The Paleo diet is an excellent framework for better health. By taking a page from our ancestors’ playbook, we can make the right choices about what to eat (and avoid) in an age where modern diets are making people overweight and sick.
But there are plenty of “non-Paleo” things—like air conditioning, exercise machines, and modern medicine—which are available, making it much easier to stay healthy and comfortable.
One of those things is something you probably take for granted: hot water.
Unless you’ve jumped into some cold springs or hung out under a waterfall lately, you probably enjoy your warm shower or bath without really thinking about it.
Most of the time, you don’t even notice the hot water unless it runs out. That’s when you start hopping around in the shower, cursing and screaming before reaching for the nearest towel.
The idea of cold showers—abandoning your hot water willingly—seems a bit crazy…
Or is it?
Enter the Cold Shower
Most Paleo hacks—simple changes you can make to live healthier—are really about going back to the basics. The principles aren’t usually new, but they help you to avoid some of the dangerous side effects of modern lifestyles.
Bathing in cold water is no different. People in civilizations across the globe have been taking plunges into icy rivers, lakes, and waterfalls to cleanse themselves physically (and sometimes spiritually) for thousands of years.
People are still doing it. You might’ve seen pictures or videos of crazy Scandinavians waiting in line in the middle of the winter to plunge into an icy lake.
Don’t worry. I’m not suggesting you do anything that intense.
You don’t need to hurl yourself into an icy lake or go for a polar swim…
But if you’re willing to turn down the heat in your shower, you can experience some pretty incredible health benefits.
6 Incredible Health Benefits of Cold Showers
Taking cold showers regularly offers a wide range of health benefits.
Ultimately, this lifestyle hack will increase your body’s ability to handle stress—whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional.
It’s pretty amazing just how much a little cold water every day can help. Here are just a few of the many incredible benefits:
1. Boost Your Immune System
I don’t know about you, but my mom always warned my brothers and me to stay dry whenever it was cold and rainy out. She was worried (as all moms are) about her kids getting sick.
So it might sound counterintuitive that intentionally exposing yourself to cold water can actually boost your immune system. But it’s true.
A 1993 study conducted in England found that regular cold showers actually increased the number of white blood cells (which fight off diseases) in people compared to those who took warm showers (1).
How does it work? When you’re under the cold water, your body tries desperately to warm itself. Your metabolism speeds up, and during this process your immune system activates. That’s when you end up releasing more white blood cells.
2. Fight Depression
Cold showers aren’t just the ultimate wake-up call. There’s even some evidence they can help you overcome feelings of depression.
When the cold water hits you, it feels like every nerve in your body is firing. (Take a cold shower and you’ll know what I mean). All of these impulses at once act as a kind of reset for your brain, resulting in a mood-boosting effect.
In a 2007 study from Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine, researchers found that cold showers can ward off depression symptoms. The researchers concluded that, if you take cold showers regularly, they might even be more effective than prescription antidepressants (2).
The study also touched on the mechanism by which this works. Cold showers might stimulate the brain’s “blue spot.” This blue spot is the primary source of a hormone called noradrenaline (it’s also called norepinephrine), a chemical that can fight depression (3).
(Related: 5 Ways A Paleo Diet Can Help Depression)
3. Prevent Muscle Soreness
Athletes soak in ice baths to deal with the physical strain of intense games and practice sessions.
This isn’t just tradition or some kind of test of pain tolerance. There’s scientific evidence that exposure to cold water can prevent muscle soreness. A 2009 study found that cold bathers were effective in relieving sore muscles from one to four days after exercises (4).
You can follow their examples. And you don’t need to fill your bathtub with ice to reap the benefits. Cold showers might not be quite as effective as fully submerging yourself in a frigid ice bath, but they do help prevent muscle soreness. And the best part: you don’t need access to a state of the art training facility or a ton of ice.
4. Boost Self-Discipline and Willpower
When you take cold showers, you’re exposing your body to an uncomfortable (but manageable) amount of stress.
Doing this over and over again forces your nervous system to adapt. The cold water’s coming, and your body adapts by making you better able to handle stress.
It’s like strength training. There, you’re breaking down your muscles so they’ll rebuild stronger than they were before. The systematic stress is what makes the entire process work.
So taking cold showers is a great way to boost your willpower and discipline. Things that used to bother you won’t bother you quite as much anymore. Building a habit of doing something uncomfortable translates into an ability to handle other uncomfortable situations—situations that make you grow.
5. Increase Energy and Alertness
If you’ve ever jumped into really cold water, you know it can be tough to breathe.
You feel like you’re gasping for air—at least in the first few seconds. But don’t let this scare you off! This deep breathing can actually jump-start your day by increasing your oxygen intake and heart rate dramatically. You’ll feel an energy boost that lasts for up to several hours after every shower.
If you’re trying to kick your caffeine habit, cold showers might be just the ticket. Even if you aren’t, it’s hard to find a better way to shake off lethargic feelings in the morning.
6. Faster Fat Loss
Did you know cold showers could speed up fat loss?
It’s true. There are two types of fat in your body: brown fat and white fat. White fat is no good. It’s the pudgy belly or muffin top we all hate. Brown fat, on the other hand, is actually good because it helps you stay warm and generate heat.
When you take a cold shower, the shock activates your brown fat. One study found that cold showers increase the brown fat found on your upper neck, chest, and shoulders by up the 15 times the normal amount (5). This can help burn stubborn white fat that builds up on your belly and waistline.
How to Take a Cold Shower
It might seem silly to talk about how to take a cold shower…
It’s simple, right? Turn the shower knob to the cold side instead of the hot, jump in, and grit your teeth.
I tried that my first time. I lasted about five seconds before I dove out of the shower, practically ripping the curtain to get out, and scrambled for the nearest towel.
Not a very pleasant experience…
But you don’t have to do that!
You don’t have to dive in like that. You can ease into your cold showers like any other new habit.
One thing that worked well for me was taking “Scottish Showers.” You start out with warm water like normal. Then you gradually decrease the temperature until the water’s cold when you finish. It’s a lot less intense than jumping straight into the cold.
Submerging your head in cold water is probably the last thing you want to do. But I’ve found that covering your entire body with cold water as quickly as possible is the fastest way to warm up. It’s intense, but it’s much easier than trying to acclimate one body part at a time!
Then, you can just keep gradually increasing the time you spend under the cold water. It might only be 10 seconds your first few showers. That’s fine. Bump it up to 20 next time. Then 30. Go until you get a full minute.
The idea here is to work your way up to 5 minutes of cold shower time. That’s all you need to feel awesome—and enjoy all the cool health benefits.
An important caveat: cold showers contract your blood vessels quite a bit. So if you have high blood pressure or a heart condition, don’t try this before talking to your doctor.
Making Cold Showers a Regular Part of Your Life
If you only take a cold shower once every two or three weeks, you aren’t providing enough consistent stress for your body to adapt—and enjoy all the cool health benefits.
A one-time cold shower is a great wake-up call, but regular cold showers (as part of a lifestyle change) lay a foundation for better health.
If taking cold showers “forever” seems like too much of a commitment (it did for me), treat this as a 30-day experiment. Don’t worry if you end up skipping a day. Just get back on track as soon as you can. Once you go 30 days, you can decide if you want to continue.
Will You Take the Plunge?
Taking cold showers is a simple lifestyle upgrade that provides a ton of health benefits.
Yes, they’re uncomfortable. Yes, it sucks when you aren’t used to them. But making them a regular part of your life will leave you feeling great, healthy, and unaffected by some of the daily stresses that used to bother you.
Sounds like a fair trade to me.
Have you ever tried cold showers? What was your experience like? Leave a comment below and let us know!
(Read This Next: 3 Ways To Detoxify Your Body Naturally)