In 2018 I started learning more about the power and benefit of cold water therapy and taking cold showers for improved health. Since I spend a good deal of my life living along coastlines in between stays for my house sitting and pet sitting business - (currently living in Hobart) where there is no access to hot, let alone fresh water, the thought of living more in alignment with my surroundings, just seemed to resonate with me and fit in with my minimalist lifestyle.
I was also inspired by a 63 year old Nordic guy called Wim Hof (also known as The Iceman) who has taken cold therapy (importantly, he incorporates breathing techniques to magnify the experience) to extremes. I spent many hours reading, listening and watching him in his videos. What was clear to me was that this guy was on to something. He seemed alive, vibrant, unbelievably driven, and incredibly passionate about promoting the benefits of cold therapy to the world.
Wim Hof appears to be almost super human. I guess if someone can climb Mount Everest in a pair of shorts, or run a marathon in a desert without drinking water, and have over 20 Guinness Book of Records, they could probably sit comfortably with that title.
So, to cut a long story short, I decided to take a cold shower during a stay in Western Australia at the end of 2018. (16 years earlier I recalled that I did several weeks of cold showers while living in Western Australia - but back then, that was entirely due to very hot weather conditions). That first cold shower then became two, then it became a week. After that first week I decided to set a goal to have cold showers only for 12 months - that's right, no hot showers at all. Did I achieve that goal you might ask?
Yes I did. No hot showers or hot baths or saunas or the like - just cold showers and regular dips in the cool southern seas on Tasmania's beautiful and pristine East Coast in between. It's now October 2020, and to this point, I have still stayed with the cold shower theme. For me, for now, it has become a way of life. It still challenges me - that is one of the key reasons why I do continue to do it.
But why do I do this, why do I put myself into a relative state of discomfort (and to be clear here, the feeling I get doing this is anything but discomfort - it strengthens me) when I often do have the choice to take a hot shower?
There are a lot of reasons why I do this. Primarily, like my approach to intermittent fasting, my reasons are for health. Secondarily, it's about discipline and aligning myself with, and to, behaviours that fit in with my current minimalist lifestyle.
Let's look at some of the benefits in taking cold showers and exposing your body to cold water:
- Cold water improves your circulation.
- Exposure to cold activates brown fat tissue - brown adipose (fat) tissue is produced when your body is cold and contains a lot of mitochondria (they enable us to burn more fat).
- Weight loss (see comments above re mitochondria).
- Speeds up body metabolism.
- Reduces body inflammation and enhances muscle recovery.
- Boosted immunity response - fewer symptoms of diseases.
- Increased levels of focus and concentration.
- Improved sleep.
- Resilience. (exposure to cold can counteract or be a response to the fact that our lives have become too temperature regulated and soft due to home heating and air conditioning).
- And last, but certainly not least, cold water exposure enables us to cope with stress in our lives. If we can handle a cold shower, then that is something we can leverage as we manage our stress responses to life.
Some further thoughts about cold showers and cold dips in the ocean:
Most people I speak to say they couldn't or wouldn't do what I do. Fair enough I say - it is not for everyone.
Think of it this way though. With 168 hours in a week. One cold shower (or as some people do, cold alternated with warm or hot) a day between 1-4 minutes equates to a fraction of 1% of that day. For me, that is a good investment in my health, and worth my time.
I have found that cold water showers seem to be easier and more tolerable when I shower in a park or on a beach in an outdoor environment. When I am inside, cold showers often appear to be colder. Perhaps this is because of the enclosed environment of a shower cubicle or the fact that it is inside of a temperature regulated home. Who knows?
What have I noticed in terms of my body and how I feel?
When I take a cold shower, my body warms up. In fact, when I shower and dress, or go to bed following a cold shower, I seem to be warm.
I feel alive. I feel present. It is invigorating and life affirming for me to know that I am not confined by my circumstances, or my limited thinking, by needing to hold off to get a hot shower to be clean. As has been the way with my minimalist lifestyle, I have continued to find ways that compliment the way I live.
Over my lifetime, there have been times when my body, and my joints, get cold. In the middle of Winter there were numerous times I would take a cold shower before going to bed. Shortly afterwards, I would feel warm. I did not expect that.
I tried this with immersing myself in sea water as well. In fact, leading right into Tasmanian Winter, I would enter the water and stay in for times approaching 30 minutes. Once out of the water, I would dress and then feel warm.
In terms of conditioning my body to tolerate cold conditions, it is fair to say that I know that I could tolerate colder temperatures for longer now that I have lived this way for nearly 2 years.
To be noted here however, is the fact that during this time, I have not exposed myself to ice baths or ice water at all. The whole time has been exposure to natural cold or cool water temperatures as nature presents them, so in the grand scheme of things, my cold water therapy is anything but extreme. In fact it could be seen as being quite natural.
There are many, many ways to improve your health and well being. The key is to not only find what works for you, but also, to be open to look beyond what it is that you already know to be good healthy options.
And next time you find yourself stuck in cold water, or being caught in the rain? Remember that it may very well be doing you a world of good!
Craig Hedge is a professional life coach based in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
Disclaimer: This article is NOT health advice. Please do your own research to determine if cold showers and cold therapy is for you. There are risks with cold water immersion. Consider seeking medical/professional advice and direction before proceeding with any cold immersion techniques.