Greetz,

    Henk(netherlands)

    Reply
  46. Cris

    Todd, thanks for this great article! I’ve been taking cold showers for 3-4 days and I’m hooked. I feel absolutely amazing. I take 2-3 a day. I have a question for you since you’re knowledgeable about this:

    I start with hot or warm water, soap, shampoo and rinse and after I turn it to cold 100%, wash my legs, arms then entire body and shower with cold water for about 5 or 10 more minutes. Is jumping straight in the cold water better than this?

    Thanks a lot Todd,
    Cris

    Reply
  47. LaceyM

    Cant wait to try this!! Found your blog tonight after my boyfriend upset me when he wouldn’t give
    Me a “real kiss” before leaving for work because he didn’t want to get sick… I’m not sick?? But he’s afraid due to co workers being sick and getting it from their kids… I have a 7 yr old and I work in a highschool. So I remembered an accuaintance who studied Russian martial arts and swore and declore that his periodic winter time, outdoor, buckets of ice water over his entire body were the only thing that kept his two sons from getting him sick! Well now that I’ve read all these declarations .. I’m sending the link to him and I’m going to try it myself!! I have keratosis pilaris (a build up of keratin that shows on my arms and legs looking almost like acne) and have periodically returning symptoms of Lyme disease and I’m curious to see if this helps!!! Thanks for all the detailed info! I will definitely stop back and let you know how it works!!!

    Reply
  48. Nancy

    Todd,
    I started taking cold showers just recently partly because I missed swimming in cold water and partly because I learned that katheryn Hepburn was an absolute addict. She was also a regular ocean swimmer. I’m trying to lose some fat, love your site! I used to swim in Maine where water temps are really cold. I was wondering, ocean water also full of salt and other minerals, think they have good detox benefits? Thoughts?

    Reply
    • Todd

      Nancy,

      Good comments. I love Kathryn Hepburn! First and foremost as a talented actress. But my fondness for her only grew when a few years ago I learned that she swims in the cold ocean. We have a coffee table book, “The Private World of Kathryn Hepburn”, with great photographs of Kate. On page 39, there’s a photo of the actress taking a dip in the icy ocean, with the caption:

      Fenwick in mid-February. Kate emerges from her morning dip in Long Island Sound, tiptoeing across the ice and snow. The thermometer outside the kitchen door registers 5 degrees, and brother Dick reports the windchill is 20 degrees below zero. She has been making these swims since she was five. “Not everyone is lucky enough to understand how delicious it is to suffer,” she says. It is part of the old Yankee tradition handed down from her father. In warm weather she takes an ice-cold shower each morning.

      My sentiments exactly.

      As to the detox possibilities of salt water — I don’t know. One site suggests the answer is yes:

      http://www.livestrong.com/article/406804-what-health-benefits-do-you-get-by-swimming-in-ocean-sea-minerals/

      I’m not sure, however, what physical or chemical mechanism could explain the detoxification effect, if it in fact exists. I doubt that much of the salt or other minerals actually diffuses into the skin. A more likely scenario would be that the salt water acts osmotically to draw out water and other soluble toxins.

      Todd

      Reply
  49. Uselis

    Hey

    I read that taking warm shower before working out loosens up your muscle so its quite similar to warm up.Is there any benefits to take 4-8 minutes cold shower before work out?

    Reply
    • Todd

      The effects are completely different. A pre-workout warm up — either shower or physical activity — improves immediate blood flow to the muscles and extremities, improving physical performance. Cold showers or cold immersion activates longer term changes via hormesis. A cold shower right before a workout would probably be counterproductive and might even risk injury to stiffened muscles.

      Reply
  50. claudia rowe

    Interesting post. Funny though, I regularly see the Bondi Beach Iceberg winter swimmers (loonies) pacing up and down the pool in winter and they all look the tinsiest bit chubby in their budgie smugglers (read: Speedos).

    Although that could be more the celebratory chips, cereals and bread they scarf down post swim!

    Reply

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