The Incredible Benefits of Cold Showers, Ice Baths & Sub Zero Temperatures
There’s a kindergarten in Southern Siberia called Rodnichok (or “Water Spring”), where negative double digit temperatures are not uncommon.
There, every day after morning exercises, the five and six year olds put on their bathing suits and happily head outdoors where they proceed to play in the snow, throw a few snowballs, and pour a bucket of ice water onto their heads. Then, they head back indoors for a snack and go on with their day.
The whole thing happens in about 90 seconds. Check it out:
It seems a little nutty. Cruel even, but I assure you, it’s anything but.
The school has been doing it for the past 18 years as a way of boosting the kids’ immunity and resistance to illness.
“Some 18 years ago we gathered together teachers and doctors to speak about our children’s health. They were catching influenzas, and there were moments when half of the children attending the kindergarten were unwell,” says teacher Lyubov Daniltsova.
Scientists at Yale argue that our immune systems aren’t as strong at lower temperatures. The rhinovirus (responsible for our coughs and colds) takes advantage of the cold air in our noses and multiplies more quickly, which would explain why we tend to get sick in the winter months.
The school’s logic behind building immunity through brief but repeated exposure to cold makes sense. It classic hormesis – the idea that a beneficial effect (increased immunity, strength, bone health for example) comes from low doses of a stressful or harmful agent (cold water, exercise, sunlight).
Daniltsova adds, “What six months of these water exercises showed was an immediate stronger resistance to illnesses. Our kids were now able to go to the kindergarten and even if someone had infection, they were no longer catching it.”
And it’s not just a Siberian thing. For decades, Nordic parents and daycare centers have been letting their babies nap outdoors in their prams as a way to expose them to the fresh air keep them healthy.
After reading this, I decided to throw my kids in their swimsuits, fill a couple of buckets with ice water, head outside and…
I kid, I kid. I will be doing no such thing to my children.
But me, on the other hand, well bring on the cold.
Cold Therapy is Nothing New
Human beings have been healing with cold (and heat) for hundreds of years.
Today, we reach for the ice pack whenever we get a bump or bruise or sprain. It reduces pain and minimizes swelling. Athletes take ice baths after workouts to speed up the recovery process. Others swear by cold showers, cold water plunges and ice baths, and Cryotherapy (cold air chambers) is becoming quite a popular treatment for it’s ability to decrease inflammation, pain and improve overall health.
It turns out that a little cold, whether it be water, air or ice on the skin is good for you. It not only increases your tolerance for stress, it also aids the immune system, cardiovascular health, hair, skin, joints, muscles and even mood and energy.
Why? Because when you are exposed to cold, your body goes into defense mode. It shivers, your heart rate increases, the muscles contract and expand causing your skin to break out into goosebumps, and you gasp for air. In doing so,
- the body produces more white blood cells that activate and strengthen immune system (i.e. fewer colds and flus) and reduce inflammation and swelling
- blood flows to the organs to keep them warm, which improves overall circulation and oxygen flow
- skin and scalp pores close which keeps the skin and hair looking smooth and healthy
- brown fat in the body (the kind that’s responsible for raising the body’s temperature) is activated during cold exposure which generates heat, raises your metabolism and burns off the fat
The benefits of cold therapy are vast and are backed up by a number of compelling (though not comprehensive) studies that show promise for the above conditions, as well as fatigue, depression, male fertility, sleep quality, and even some forms of cancer.
That’s why one of my morning routine activities involves – you guessed it – a cold shower.
My Cold Shower Experiment
First thing’s first – I’m a wimp. I HATE cold pools, and by cold I mean anything lower than 88 degrees. I don’t care how hot and sticky it is outside, I won’t get in.
But I got in the shower and, as expected, I shrieked like a little baby the first (and second, third, fourth and fifth) time I felt the cold water on my skin. I shivered and complained and counted the seconds until it was all over.
But with every day that’s passed, the water has felt a little less torturous and a little more refreshing, and I’m happy to report that as week 2 draws to a close, the cold showers (for the record they start off hot and turn cold for the final 2-3 minutes, although I’d like to get to 5) have become – dare I say it – pleasant. It’s the best boost of energy there is. My skin feels softer. I feel stronger, braver, awake and ready to take on whatever the day has in store.
Which is exactly what I do. I get dressed, head to the kitchen for breakfast and get on with my day.
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