I'm not much for panaceas, you know, sort of like the promise in the headline of this article! However, there are some fairly simple things, like exercise, that we would all agree can make a huge difference. The challenge is that finding the time to do these things isn't always easy. In fact, it's when we need their benefits the most that we have the least time to invest in them.
So, what if I told you that there's one thing you could do for 30-90 seconds each morning that would have an immediate positive impact on your health, your energy level, your brain chemistry, and your attitude? And what if this same thing will help you create a foundation on which you are much more likely to establish other long-term healthy habits? I'll make it even more attractive; it costs absolutely nothing, and you can do it as part of something else you already do every day--something which for many of us ends up being when we get are best ideas? Sounds like an Internet ad for a Dr Oz endorsed wonder supplement, right?
I was just as skeptical before I started doing it on the advice of a friend. I can tell you first hand that it has made a world of difference for the better.
So, what is this miracle elixir? An icy cold shower.
30 Seconds at 38 Degrees
I'm not talking about a coldish shower but a blast of 38 degree icy cold water* that causes you to gasp for air and let loose with a stream of obscenities that will make the neighbors cover their kids' ears; at least 30 and up to 90 sustained seconds of your most magnificent and unfiltered profanity laced soliloquy.
I'll tell you from experience that the first few times you do this it's going to be a very long 30 seconds. Your brain, and pretty much every cell in your body, will scream, telling you that it makes no sense to end a warm calming shower with an arctic plunge. It's sort of like convincing yourself that it makes sense to step out of a perfectly sound airplane your first time skydiving.
You'll try to play games to avoid a full frontal assault by gently bringing the temperature of the water down, hoping to get used to it. Or you'll gingerly insert one limb at a time, but that's defeating the whole purpose, which is total body immersion all at once.
There's nothing new about this. If you go to the Roman ruins in Bath England, you'll see that they practiced it in their bath houses by progressing through several heated baths followed by an icy cold plunge. Several hundred years earlier, one of my distant ancestors, the scientist and mathematician Archimedes, may very well have been taking that cold plunge when he jumped out of the tub in the public bath house and ran through the streets, still dripping as he screamed Eureka, "I found it" having discovered the significance of how an object displaces water.
Okay, perhaps I'm stretching a bit, I can't prove that I'm either related to Archimedes or that he was in a cold bath at the time. However, the fact remains that throughout civilized history there has been a well documented and recurring practice of using hot to cold therapy for a variety of ailments and for general alertness and well being. But until recently the science behind the cold plunge was not very well known.
While the research is fascinating, what I can assure of, from personal experience, is that after taking the plunge you'll not only be wide awake, but you'll be laser focused and ready to take on the day. But if my first hand testimonial isn't enough, here are ten other astounding benefits of a cold shower that researchers have discovered:
- It triggers deep breathing which in turn increases your oxygen levels, your heart rate, and your overall cardiac function.
- It improves circulation and helps your arteries more efficiently pump blood.
- It lowers blood pressure, boosts your immune systems.
- According to a 1994 study it drastically decreases uric acid levels while it also increases gluthathione (glutathione is an antioxidant that works to make sure other antioxidants do their job).
- It triggers your sympathetic nervous system to elevate beta-endorphin and noradrenaline, the feel good chemical cocktail that gives you a sense of optimism and energy. Noradrenaline and dopamine, which also contribute to positive feelings increased by 530% and by 250%, respectively. While cortisol, the hormone produced by stress which usually signals inflammation, went down.
- A 2008 study found that it also floods the temperature receptors in your epidermis triggering an anti-depressive effect.
- Repeated cold showers have been shown to toughen you up, increasing your resilience to stress, or what's called hardening.
- It activates your brown fat (this is the good fat that increases you metabolic rate so that you can burn more calories).
- A randomized study done in the Netherlands--an apropos venue for such a study--showed that just 30-90 seconds of a cold shower resulted in a 29% decrease in sick day absences for a study group of 3018 individuals between the ages of 18-65. Now, to be fair, it didn't test to determine if there was actually less illness, just if there were fewer sick days.
- Some studies have even hinted that it may boost Testosterone levels in men rise in testosterone levels. I honestly didn't see enough evidence of this to convince me of its medical merits, but I can attest to the fact that after my icy cold blast I feel as if I'm ready to sign up for the Pamplona Running of the Bulls.
The research done on cold showers and baths can certainly be debated, and has been. As with anything else of this sort, there's some truth and some hyperbole. But here's what I found to be indisputably the most profound impact of a cold shower--at least from my experience. It catapults me into the day with a rush of energy nearly equivalent to a good morning workout, and I don't even have to shower afterwards! As a result my creativity, my mood, my focus, and even my ability to innovate and problem solve all seem to benefit.
Is it a panacea? Nothing is. But until you've tried it don't discount it; 30-90 seconds, that's it and you're done. There are many more things we try that take much longer, cost much more, and do much less.
Next on my list of counterintuitive things to do, skydiving? I'm still waiting on the research to back that up.
*By the way, I know I don't need to tell you this, but as with anything that kicks your cardiovascular system into overdrive, be sure to check with a healthcare provider before trying this if you have any cardiovascular risk factors.