November 21st, 2014
Most people might think of a shower as a daily ritual that is equal parts hygiene and relaxation: as soap bubbles and cascades down both body and drain, the warm water eases both muscle and mind in its heated caress. However, a small amount of scientific and medical research has hinted that cold water showers have several health and environmental benefits.
It seems illogical considering the many myths and superstitions humans grow up believing. Many people (especially mothers!) associate cold water with sickness, believing that too much cold water makes one susceptible to disease, that cold showers are reserved for places and situations of austerity, like squalid Depression-era tenements and the military.
However, studies have proven that compared to hot showers, cold showers produce much greater levels of immune-boosting white blood cells. Another study conducted by a German research team found that cold-water immersion over time allowed the body to gradually build up a resistance to oxidizing forces within the body. The white cell boost is attributed to the body’s metabolic response to the shock of cold water. While the body tries to warm itself, metabolism rates increase, activating the immune system and thusly releasing white blood cells.
A point which segues nicely into the next benefit: increased metabolism. Higher metabolic rates mean the body is burning calories and fat, an undoubtedly popular side effect among the weight-conscious crowd. However, one publication claimed that prolonged exposure to cold water makes the body develop a protective layer of fat to stave off freezing and hypothermia.
The last qualified benefit of cold showers is increased male fertility. A hot shower means higher scrotal temperature which decreases sperm production. Cold showers don’t necessarily produce more sperm cells, but they do not pose a threat to sperm in the same way as increasing one’s body and scrotal temperature would via a hot shower.
One of the most concrete facts regarding cold showers is their environmental benefits. Cold showers are much more eco-friendly than hot showers because it takes much less power and resources to produce cold water through a tap than it does to produce hot water.
Also read: Why We Get Big Ideas in the Shower
Tipton MJ, Mekjavic IB, & Eglin CM (2000). Permanence of the habituation of the initial responses to cold-water immersion in humans. European journal of applied physiology, 83 (1), 17-21 PMID: 11072768
Siems WG, Brenke R, Sommerburg O, & Grune T (1999). Improved antioxidative protection in winter swimmers. QJM : monthly journal of the Association of Physicians, 92 (4), 193-8 PMID: 10396606
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