Man doing handstand under a cold shower

Research: A Cold Shower Leads to Fewer Sick Days

A cold shower may not sound appealing to many - particularly during the colder months.

But it's something we should seriously consider due to the mounting health benefits.

It's something I've warmed to (yep, I went there) over the last few years. These perceived health benefits of a cold plunge coupled with my own experiences have left me with a lot to be thankful for.

When you break it down a cold shower really is a natural phenomenon. Out in the wild, it's rare to find a body of water that's steaming hot in the spirit of our usual hosing down rituals. When you think of it like this it's almost strange that the majority of our bathing and showering isn't in the cold. Sure a hot shower feels great and most likely has it's own health benefits, but where's the balance?

This stands out, even more, when we consider how reliant we are on warm clothes and indoor heating if the temperature drops. We may be divorcing ourselves from the other side of the ledger. Perhaps we aren't allowing the body to self-regulate in these moments. After all, the cold is normal too right?

Thankfully there's mounting evidence in support of cold exposure, particularly in the form of cold showers.

With this in mind, a study from the Netherlands has found that a routine cold shower may lead to better health in the form of fewer sick days from work. The trial dubbed "the Cool Challenge" took results from over 3,000 participants over the course of three months and found some interesting cold shower benefits.


Cold Shower Power

The participants were divided into four groups and asked to have their regular warm shower followed by either 0, 30, 60 or 90 seconds as cold as possible. This routine was followed for 30 days. For the next two months, the participants then had a cold shower at their own discretion.

The adults aged 18-65 self-reported the number of "days they felt ill" as well as other insights into their anxiety, work productivity, thermal sensation and quality of life.

Cold Shower Benefits

The cold shower accounted for a potential 29% reduction in self-reported sick leave from work.

Interestingly, the study suggests there was no meaningful difference between the duration of a cold shower. This is great news if you aren't keen on spending too long exposed to the cold.

Furthermore, the most commonly reported cold shower benefit was an increase in energy levels.

When interviewed by the Harvard Business Review, researcher Dr. Buijze made one slight clarification about his results. He mentioned that participants reported feeling sick just as many days as those who didn't enjoy the cold water, but that their symptoms were either less severe or their increased energy allowed them to better tolerate their symptoms.

Either way, a cold shower seems to positively influence our physiology.

One little snippet I enjoyed was that despite how unappealing a colder shower may seem 64% of participants happily continued their cold exposure during the two month follow-up period. Let that sink in. When allowed to avoid a cold shower two-thirds decided they would keep it up. They felt compelled to keep going. This resonates with me as I genuinely look forward to the colder parts of my showers now. Seeing these study results are encouraging, but nothing can substitute for how it makes you feel.

Related: Here's why I'm at odds with evidence-based practice.


How to Progress to Cold Showers

For those thinking of having a cold shower for the first time consider this...

Ease into it.

You don't have to jump straight into a cold one immediately. Do as they did in this study and start hot. Have your normal rinse off and then slowly turn the heat down to a point you can handle.

I would advise any of my patients to make sure you keep breathing slowly and deeply as you go. Keep it under control and you'll help your body adjust to the cold far easier than if you make a big song and dance about it.

Each day go a little colder and a little longer and you'll be there in no time. There's no rush. Just do your best and take note of how it makes you feel. I'd imagine you'll be pleasantly surprised!

Does a study like this change your perception of the cold?

Let me know below!


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