Do you have a friend that’s been raving about the benefits of cold showers? Or maybe you heard about cold conditioning on a podcast or something? Well, I’m going to get deep into it for you. Here’s everything you need to know about cold showers and cold conditioning.

If your friends told you to go jump in a frozen lake, would you do it? If you’re like most people, the very idea creates an instant recoil.

Nothing could be more pointlessly painful. Yet, this type of cold conditioning (and more recently, cold showers) has been used throughout much of human history as a potent tool for health.

Today, science is backing up those ancient traditions with studies showing that cold conditioning might just be one of the simplest and most effective methods to positively shift your health and your approach to living.

And believe it or not, it’s actually enjoyable (after a while).

In this article, I’m going to give you then rundown on the physical and mental benefits of cold showers and exposing your body to temperature variations and equip you with some homework to help you get started.

Hopefully you’ll have a positive experience and make cold conditioning a consistent practice in your life.

The theory behind cold showers and cold conditioning.

Like exercise, short-term, intense cold exposure creates stress on our body. And as is true with exercise, our bodies adapt to this stress in a number of ways.

These adaptations happen to create a range of health benefits. We’re talking fat loss, mental and emotional benefits, and even a positive shift in the type of body fat you carry (more on this in a moment).

Keep in mind, though, that this isn’t about taking a single cold shower, or even a few. Cold conditioning must be practiced regularly to create the adaptive responses you’re looking for.

But “regularly” can be as simple as a few minutes in a cold shower once a day, and the benefits go far beyond just feeling warmer in the cold and increasing our ability to thermoregulate.

One Big Benefit of Cold Showers & Cold Conditioning: Brown Fat

All fat is not created equal.

All of us have a ratio of white fat to brown fat, with infants and lean people having a better ratio of brown.

People battling obesity? Almost pure white.

White fat is the stuff we’re familiar with. Each cell is basically a container of oily goop that doesn’t metabolize easily.

Brown fat, on the other hand, is brown because it is bursting with mitochondria, the little powerhouses of our cells that spit out ATP and give us energy.

And brown fat does just that. It metabolizes with ease, providing us with heat energy at a moment’s notice.

While it’s burning calories to produce heat, brown fat does us a couple other favors: it uses triglycerides as fuel, removing substances associated with metabolic syndrome and it gobbles sugars, an ability that is being studied by researchers as a possible counter to type 2 diabetes.

Cold also activates a gene that is activated every time we exercise (are you noticing all the parallels between exercise and cold conditioning?).

That gene is UCP1, which works to transform white fat into beige fat, in effect infusing it with mitochondria and nudging it on its way to becoming brown.

In other words, both exercise and cold exposure (and even better, both) work to increase the brown fat in our bodies, and that brown fat is some lean, mean, white-fat burning stuff.

Are cold showers and cold conditioning a health panacea?

Cold conditioning won’t replace the core six pillars of human health. But for less than five minutes a day there is probably no other activity that will reap you such impressive results.

Let’s begin with immunity. It’s becoming clear that daily cold conditioning increases both the activity and numbers of natural killer cells in your body.This backs up the anecdotes you’ll hear from cold-conditioning aficionados. They just don’t get colds. In fact, many claim that they rarely get sick at all.

Then there is circulation. In addition to exercise, cold conditioning has been shown to increase circulation to the extremities, and has even been used therapeutically for people with reduced blood flow.

The kicker? Three weeks of this therapy worked better than the standard treatment, and the results lasted for over a year.

If you enjoy the benefits of antioxidants, you might give cold conditioning a try. It has been shown to significantly increase blood levels of certain antioxidants.

Cold exposure is also being studied as a treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, for pain reduction, as a testosterone booster and sperm enhancer, and as an aid in white-fat weight loss.

If all of that isn’t enough, there is small but growing evidence that cold showers can act as an anti-depressant, increasing blood levels of beta-endorphins (this happens during exercise as well). And those anti-depressant effects are only a hint of the greatest gift cold conditioning has to give us – a new way of approaching life itself.

More real benefits of cold showers and cold conditioning…

Physical benefits aside, you’ll notice one thing when you talk to people who make cold conditioning a regular part of their lives. They’re fanatical about it. You’ll hear statements such as:

  • “I feel so invigorated!”
  • “I’m less stressed.”
  • “I don’t really like warm showers any more.”
  • “They make me feel alive!”

Scientific studies have a tough time quantifying things like feeling great, becoming more patient, or achieving a Zen-like calm. But these are all things I have heard people report after they’ve spent a few weeks taking cold showers.

I think it may be a result of psychologically adapting to the “cold shock,” which hits people during the first few moments after immersion in cold water.

It’s a powerful reaction that includes a dump of noradrenaline and cortisol, effectively creating a brief but intense stress on the system.

For many people, this reaction feels a bit similar to the overwhelming way in which they react emotionally to stressors or frustration.

It’s overwhelming in the same way that we get overwhelmed with anger or with trying to prove a point. But after a few days to a week of cold showers, the cold shock doesn’t hit as hard.

You find that you can experience the same external stressor but meet it with a sense of calm or even enjoyment. And for whatever reason, that seems to translate for people into the rest of their lives.

Things that might have caused an adrenal response, such as swerving to avoid a driver who pulled into your lane, or reacting to someone’s snap judgement, just don’t get you upset in the same way.

You’ve learned to “read” stress reactions with a less reactionary approach, and since the cold shock is so intense, most of “real life” stressors pale in comparison.

But I know what you might be thinking. If the cold shock is that intense, then how in the world do I make myself do this?

Start your cold adaptation practice in the comfort of your shower.

Today, most of us have easy access to a tool that allows us to reap the benefits of cold conditioning on a daily basis: our shower.

Warm showers have become one of the hallmarks of comfort in our culture, so converting our showers to cold might seem unthinkable.

But what if you knew that taking cold showers could enhance your immune system, increase circulation, strengthen your metabolism, increase your antioxidant count, act as an anti-depressant, improve your relationships, and make you feel vibrantly alive?

You’d at least experiment with it, right?

At my wilderness school, ReWild University, students routinely experience cold conditioning such as barefoot walks in the snow or “low-clothes hikes” in winter.

One of the most intense experiences is an ice breakthrough after which students try to start a fire before they enter hypothermia.

My wife Rebecca has been watching these activities from the sidelines for years, shaking her head. A self-professed “comfort person,” she insisted that she would never, ever willfully fall through ice.

Yet, this year, she has not only purposefully broken through the ice and performed a self-rescue, but she is taking cold showers every morning, and even rolling naked in the snow.

What happened, and how did she get here? She’d tell you that if she can do it, anybody can.

First, she began to learn about the benefits of cold showers. As a super health-conscious person, she got intrigued.

But she also knew that her first cold shower was going to be intense enough to convince her that she would never take a cold shower again.

So she made a vow.

She did it in front of a group of her friends (you could do it at get-together, or through social networking), and she vowed to give it a try for eight days. So her first step was harnessing the power of her peers.

Secondly, she knew that she was likely to sneak out of it if she could put it off each day. Cold showers are ripe for procrastination. So she vowed that she would take one first thing in the morning. Not after her glass of tea. Not after brushing the kids’ teeth. Not after breakfast. Her feet hit the ground as she gets out of bed, and she walks straight to the shower.

Third, she gave herself full permission to do whatever she had to in order to make it through the experience. Scream, shout, cry, sing, dance, thrash . . . and that first time, she opted to sing. Loudly and vibrantly. It was indeed as intense as she had imagined, but when she got out, she said, “That was AMAZING!”. And so her adventure began.

After the first eight days, she renewed her vow (it was easy at that point, because she was enjoying the cold showers), and now it is just a regular part of both our lives.

Two weeks in, she asked me to hack a hole in the ice of the pond so that she could start taking winter dips. She walks outside in winter with short-sleeves, and has gone from avoiding the cold at all costs to enjoying it.

There’s one last benefit of cold showers that might intrigue you.

When people take warm showers, they usually say they feel cold after getting out.

But one of the first things people notice when taking cold showers is that their body feels warm when they’re done.

It’s not just contrast. It’s physiology.

A study on people who swim in icy winter waters found that they changed the way that their body responded to cold.

Most of us have conditioned our bodies to be inefficient in dealing with cold, because we’ve constrained ourselves to a tiny range of temperature gradients.

We’ve trained our bodies to stop producing core heat, and instead to shiver. When confronted with cold, the non-cold-conditioned subjects in the aforementioned study soon began shivering, which warms our extremities through muscular contraction.

But winter swimmers didn’t start shivering as quickly, and displayed “non-shivering thermogenesis”, meaning that their core temperature increased to deal with the cold.

At the same time, their heart slowed, which the researchers suggest may slow heat loss by keeping blood in the core’s internal heater longer. They also produced heat metabolically, through adrenaline.

What this all boils down to is that in our efforts to keep warm, we teach our body to generate heat peripherally, which is right where heat is lost.

Over time, we lose our ability to effectively thermoregulate, and spend more and more time being cold. Conversely, if we cold condition, we re-awaken our body’s natural ability to generate inner heat.

Let’s Do It! A Cold Adaptation Challenge!

The recipe is simple. Turn your shower as cold as it gets, step in, and remain for at least a minute.

After a few showers, increase that time to at least two minutes.

Within that two-minute window, you’ll probably discover that the sensation suddenly shifts, and the shower doesn’t seem as intense any more.

Here’s a breakdown of the steps so you can get started yourself:

  1. Make a public vow to take cold showers for eight days.
  2. Vow to do it first thing every morning, no excuses, no delays.
  3. See how you feel!

The benefits of cold showers can truly change your life.

Arguments with a friend or spouse won’t get you so upset anymore. You’ll be more patient and relaxed.

I’ve had people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) say that their depression evaporates.

Adrenaline won’t “zap” you any more. And you’ll be empowered to know that cold, which everyone else cringes at and avoids, is your friend.

You’ll reverse the usual decline in cold tolerance that most of us fall prey to, and you’ll find that your hands and feet don’t get chilled as easily.

Under your skin and in the crannies between your muscles, brown fat will be growing, eating and transforming white fat, increasing your mitochondria count, delivering more energy, and mopping up triglycerides and sugars from your blood.

Because of the mechanism of cold shock, check with your health practitioner before you take your first cold shower. You’ll want to know that your heart is healthy, and that you won’t be adversely affected by a short spike in blood pressure.

After you get the thumbs-up, you’re ready to go. And once you’ve made cold showers a regular part of your life, you’ll never look back. It’s the most health you can get out of two minutes’ time. Enjoy the cold!

Do you accept the challenge? If so, leave a comment below and let us know!

Comments

  • Tonja says:

    question: does warming back up with a warm shower after (and actually doing shower activities) negate the effect?

    • Hi Tonja!

      If you start cold, you’ll get the advantage of the ‘cold shock’ part of the training, which has some awesome psychological benefits. And any time you spend under the cold, even if it is just a minute or two, will do a bit to deliver some of the physiological benefits outlined above. That warm shower won’t negate it, but will just reduce the benefits a bit. The main thing you’ll be missing is allowing your body to re-heat itself, and the feeling of warmth and ‘WOW!’ vigor that many people experience after getting out of the cold. Oddly, most people find that they’re cold when they get out of a warm shower, but warm when they get out of a cold shower =)

      Still, the most important part is just starting, so if a hot shower warm-up afterwards is what works for you, that’s a perfect place to start. I’ll bet at some point you’ll want to give a pure cold one a try, and if it does indeed feel good, that will engage a natural curiosity about trying it again.

      Thanks for the great question — I imagine a number of people are wondering the same thing!

      =) Kenton

  • Kelly says:

    So, does it make sense to end a warm shower with a minute or two of cold? Would that also qualify as “cold conditioning”?

    • Hi Kelly,

      Most people find that ending a warm shower with a cold shower gives the benefit of getting a good dose of “cold shock” (which is where, in my opinion, most of the psychological benefits derive from), and you also get the benefit of remaining in there for a bit to get basic cold conditioning benefits. The only reasons I prefer straight cold are a) I feel like you get a bit more “pow” from your cold immersion experience if you do cold alone, and b) after doing straight cold for a while, warm showers lose some of their appeal =)

      — Kenton

  • Val says:

    I don’t really take cold showers since i spend my working days outside in minus temperatures….my question is ..would being outside 5-6 hrs a day be in those frigid temperatures be similar to cold adaptation..?

    • Hi Val,

      I think you’re actually engaged in some of the best cold conditioning you can get! Right now I have a student who is living in a yurt through the winter, and although she hails from California, she is now more conditioned to the Wisconsin winters than I am! Most of her conditioning comes from the natural temperature fluctuations she experiences every day.

      With time outdoors, such as your time working in those frigid temps, you can always do some (sensible) experimentation with ‘dressing down’ a little. One less layer can sometimes make a difference, kicking in your body’s natural heat production capabilities. The key is to allow yourself to feel some of the cold, instead of dressing up so warmly that you don’t feel it. Of course, you might be referencing temps frigid enough that no amount of clothes will make you feel toasty! The only extra benefit you’d get from the cold showers is the psychological/physiological benefits from adapting to the “cold shock”. Personally, with the conditioning you’ve already been doing, I’d be interested to hear what a cold shower experience was like for you. You might not find it to be as “cold” or “shocking” as some other people when you try your first one. If you give it a try, let me know!

      =) Kenton

      • Devin says:

        This is precisely the type of advice that gets people in trouble. Suggesting wearing less clothing in a cold environment so you “feel the cold” is interesting advise at best for those AWARE enough of their own bodies, and down right dangerous for the majority of humans who simply aren’t. To play it safe, listen to your body, not your mind, when it comes to keeping your body at healthy and safe temperatures. Your mind might tell you- “no that cold shower hurts, don’t do it” which you can safely ignore, but when the body says “hey, it’s freezing out here, I’m shivering and my lips are blue- please make me warmer,” please do what it asks.

      • Hi Devin,
        I’d respectfully disagree with you here, based on my belief that if we want to increase awareness of our bodies, it’s imperative that we go beyond our comfort zones. If we’re always doing what is “comfortable”, whether with cold or exercise, we’ll find a slow decline in health, making the idea of staying in safe and healthy temperatures something that furthers our comfort-addiction. However, if we wisely push our boundaries, whether that means letting ourselves get cold or trying a new parkour move or doing an extra sprint, then we create an adaptive response in our bodies that creates more resilient health.

        On shivering and blue lips . . . I get there a lot when I’m doing deeper cold conditioning, and definitely no harm done. But like any exercise, people will have to find their own current boundaries, and train within those bounds (or just beyond). I think any of us who are exercising understand this. And over time, those boundaries become wider and wider as our body adapts and strengthens.

        I can understand your feelings that the majority of people aren’t body-aware, but I also think it’s time to change that — to empower people to experiment with their full capabilities instead of always listening to the “safe” voice that holds us back from so much of life. True, we might get an injury if we try that last sprint, but life is full of risks, and it’s easy to ignore the dangers of falling into comfort, which is behind much of the obesity, diabetes, and chronic illness that besets so many of us — dangers much more injurious than a torn muscle. Let’s believe in people, encourage them to break free of the idea that they should always be careful, and resist the part of us (as caring as it might be) that wants to shelter people. I’ve seen so many people come to my school, to an environment where they are encouraged to their full potential, who surpass many of their perceived limitations.

        We’re all stronger, wiser, more intelligent, and healthier than we know, if only we can shake free of our cultural conditioning that tells us “you can’t do it”. People rock, and most of us just need someone to believe in us.

        =) Kenton

      • Thanks so much, Devin — I always love finding that an apparent disagreement isn’t a disagreement at all!

        Please let me know how the cold showers go — as someone who is in touch with your body, I bet you’ll have some great observations for all of us.

        =) Kenton

      • Devin says:

        Hi Kenton, thanks for the response! Funny you say you disagree but you go on to express exactly what I feel about the issue. I think we do agree that the majority of folks aren’t in communication with their bodies. I’m simply suggesting this cold conditioning isn’t “Learning Your Animal” 101 material, but good for those who have done some work to know their foundation in order to play and expand further. You’re doing great work. I started my day with a 3 minute cold shower. Thanks for the great suggestion. (I happen to know my animal *very* well and wouldn’t have tried this just a few years ago.) Cheers!

  • kris799 says:

    I was totally going to avoid this but you mentioning Seasonal Affective Disorder, so now I have try it!

    • Hi Kris,

      I can understand wanting to avoid it =) As far as SAD goes, this comes from a number of students I’ve had who really felt the mood shift when the days grew short and cloudy. I was actually amazed at the change, using nothing but cold showers. It was as if their SAD had gone through a 95% resolution. One woman reported still feeling vaguely down, but nothing like the huge plunges she had before. She said, “it’s funny, but I can sort of just ‘watch’ it now, like the SAD is calling, but I’ve decided not to reply.” I’d highly value hearing back from you after a couple of weeks of cold showers to see if you, too, note a difference.

      =) Kenton

  • Fittsdawg says:

    I shower more like twice a week — is there any research or general experience to draw on about how frequently cold conditioning needs to be to get some of these results?

    • Most of the research is just showing that a prolonged practice will have increasing effects, so a couple of times per week should give you a long, slow benefit increase. Anecdotally, I’ve found that even infrequent cold showers give a psychological benefit, but it seems that more frequent ones contribute more to enhancing your thermoregulation (and possibly other health benefits as well).

      =) Kenton

      • Fittsdawg says:

        thanks. what do you consider “low-clothes”? Are we talking one less layer or what? I’ve tried ‘enough to feel cold, but not get frostbite’ on my 4-mi runs since reading this, but even that is a fairly wide range. Also, when running, there seems to be a trade-off with tighter muscles when my legs are colder, but maybe I’ll adjust to that as well.

      • You’re right on with my thinking here — just going with one less layer, losing the scarf, or otherwise making it so that you’re just past comfort. If the legs are feeling tight, you may want to ease into it a little more slowly — your body will re-shape its thermoregulatory response, but it takes a while. For me, I usually just look at my walk or run I’m about to embark upon, assess whether I can do it safely with less clothes, and then dress down accordingly.

        =) Kenton

      • I don’t have any anecdotes regarding children, and I won’t give you any advice as to when she’d be old enough, but I will share what I would do if my daughter (also 4 years old) asked to do it. I’d let her go through the process of getting ready (we usually strip down to our swimming suits), and put her feet in if she wanted, and even to dip fully if she desired. I imagine that she’d get part-way through the process and then decide to back out, which is a pattern she has followed for many experiences — “dipping her toes” so to speak, and coming back to things again and again, going a bit deeper each time. We’ve seen this with foods, with the dark, with petting bees . . . we never push it, but allow her to find her own comfort zones. The other day she asked to get in the cold shower with my wife. Rebecca brought her in, and they both laughed and laughed, and she got out quite quickly, but I’d wager in another week or two she’ll ask to go in again.

        If you do let her give it a try at some level, I’d love to hear how it goes, even if it’s just dipping her toes.

        =) Kenton

      • Fittsdawg says:

        when I took a (90-sec) plunge through the ice on the lake yesterday, my 4-yr-old daughter asked if she could join me and I told her she’d need to be older — any anecdotes (native american or finnish, etc.) on how old kids should be before they cold water plunge?

        What seems to be the longest it makes sense to stay in for optimal results — will 4 min give any more benefit than 2 min?

  • Paul S says:

    I’ve been taking daily cold showers for 39 years and doing ice swims about twice a year. The exhilaration is great and I’ll keep doing it until it kills me, which it might, but it won’t be such a bad way to go.

    I too note the feeling of warmth after getting out of icy water. There’s numbness too but the thermogenesis is apparent.

    It would be great if you’d cite the studies that support your claims about health benefits. Even if the literature indicated some risk, I’d still do it!

    • Hi Paul,

      You’re a veteran! Great to hear that you’ve been doing it for so long =)

      I did have links to all of the studies supporting the article, but for whatever reason they didn’t come through in the posting. They might not have translated from my Open Office system to Kevin’s blog. I’d be happy to send you a full list if you write to me at rewildu (at) yahoo (dot) com. So far as my research went, no one is citing any negative effects. You’re getting a daily dose of adrenaline/cortisol if you still experience any cold shock (which you might not at this point), but that’s very different than the chronic stress/anxiety that is choking the health of so many of us. Your daily exposure is hormetic, meaning that you’re regularly getting small doses of something that creates an adaptive response in your body. And from all the anecdotal evidence I’ve found, as well as the ongoing research (which is really still in its infancy, so we have much yet to learn), it’s all positive. Like anything else, it could probably be overdone, but as you know, our bodies are happily capable of MUCH more thermoregulation than is commonly believed.

      =) Kenton

  • Great article.

    One word of caution. This is NOT appropriate for those with heart conditions.

    • Hi Dr. Orman,

      Thanks so much for this reminder. We pointed it out in the article, but it can’t be emphasized enough. That cold shock can be lethal for someone with a heart condition, and it’s important for everyone to get checked out and get the thumbs-up from their health practitioner before they embark on a cold-conditioning journey.

      =) Kenton

  • leonardo da Vinci says:

    hello, I have a couple questions, if ya don’t mind
    – would you recommend this for an older person, even one with a heart condition? I’ve done this twice since reading this article and I fear the person I’m referring to may have a bad reaction to the shock of the cold. then again, it might help his circulation.
    – do you have any books on this, or books with sections on cold conditioning? or wherever you learned this at :p

    that is all, thanks! 🙂

    • As stated in the article and some of the comments, it is definitely not for someone with a heart condition. The cold creates a “cold shock” response that elevates heart rate and blood pressure, so it’s a complete “no-no” for anyone with a heart condition, and before you try it, even if you think you’re healthy, you should get the thumbs-up from your health practitioner. It creates a response very similar to intense exercise — the sort of thing that gives out-of-shape people heart attacks in the winter when they try to shovel the driveway. We have to start slow, let our bodies adjust, and if you have a good health practitioner they’ll be able to guide a person through that process.

      Oops– sorry, I just saw your retraction of the heart condition question. I’m going to leave my response for other readers anyway.

      Most of this information came from a combination of personal experience, the experiences of my students, and a number of studies I’ve researched. I can send you links to the studies if you write me at rewildu (at) yahoo (dot) com.

      Books . . . someone recommended “The 4-Hour Body” to me, but others have said it’s sketchy. It does deal with someone’s cold conditioning experience. Wim Hof also has a book called “Becoming the Iceman”, which I also have not read. It gets mediocre Amazon reviews, but might be worth checking out. I’ll have some cold conditioning info in my upcoming book on rewilding, so check that out on my website (you can get updates if you go to my site at http://www.rewildu.com and sign up for our email newsletter.

      =) Kenton

      • Gerald Caussade says:

        I started with the Wim Hof books, started doing the multi week process of adaptation. His stuff works amazing! I found your site because I did a search on brown fat. I started this because his work resulted in several published studies and even a recent world record hiking to the top of Killamangero (sp?) with over a dozen people he taught his method. They all broke the world’s record in time to ascend. All ages involved. The research on Wim is amazing. Good luck in your path, too. I find the breathing and other exercises Wim uses very useful. The Iceman book is just a story with some info. His video course is amazing.

      • Gerald, I’m so glad you commented. I’ve been seriously considering his video course, but hadn’t heard any first-hand reports yet. Now I have!

        =) Kenton

    • leonardo da Vinci says:

      never mind about the heart condition question, by the way, lol

  • Mike says:

    Couple questions:

    – Does the adrenaline/cortisol rush cause/affect/add to inflammation in the body?

    – Also, as I’ve heard it mentioned with coffee as well, having adrenaline regularly dumped into your system just makes your body inured to it so that it requires more an more to get the same effect. On the surface this doesn’t seem like such a great thing to me. Would you say cold conditioning is different, or is this just comparing apples and oranges?

    Thanks!

    • Great question. When I was studying cold conditioning, I was also studying cortisol, and I was able to experience the transition from thinking of cortisol as a ‘bad’ hormone to a hormone that is necessary within a certain balance.

      Cortisol is partially responsible for regulating our inflammatory response. Chronic stress seems to create “tissue resistance” to the hormone, so that cortisol no longer serves its purpose, and inflammation spirals out of control, leading to a host of chronic disease spirals.

      But the adrenal/cortisol spike that we call the “fight or flight” response is a powerful adaptation in humans, and it’s likely that we’re able to deal with that type of stress through positive adaptation. In other words, our systems thrive on some amount of FoF stressors — and one a day probably isn’t too much. I know that living in the woods for a week or so, I get at least a few FoF surprises from some animal jumping out or trying to climb a sketchy cliff. Back when we were living with cave bears and sabretooths, it was probably even more exciting =) Those brief stressors create positive adaptation, so that our body grows stronger from them.

      In an article I read from Dartmouth Medicine Magazine, I found this quote — “When it is at a high level during an acute, stressful event—as when facing a snarling dog—cortisol suppresses inflammation.”

      So between that and the positive adaptation to quickie stressors, I think we’re seeing cold conditioning as a way to create a positive cortisol response.

      Coffee, like stress, creates a longer-duration stress response, which our body is not as adapted to. Instead of a few seconds or a couple of minutes, the stress is prolonged over hours (or all day, if we drink a lot of it =). This is the type of stress that seems to elevate levels, create tissue resistance, and then the inflammatory response gets out of whack and . . .

      =) Kenton

      • Mike says:

        Excellent! Thanks for the reply.

        OK, one more question that may seem silly, but is there such a thing a too cold? Maybe it’s just my imagination but I’m thinking that the cold water I’m getting out of my pipes in the winter when it’s 20 degrees out and the summer when it’s 90 are two different beasts.

        The reason I ask is that I took the plunge and tried my first cold shower (holy crap) and after about 45 seconds to a minute I started losing sensation in my hands. I felt fine afterwards, just seemed like that might not be normal.

        I’ll admit that it wasn’t the best first try either. I wasn’t able to get all the way under, just splashing myself in some areas and had to turn it on and off a couple times after bracing myself for another try. Whew! But, I did feel good afterwards and will keep trying to get better at it. Plus, looking at the snow outside it doesn’t seem quite as cold as it used to. 🙂

      • Hi Mike,

        Congrats for your first try! It is super intense, isn’t it? =)

        Your water might actually be colder, especially if your pipes are near enough to the surface to be affected by cold winter temps. We have well water that runs a long way underground to our home, and the water is definitely a bit colder when the temps are as low as they’ve been this year.

        As for the tingling, that can be due to hyperventilation if you were breathing really hard (this happens as a normal part of cold shock). But it could also signal a heart issue that is being exacerbated by the sudden cold. If you’ve recently been checked out and you know your heart is strong, you’re probably experiencing hyperventilation. Breathing slow and consciously and just ‘giving’ yourself to the cold water, as if you are going to let it flow all the way through your flesh and through your bones, can lessen the hyperventilation (you can eventually experience almost no cold shock at all, but it takes a bit of conditioning). But if you haven’t been checked out recently or there is any doubt about your heart-health, then cease the cold showers, get checked out by your health practitioner and begin again with her or his consent.

        =) Kenton

      • I have yet to measure my temps, Mike, but it was fun to hear yours. That is chilly! And bravo on getting someone else into it!

        =) Kenton

      • Mike says:

        Just as a followup, I was so curious what the temp of the water coming out of my pipes is I went and bought a cheap thermometer and tested it out. Looks like when turned to its coldest setting its about 42 degrees. For the setting I use, about 1/3 of the way up from coldest (can’t take it all the way yet, too painful) it’s about 48 degrees.

        Not sure how that rates with everyone else’s plumbing but boy is it cold. 🙂 I’ll be curious to see how cold it is in the summer months.

        PS – I was able to convince a coworker to get in on the action as well. While only a couple days in he mentioned that next year he might join in a polar bear club event he saw while on a short vacation recently.

  • Therese Alban says:

    I have completed 8 consecutive days of 2 minute cold showers. I have decided to incorporate this ritual into my daily routine. It’s fantastic. At about day 4, I had the opportunity to go into a swimming pool that was approximately 50-60 degrees. Much different experience with full body submersion that the shower! A bit more intense, to say the least! It was also thrilling because I had an 8 year old buddy with me. It was her idea initially to go in the pool next the hot tub at her dad’s house. So we decided to try walking into the pool at the shallow end where we could both get out easily. She thought it was super fun. We were both laughing, hyperventilating, and making all kinds of noise with the cold shock. We did a few rounds of hot-cold-hot-cold with the hot tub but pretty soon, neither of us wanted to go in the hot tub especially after we did a full 2 minutes in the cold pool. The cold was giving us something more and the hot didn’t feel good anymore. She is already asking when we can do it again since her dad, while impressed with us, couldn’t get himself to go in the cold pool.

  • Kendra says:

    Your article finally explains what happened to my hands two years ago.
    My dad had an idea to get a hundred chickens to earn money for college.
    Anyway we got them in the summer, but the egg washer was broken and so was the hot water. So everyday for about an hour my hands would be constantly under icy water. The months passed and the northern winter arrived. the hot water still didn’t work, and there was no towels for me to dry my hands on, so after 1-3 hours (sometimes i avoided the washing) i would walk home (maybe 500 m through open fields) in the -20 temps not including wind chill. I noticed that while at first my hands were extremely stiff under the cold water, after a few months they maintained there dexterity and strength. The veins on my hands rose up and became giant rollers, and often felt like little furnaces. after summer I left for college, and my hands were no longer exposed to the penetrating cold water any more, and the veins slowly disappeared back under my skin.
    For a while now I was fascinated about trying to bring my rollers back, by drinking tap water directly out of my hands after letting it run for a bit. An interesting effect of that was that my palms may suddenly turn the furnace on when exposed to even the slightest cold, but the back of my hands will remain cold (which is a really weird sensation).
    By the way by some miracle, i some how have never gotten frost bite, is that perhaps because i started in the summer and didn’t just jump in during the winter?

    • Kendra, I think that you’re a living example of the power of cold conditioning. By starting in summer and allowing your body to condition itself through regular practice, you were ready for winter conditions that would have sent must of us running for the warmth!

      =) Kenton

      • Kendra says:

        Well I tried it. I’m glad I started with a lukewarm shower before I did my minute. I noticed a couple of things, one that the lukewarm, felt nice and warm after 10 minutes. two, I didnt feel like the air was warm when I got out of the shower, like it usually does when I put it on hot (I think that might be because the heat gets into my core and because the shower is really hot, it is happy to cool down).
        For my minute (I think. I didn’t hear my alarm go), I was only able to keep my arms and head under, but I figure thats Ok because the water was spraying up onto my face, and the icy water was streaming down my back and legs. My breathing was weird too, and every moment felt crystallized. I think my curiosity, will have me trying again.
        last but not least, I have a question. How does a person who is accustomed to cold-shock deal with boiling summers?

      • Thanks for giving it a try and sharing your experience, Kendra! As for the hot summers, I can only speak from personal experience. For most of my life, I enjoyed the winters, but withered during the summer. The hot weather got me grumpy, tired, and sweaty.

        Oddly, as I began doing more intense cold conditioning, I felt an abrupt and powerful shift in my perception of hot. 105 F no longer felt unbearable — hot, sure, but in an enjoyable way. Whatever physiological processes we’re shifting during cold conditioning appears to broaden our ability to thermoregulate in both directions. That’s my experience, at least!

        =) Kenton

  • Steven says:

    Since starting taking cold showers every day since Aug 2014, today April 2, 2015 I decided to take the water temperature. Living in Canada I knew the water was cold, today registered 37F/2.7C wow now I know it’s cold. I’ve been doing 10-11minutes twice daily and when getting out its wonderful how warm the air feels. Also during the shower initially its cold, however into minute 2 you feel the rush of warmth. Funny thing my heart when starting cold water therapy in Aug 2014 would race and I get rapid breathing. Now I don’t skip a beat, breathing normal, actually my heart rate drops during the shower. Just happy I started this late summer and able to condition my body for the brutal cold of northern winter showers. Summer is going to be so tame I will think someone turn on the hot water.

  • Kathleen says:

    I’ve done 2 days so far, and am also sitting out on the front verandah at night, knitting while wearing summer clothes, when it’s about 10-12C. It’s only autumn but SAD is kicking my arse and making thought difficult. I want to avoid turning the heating on all winter, to save money and the environment. Given that it never hits freezing point here, that should be achievable. But it’s tough! Exhilarating but tough! Tomorrow I wash my hair in cold water for the first time! brrrrrr

    • Kathleen, way to go giving this a try! I have a close friend who battled with SAD every year, and when she tried cold showers, she claimed that it turned her life around. I hope you experience something just as amazing!

      =) Kenton

  • Tom Hawkins says:

    I go for a 45 mn walk in the morning. Could you see getting up and doing a 2 mn cold shower, getting dressed and go for my walk, then taking a regular warm shower and washing my hair at that time? Can’t see using soap and shampoo with cold water!

    Tom

    • Hi Tom,

      This sounds like a GREAT way to do it! With doctor approval, you’re ready to go! I’d love to hear if the shower seems to change your walking experience at all.

      =) Kenton

  • S. Aubry says:

    What about when your house is not heated all the time to the 65-68 range? What if in winter your house is about 50? How can one acclimate to this to the point that it does not feel cold? I used to enjoy swimming in Long Island Sound when it was snowing…at temperature of 37 degrees even…cold showers etc. But it was always nice to relax in a warm house. How can one do cold conditioning to tolerate colder temperatures all the time?

    • Kevin Michael Geary says:

      I’m not sure what you’re asking. Are you wondering if the benefits of cold conditioning will go away if you also heat your house?

      • S. Aubry says:

        I’m wondering why the cold conditioning I used to do in Long Island Sound on a regular basis did nothing to increase my tolerance to living in not well heated houses in the winter time. I can tolerate any kind of cold for short periods of time. Cold showers, cold swims, cold weather walks and jogs, but I have less than average tolerance to constant mild coldness. Due to various circumstances I have found myself living in households for the past decade that have minimal heating. Why I am able to do cold conditioning that works for tolerating raw cold conditions but does nothing for tolerating constant mild cold conditions? (House temperatures at 50-55 degrees.)

  • Hala says:

    Great article. I’m originally from North Africa and used to have very poor tolerance to the cold. About five years ago, I started paying more attention to my health and fitness. I’m 45 year old female and consider myself at the best shape of my life so far (my philosophy now is optimistic seeing the future bright because it is only an opportunity to improve). Anyways, I can attest to the great benefits of cold showers. Been ending my warm showers with a minute of cold water for at least five years and love it. My cold tolerance has improved to at least adapt me to the winters of North Maryland. I’m also an addict of infra red Saunas. I love following my sauna sessions with cold showers. I wanted to ask you about the other extreme (heat conditioning) and whether you think that is beneficial. I think both cold and heat conditioning are equally important and specially if alternated. Also, would like to hear your take about diet. I prescribe to a whole plant food diet. I know most people that live in extreme cold climates eat fatty meats and animal proteins and their vegetable and fruit intake is much lower. Can a diet healthy for a certain environment be unhealthy for another? How do you reconcile that?

  • johnny bocchetti says:

    For over a decade I lived in a mountain chalet on the eastern slope of the Cascade Range. With four daughters and limited hot water I found myself confronting cold showers once they took all the early morning hot water. I convinced myself that as an former Army paratrooper I could deal with the cold. Since then I have perfected the regime even though there is plenty of hot water. I find every morning that cold bold showers are a welcome respite from the average ambient temperature of our Mediterranean climate. I look forward to winter when the Sierra’s deliver discipline cold frigid water to the shower head. I hike daily, often with a short sleeve shirt and seem imperious to cold coastal weather.

  • This is great! I now dont wear a coat till it gets 20 or below. My heating bill is down…

  • Hope says:

    It was recommended I try this to improve my mitochondrial function and energy and so I started last weekend thinking I would do it once just to try it. I figured I would hate it. It made me laugh my head off and I still can’t believe how much I love it. I didn’t read this article until just now. It had already noticed that it has improved my energy and mood and I have that it feels like I have been exercising. It has been less than a week and already the cold shock isn’t as intense and I can stay in the water longer. I can’t believe I have never done this before. Thank you for this very informative article!

  • Jacob McKay says:

    Thanks for the advice, I really hate it when I get cold on my way to school. I am 14 at the moment so I believe I can get the most out of this experience if I start now. This has been very helpful to someone like me, who lives in canada and I really appreciate the help! (Sorry for the weird email, I made it when I was 9)

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