If you're anything like me, your day doesn't start until you've sloughed away your grogginess with a scalding hot shower. That perfectly-heated water can clear stuffed sinuses, relax the muscles, and make pretty much anyone feel squeaky clean. However, a cold shower can do even more for you if you can stand the low temperatures.
According to a study conducted by a group of immunologists and physiologists from the Czech Republic, men who immersed themselves in 57°F (14°C) water three times each week for six weeks uncovered a few changes. Aside from goosebumps, the biggest change the researchers saw was an increase in white blood cells.
As our bodies attempt to get warm in the chilly water, our immune system kicks into action. As it revs up, more white blood cells are released. This increased number of white blood cells floating through your bloodstream can then help you ward off colds, the flu, and other common sicknesses.
With their power to consume pathogens, eliminate bacteria, and fight viruses and toxins, white blood cells keep you feeling your best while boosting your immune system's defenses. So, if you're prone to getting the sniffles, try taking a cold dip in the tub, or swap out your warm showers for cooler ones three times per week.
Though it might feel like your entire body tightens up under the spray of icy water, attempting to crawl inside itself for warmth, that feeling is exactly what makes cold showers so good for you.
When your body is hit with cold water, your veins physically shrink under the skin. This tightening, called vasoconstriction, forces your blood to flow through smaller, narrower spaces at a higher pressure. Your body is trying to keep your most important organs warm, and in order to do so, it needs to get blood moving as quickly as possible.
As a result, your entire body's circulation improves, and improved circulation will keep your body running at its best.
Before you swear off hot showers, though, consider mixing things up a few times each week. Instead, create a shower routine that utilizes both temperatures. Dr. Darryl Cochrane from Massey University's school of Sport and Exercise recommends alternating between hot and cold showers. You can also improve your circulation by ending your steamy sessions with a quick rinse under cold water.
You might already know that shaking your way through a horror flick can help you lose a few pounds, but changing the temperature of your morning shower might help your diet even more. In fact, according to research conducted by Dr. Paul Lee, an endocrinologist at the Garvan Institute in Australia, shivering for just 10 to 15 minutes can offer some of the same benefits as your daily workout.
In addition to helping you shake your way skinny, cold showers also raise your body's good fat. Dr. Lee's research also found that showering in cooler temperatures increases individuals' brown fat while reducing the amount of unhealthy white fat. Unlike calorie-laden white fat, brown fat helps burn energy. While shivering away during your morning shower won't cure obesity, it can help you turn bad fat good.
If you tend to suffer from dry, brittle hair, don't break out the leave-in conditioner: turn up the cold water instead.
Have you ever noticed how frustratingly dry your hands get after days of washing dishes with your bare hands? When you shower in scalding temperatures, the same happens to the rest of your body. Hot, steamy water feels great, but it destroys your hair and skin.
Taking frequent hot showers has the power to dry out every inch of exposed skin and hair; the heat pulls moisture from your cells, turning everything brittle. Rinsing off in cold water, on the other hand, will actually seal your hair and skin to protect it from future damage. You'll notice more shine in your ponytail, smoother skin all over, and possibly even an improvement in acne, if you're a blemish-sufferer.
You might think that waking up with a chilly shower sounds like a terrible start to your day, but in fact, this one simple change could put you in a better mood.
Nikolai Shevchuk, a researcher in Virginia Commonwealth University's Department of Radiation, discovered that short spurts of cold water stimulate the brain's "blue spot", or noradrenaline source. When this chemical is released, it helps to combat depression.
Shevchuk also believes the shock we feel as cold water hits our skin has something to do with this: "The possible antidepressant effect may also have to do with the mild electroshock delivered to the brain by a cold shower, because of the unusually high density of cold receptors in the skin." With its extra dense and super sensitive nerve endings, our skin registers water's temperature almost immediately when it hits us. As a result, our bodies and brains feel a little jolt.
So, the next time you shriek in surprise at the water's freezing temperature, just remember that two-second event could improve your entire day.