Cold Water Therapy

WaterfallYou’re in the middle of a nice, hot shower, feeling your muscles relax, the day’s tension (or night’s sleepiness) melt away. As you bask in the quiet moment of repose, suddenly your body gets a startling jolt. After a second of disoriented shock, you realize something has happened to the hot water. Did someone start the washer? Is the water heater going berserk? Your hopes of relaxation now dashed, your stress level through the roof, you finish only the most obligatory rinsing and step out of the shower cursing, muttering and shivering as you reach for your towel.

But does a cold shower need to ruin the day? Can they actually be more than a nuisance, but a legitimate health therapy as some say? We thought we’d do some digging to explore the notion MDA reader Alex recently put forth: “The way Grok kept himself clean sure wasn’t with sustained periods of temperature controlled hot water. Maybe we shouldn’t either.” The results we found were very intriguing (and encouraging) indeed.

The underlying premise of cold water therapy is that briefly and somewhat regularly exposing the body to certain kinds of natural stresses (like cold water) can enhance health. Promoters of cold water therapy say that it can boost immune function, decrease inflammation and pain, and increase blood flow. Some argue that a shower setting is suitable, while others say some level of immersion is necessary for real benefit. What does the research say? Here’s what we found.

The benefits of cold water therapy appear to depend on the subject’s adaptation over time. In other words, regular polar dips seem to enhance long term health, but a single cold burst in the shower won’t offer much beyond a good wake-up jolt. The power of cold water therapy, it seems, is in the habituation itself.

In studies comparing regular winter swimmers with subjects not adapted to cold immersion, winter swimmers showed an ability “to survive a significantly greater temperature gradient between body and environment than non-cold-adapted subjects.” Their advantage over the non-adapted subjects was a modification of the “sensory functions of hypothalamic thermoregulatory centres to lower heat loss and produce less heat during cold exposure.” The researchers concluded that regular winter swimmers show “metabolic, hypothermic and insulative” kinds of adaptation to cold temperatures.


Cold showers, research shows, can help this habituation process, but only water at 10 degrees Celsius (as opposed to 15 degrees C) made a difference. Habituation also seems to be somewhat long-term. In a British study, subjects’ responses showed that habituation to cold water lasted 7-14 months as measured by respiration and heart rate.

Some of the specific benefits? A German study examined oxidative stress associated with ice-bathing in regular winter swimmers and found these swimmers showed an “adaptive response” through enhanced “antioxidative defense” as measured by several blood markers.

Other research highlighting cold water’s effect on immunity shows an increase in both the number and activity of peripheral cytotoxic T lymphocytes in those regularly exposed to cold therapies.

Full body cold water immersion and cryotherapy (cold air chamber) also resulted in a sustained increase in norepinephrine, which substantiates the long-term pain relief touted by cold therapy promoters. Exposure to cold also increases metabolic rate.

Finally, the benefits of cold water therapy show promise for those with chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic heart failure, and some (non-lymphoid) types of cancers.

Ice Plunge

So, are you intrigued yet? Though the jury may still be out on some of the findings related to specific medical conditions, healthy individuals seem to have much to gain from the cold. It’s all about upregulating our systems, taxing them in a healthy, natural way like intermittent fasting. While the findings don’t suggest people should, in the name of health, give up hot showers altogether (who would give them up even if they did!) Alex may have a legitimate point after all. We will be keeping our eyes and ears open for new research around cold water therapy for future posts.

Some specific suggestions based on the findings? Very cold showers appear to be beneficial for the purpose of habituation, but we’d recommend alternating them occasionally with immersion when you can. Those of you in Northern climates might have more fun and social occasions (e.g. New Year’s polar dips) for such an exercise, but we can all spare the water heater for a day now and then for a nice cold dip in the old tub.

Thoughts? Questions? Fun stories of your own polar hydro-adventures? We’d love to hear your take.

GoGap, Mario Sepulveda, freezelight Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Is Intermittent Fasting Healthy?

Hot To: Intermittent Fasting

What is The Primal Blueprint?

Drink Less Water?

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104 thoughts on “Cold Water Therapy”

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  1. This is a great article, I always finish off showers with a cold rinse and try to jump into cold pools and the sea whenever I can. its a totally energizing and refreshing experience.

    1. I know this is a really old post, but I 100% agree with you on this. Finishing off showers with a cold rinse keeps you from sweating after getting all clean, too, which is a bonus.

      1. I first read this page, ‘BK’ in 2009

        Now revisiting this page, ‘AK’ in 2012

        1. Aren’t streams and the ocean below room temperature in the Philippines? Try scuba diving below 30 or 40 feet if you can.

    2. If you stop to think about it… cold adaptation is entirely a Paleolithic concept given that the earth was in various ice ages during the Paleolithic era.

      It only makes sense that cold weather exposure in human beings will bring about health benefits similar to switching to a Paleo/Primal diet.

  2. A comment on the chronic fatigue hypothesis. I agree, CFS is related to the hypothalmic pituitary axis. It is directly related to low levels of thyroid and adrenal hormones. Muscle pain/low levels of serotonin is a symptom along with CFS–it is not CFS.
    I don’t think people with CFS feel better in cold water, but they do feel bad in hot water. Anything that increases metabolism or temperature is going to stress the body if the adrenal hormones are lacking, specially, cortisol and aldosterone.

    1. CFS may also be caused by degenerative diseases of the nrevous system so people with this type of ailment must be cautious to the degree of water temperature they are using..

    2. an autoimmune disease like myasthenia gravis also produces a profound symptom of muscle weakness and cold water therapy cannot counteract the devastating effect of acetylcholine and dopamine imbalance of this ailment

    3. Hi, I have had CFS for years and for me the best help has come from frequent immersion in a cold bath. I try to have one each morning, and yes it is challenging, especially at the start, but the benefits it brings to my life are immense. Im in UK if any one wants to discuss further. As an unexpected side issue, cold baths have also stopped my Raynauds. I understand that we are all different in how we respond to treatment, but this is a free and accessible treatment for most. Do start slowly, perhaps by standing in a couple of inches at first, or try just washing head feet and wrists.

      1. Hi there, I have fibromyalgia and would love to know more about cold water therapy and how it has helped. I have been trying it for that last week and I feel slightly better.

      2. Hey Nino how you going? I’d love to get in touch with you and hear a little more about your ice bath experience for CFS/ME. I’m putting an article together on it and am keen to give it a go myself, some people swear it got them back on their feet. Thanks! Joe

      3. Hi, I have Raynaulds and haven’t found anything that improves the condition. I’ve never tried cold baths. Do you think immersion in a bath tub is required or cold showers maybe work? just curious to how you improved your Raynaulds.


        1. Hello Claudia,

          No, cold showers – as I said in an earlier post – are not quite the same thing as immersion. Read all you can on TRHT (Thermo Regulatory HydroTherapy and V.J. Kakkar, and the Chelsea Clinic).

          For Reynaud’s there is something that might help, I’ve heard it has with others, which is Gingko Biloba supplements, normally prescribed for memory loss as the years roll on – the connection being peripheral circulation.
          Also might try: Rutin (in buckwheat, and buckwheat honey), rosehips etc.

          You could try also just immersing feet and hands in cold water, liit this to about 12C as this is one of the cut-off/pain threshold points, an upper one is about 16C, where you start with lower body TRHT. Good luck, PS. take the right does of Gingko, Costco do a good quality good deal on them, 3 tabs after main meal.

        2. I have primary Raynauds(28 F and have been suffering since 16yrs old) and i tried the hot/cold shower. As soon as I turned the knob to cold I almost fell to the ground. My vessels vasoconstricted immediately and it was extremely painful. I’ve never felt that type of pain before which is kind of scary when you think about the condition possibly progressing into peripheral arterial disease. Ugh, is this what we have to look forward to!? Don’t do it. You want to vasodilate your vessels if anything, not constrict them!

      4. Hi,
        I have Raynauds and it is horrible! I’d love to hear about your experience in stopping it. Please email me. Thanks!

        1. I started in in feb,2015. i felt good. My dandruff was gone. I was happy.
          On 1st December,2015 . I had headache. I took medicine. I checked blood pressure. It was 152 / 102 MM of mercury. On 2nd, December, I took hot/cold contrast bath. On 3rd I felt numbness ( small touch sense loss) in left half of body ( face, hand foot). On 4th Doctor did MRI but no fault in brain. But after 3 months this tingling effect it still there. The sense to pinch is different in right and left side of body. I feel my left leg heavy. I am sure that it is neurological fault in brain, since it is not hand and foot. It is all left hald of body. I am very sad. Please guide me and suggest me if i did wrong in hot/ cold bath . ;(

          1. @vivek It sounds as if you had some kind of underlying pathology that you did not know about prior to beginning cold therapy. As Mark mentioned cold therapy can can vasoconstriction. In your case, you could have possibly had some type of constriction in an artery that was stressed to the point of occlusion during the cold therapy, causing a lack of bloodflow to an area of your brain causing a a stroke (cerebral vascular accident). Small CVAs or “mini-strokes” are not always captured on an MRI, but it sounds as if you have significant residual effects. I am so sorry, best wishes to you for a full recovery.

          2. There’s so much you can do on your own to heal yourself. Supplement with minerals especially magnesium add celtic sea salt to the drinking water. So much of what we experience is a lack of nutrients and dehydration at the cellular level. Diet is important and clean drinking water. Take a look at Darko Velcek’s Manual for the Human Body about healing through using Celtice sea salt in water to hydrate at the cellular level. Using apple cider vinegar, baking soda, magnesium oil (transdermally), eating a diet of whole foods fresh fruits and vegetables, pastured meat, naturally fermented foods, healthy fats.

          3. Google the wim hof method it incorporates breathing and exposure to cold water daily . here is a brief synopsis of wim’s therapy

  3. It isn’t the same, but I always love RUNNING into the ocean – it is THE only way to get in the water. Some people tip toe, and ooh and aah, and avoid the inevitable splash against *that* part of our body, but in reality, its a lot more fun and adaptable to just run in! Oh, and by the way, definitely stay in for a little bit – the water may not be *cold*, but it certainly isn’t ambient or blood temp!

  4. Interestingly enough, part of Art DeVany’s EF lecture that was published to YouTube (with Art’s permission) deals with this topic.

  5. This may be shifting the argument from whether cold water exposure is healthy to just vanity – but would one of the adaptations (i.e. insulative) be increased fat storage?

  6. JDS –

    As Art mentions in the video link above one of the reasons surfers are often so trim is because they spend a lot of time in cold water. The cold water absorbs heat from the surfer which requires energy (calories) to create. All other things being equal you could, ostensibly, lose weight simply by sitting in cold water. This is a version of the drinking cold water tip you may have heard.

  7. I do “contrast showers” all the time. Aka…start off somewhat hot then do 30sec cold, back to warm, 30 sec colder….etc…trying to hit all the lymph node areas (under the arms, neck, front hips) and the spine to shock the CNS. Great stuff. Definitely feel more alert…and there might be a little something in regards to fat loss since it will generate some sort of norephedrine response (which is key to access the fat in all those hard to get places that have those stubborn A2 receptors, or we could just take an ECA stack…if you can find it).

    Also the contrast showers help the lymphatic system move waste away from the cells (lymph) with the expansion/compression effect of hot/cold. May aid in natural detoxification and boosted immune function through that.

    I know there are stories out there also of centurians who say the secret to them living longer was taking cold showers. May be something to it.

  8. Heh heh.. I was a member of the polar bear club in high school, TOTALLY invigorating.
    I can’t say I’d be making cold showers a habit in some way.
    Cooling down is a must, but at the end of the day at least for me…. the shower needs to be hot.

  9. I’m trying to do as much cold water swimming as possible this summer. On the only extremely hot day (for Seattle) so far this season, I swam in Puget Sound, in water that was about 50 degrees, for 15-20 minutes. I’d never spent anywhere near that much time in it before. It felt amazing in the 90 degree heat, although when I came out my foot cramped up and I couldn’t quite feel my legs.

    Water water tempts me.

    Food Is Love

  10. As a kid I regularly swam in chilly water. We would go to Lake Tahoe a few times each summer and the community pool at my parents’ cabin in the mountains was huge and not heated, so the water stayed pretty chilly, often in the mid 60s. Maybe that is one reason why we kids had so much energy and my parents, who wouldn’t regularly go for a dip, didn’t!

  11. I occasionally end a shower with a few minutes of cold water only. Out of curiosity, I just checked the temperature and it is only 68-70 degrees…far shy of the 50 degrees mentioned. Looks like my only real option is adding ice to a bath which is a bit more work. I wonder if well water would tend to be colder than my city water? I remember the showers at a farm house I rented being much colder than my current house. Anybody else check their water temps?

  12. The well water at my house was 61 degrees this morning. I began taking cold showers as a health technique in April. My body has adapted quite a bit; it’s not near the shock now as it used to be. Also although I’m still somewhat invigorated by my 3 minute-long cold showers, the after effects of tingly, tight skin have decreased since I first began.

  13. George: “Cold showers? They’re for psychotics.”

    Kramer “Well I take ’em……..They give me a Whooooosh.”

  14. I was reading about sleep the other day, and I read a comment about how exercising just before sleeping tends to ruin your night’s sleep because of increased body temperature. This information totally matched my experience: I usually go lap swimming on Wednesday nights and then have trouble sleeping afterward.

    So this Wednesday, I went lap swimming like usual, and then I came home and took a nice cool shower where I gradually lowered the temperature more and more until it was downright frosty.

    Then I got out, went to bed and slept great.

  15. Hi
    Another good post

    I use the cold shower for this purpose after I get up in morning year round-although I dont bother in summer unless I want a general colling.

    Also, if I do get sick, still happens occassionally, I stop for a day or so till I feel I coming good.

    If you are in a really cold climate is not to do this in deep pools etc as there is a risk of hypothermia\collapse and drowning— a bucket of icy water or 2 does the job fine with out the risk.

    I think that the cold experience is one humans must have had a lot of during the ice age and so we must have some beneficial adaptations to it.

    Another way of seeing it is as a sort of circulatory system type training (ie acute peripheral vasoconstriction).

    On cold days you wake up really quick and afterwards it just doesnt seem cold anymore. I also think that since I’ve been doing this my general cold tolerance markedly improved.

  16. One other thing. There is a bit of a trick to it in learning to relax , although you still shiver, when you get this right it becomes easy to do.

  17. So *that’s* why I’ve been so danged healthy the past few years. I’ve got to stop nagging the landlord to fix the plumbing.

  18. Hi

    I’ve been having cold showers twice a day for nearly a month now.

    Its helped my depression & outlook in life. I feel more content & happier & a lot less stressfull.

  19. I have the good fortune that my gym, only 5-minutes walk away, has a cold pool that they maintain below 60 deg.

    After my intense 30-minutes of resistance work, I go into the sauna to increase the heat stress even more, and I leave as soon as I get really uncomfortable; 5-10 minutes. Then it’s into the steam room, i.e., lower temp but very high humidity. This really gets the sweat pumping. After a couple of minutes, I then go into the hot tub, so now the heat transfer efficiency is as high as you can get.

    Usually, just a minute there, and then right into the cold tub, full submersion. When I began this over a year ago, I could take no more than 30 seconds. Now I’m up to five minutes. I do this at the end of each of my two weekly sessions.

    It’s great. It’s like my treat after the workout. From a primal/evolutionary perspective, I imagine a very strenuous hunt, after which everyone jumps in the cold spring runoff to cool off.

    The other great thing is how it is a total reset on energy. I leave the gym totally refreshed, totally cooled down, totally invigorated and energized.

  20. Richard – That’s awesome you have those facilities at your disposal. I can imagine looking forward to it at the end of a tough workout… almost like a day in a Primal Spa.

    I use to soak in an ice cold (I’d literally pour the freezer ice machine box in the tub) bath I’d draw after an extremely long bike ride. It was torture at first, but the relief and effects (placebo or otherwise) afterward were always worth it.

  21. A comment for Crystal:

    We may (albeit respectfully) disagree that immersion in cold water taxes certain hormonal organs involved in CFS. I say, “We may,” because I experienced symptoms similar to those associated with CSF but not exactly the same. I experience a great deal of fatigue and occasional muscle cramping and even injury; in addition, I had some mental sluggishness and a broad spectrum of gastrointestinal symptoms; in fact, the g.i. symptoms (cramping, constipation, excessive flatulence) were my primary complaint. After moving to the American Northwest coast, I found myself swimming twice daily in the cold coastal waters. Nothing I had ever tried during the previous ten years of suffering from the above symptoms had ever made me feel so vastly better–especially regarding the mental benefits. I soon found that if I was trying to remember something before my swim, I would surely remember it while doing my laps across the shallow, salty waters of the river coursing down the beach into the vast, onrushing tide.

    I later discovered that taking kelp tablets virtually eradicated my symptoms overnight; therefore, I concluded I had (mild) hypothyroid, like my biological sister. But I have continued open water swimming since that very first time I tried it. Over five years have passed, and I must admit I have become somewhat of an addict to the effects of cold water. It not only gives one a rush; I think it offers one a gentle (certainly low-impact) stimulation and positive effects on one’s health…provided one enters into the activity–or, quite literally, immerses oneself–with an attitude of hope and confidence rather than one of reluctance and fear. I suppose that, in the final respect, cold water swimming, or “therapy”, can be likened to other controversial therapies, in that its results seem to defy predictions whenever the participant simply believes the treatment will do some good.

    1. Can you give more details on the kelp? Does kelp actually work for symptoms?

  22. It seems as though I remember a movie shown to us in grade school of native Americans sweating in a hot Tee Pee, then running directly to, and jumping in to a freezing cold lake. I don’t recall their exact purpose, but maybe they were on to something.

  23. When I was a teenager trying to lose weight, I read something about a french method of immersing your lower body in the coldest water you could get (from the tap) and sitting for 5 minutes. It was hard and I did it every night. When you get out and dry off, you get a heat and tingly energy in your legs and body. I loved the feeling, but doing it is torture! Maybe I’ll try it again 🙂

    1. Out of curiousity, since I’m also trying to lose weight. Did that work for you?

  24. When I was a lifeguard, the first thing we’d do was a 10 minute morning swim, in water that was anywhere between 55-70F. Let me tell you that cold water would rip any sort of hangover right out of you! We used to have a slang name for it, TBS. Total Body Submersion. It’s a known hangover cure among lifeguards. I’m not promoting heavy drinking, I’m just saying IT WORKS. No matter how hard you went the night before, TBS would take care of you in the morning. If it was a morning run for some reason, you were screwed. 😉

    1. In my circle of friends we go out to Montauk in the summertime. The deep water off the end of Long Island stays REALLY cold throughout the summer. Of course, we binge on wine, steaks, clams, wine, beer, oysters, lobster rolls, wine and more wine. We call the ocean “The Big Aspirin,” for the very same reason.

      Wake up at 10am, head pounding, eyes dried shut…stumble to the beach, drop your stuff and run into the water…BBBBBBAM!! Hangover gone.

      PS – Watch out for sharks! Saw a BIG old fin while boogie boarding out in Montauk a few years ago, REAL close.

  25. I recently started taking alternating hot/cold showers. I start off quite warm then gradually make it as hot as I can for about 3 minutes then switch to cold for about 1 minute. I do 3 cycles and gradually make the hot hotter and the cold colder each cycle. I’ve only been doing this for 2 weeks now but the chronic headaches I’ve had for 30 years have lessoned (only 1 in the last 10 days-absolute heaven) and I’ve mysteriosly lost 8 lbs. (I’m quite obese) without changing my eating habits. The fact that it has been stinking hot the past 2 weeks and I’m sweating to death with no air conditioning could also be a factor for the weight loss! LOL I’ve also been doing some awesome meditations, listening to binaural beats and watching subliminal videos so it could be a combination of everything. I enjoy the showers though and will continue them daily.

  26. Does anyone know a good place to buy a cold plunge tank? I’ve been thinking seriously of investing in one for our gym and have had little luck finding something that looks like what you would find in a locker room.

    1. Get a horse trough. Eva T brought one to Crossfit NorCal back in the day I believe.

      1. I was just thinking of this last night after I came in from my sprints all sweaty – I used to love the cold immersion tank in the gym in HS. We’ve got a Farm Supply right here, I might get one, especially after reading this post!

  27. I have suffered from a mild form of Raynaud syndrome all of my life. When I started using cold water thereapy a few years back, one of the benefits that emerged several weeks later was a increase of blood circulation to my fingers and a cessation of the Raynaud Syndrome.

  28. The French method Elise mentions in her post is called ‘Bains dérivatifs’, it’s based on an ancien bath technique developped by L. Kuhne, a german therapist from the 19th Century that used water & cold water in particular, to heal all sorts of ailments
    you can read about it here

  29. Cold showers … the thought struck me this morning as I was enjoying a slightly warmer than freezing shower. Could the benefits of cold showering be an evolutionary adaptation? A trait that improves survivability which is inherited to the next generation?

    The reason I thought of this was that the first cold splash induced the mammalian divers reflex ( in me. Why do we retain this reflex unless we have some history of water adaptation? May the added health benefit we experience with cold showers have something to do with that those who tolerated colder water in order to get to the food deeper down into the sea were the ones that was the best hunters and was seen upon as a better mate?

    Also our adaptation to use ketones for fuel decreases the use of oxygen in order to oxidize glycol in our muscles. Using ketones for fuel doesn’t need oxygen. Also, a keton adapted brain tolerates and need less oxygen.

    Just speculating wildly here, any thoughts to the idea?

  30. Interestingly, one of the most senior instructors of Systema, Vladimir Vasiliev states that he was taught to use cold water ablutions in the Spetsnaz (Russian special forces). From a health perspective, the soldiers were told that Russian scientists had found that for micro seconds the sudden shock of the cold water pushed the body`s core temperature up to 42.2 degrees C – effectively mimicking a `fever` and burning off all the nasty foreign microbes that may be lurking in the body. Vlad says that he has persisted with the practice ever since…and has yet to suffer another cold, despite now residing/teaching in Toronto!!
    His practice consists of filling a bucket and leaving it outside…but for more practicable purposes I recommend a washing up bowl placed in the fridge overnight..

    1. A follow up. Our water here in January runs around 57 F and so there is a slight shock and awe when I first turn the water from hot to cold. Since my body acclimated to the shock I now find the coldwater to be quite exhilarating and I still do not get colds or flue. When I first started this regimen over five years ago, one minute was all I could stand but now I have no problem with several minutes. For those of you who have serious heart burn, try eating an apple before you go to bed. It stopped the acid reflux dead in its tracks.

  31. About four years ago (I am 65 now) our doctor suggested that my wife and I start taking a cold shower on a daily basis and I decided to give it a try. Now I shave while showering so I start off with a very hot shower and after shaving I turn the shower all the way cold. In the summer here in Idaho the cold water is in the upper sixties and into the seventies but in the winter it is downright shocking.

    Before I started this regimen I caught every cold and flue bug that got passed around in the office. Since then I have been pretty much flue and cold free. also about four years ago I started a hydrogen peroxide inhalent regimen after the cold shower and it has done wonders for breathing.

  32. I have been doing the “James Bond” showers for about two weeks now. I start with hot water and then switch to cold for the last minute or so. It sure feels great, just not sure it is reallying doing anything beneficial.

  33. I live in AZ and was running a lot throughout the winter. I was very sore and started doing 10 min dips in my cold pool. I noticed much less soreness- ! 4 months had passed without a cool dip (hot here). I just swam ALcatraz without a wetsuit. My AZ companion froze in a wetsuit, I found it refreshing! I think my cold immersions helped prep me for the swim. Interesting that the adaption to the cool lasts that long.

  34. I can’t help but wonder if there may be some benefit that Navy SEAL candidates get from all the exposure to cold water that allows them to push there bodies to seemingly superhuman levels for months on end.

    1. I agree. When I lived in Canada for many years, I would catch a cold and flu every now and then. Did not use cold water therapy then. A year ago I have moved to Middle East and at the same time started cold water therapy – water is not that cold here from the tap so I put a 2 gallon bucket into my fridge and let it cool overnight. After a hot shower I would just pour it quickly over my head feeling the rush – a form of mini immersion. Doing this every weekend (2 days a week) and have not been sick once for a year with anything. Even though there is no cold in Middle East, the A/C in the car and the buildings can get you in addition to alternating from hot outside to cold inside. Fridge cold water helped me this way, there is no other way for me to immerse in cold water, all swimming pools are hot outside. There was a Russian fellow last century, don’t know his name, who used this bucket cold water therapy to stay healthy and was even tortured by authorities to check his claims and became famous in Russia….that’s how I have heard of this and started doing it…

  35. Who would give up warm water… Well me and yes it is by choice, I’ve found that the benfits of cold water are so great that I have cancelled out any warm water entirely. I will likely never deviate from this, unless I have a really really good reason;) Oh I also live in New England year round.

  36. I have always liked the ocean in the winter. As kids I would ditch school and go bodysurfing for hours in January. As i got older i moved away from bodysurfing and cold water. A few years back I was filming some outrigger canoe races and found myself swimming in some pretty cold water Off Avila beach for up to 40 min at one swim. I do not like wetsuits at all so this was with just a patagonia shirt and short and my trusty Churchil fins. The point is Man did I feel alive. I cannot talk about the science of it but I know and knew that the cold water is good for me. Now I just need to part from the comfort and get wet.

  37. I love cold showers, especially in winter.

    Cold showers are amazing, I time myself for 4 minutes and the first 20 s really hurts, especially when it’s winter but the next 3 minutes are… liberating (the only word that seems fitting)

    When you emerge the warmth the towel offers is a little reward and when your hair dries, in my case for once it actually has volume. Yeah my hair is usually a straw mess which sticks to my scalpt, but cold water gives it volume and a shine (it liberates it! hahah). After the shower I go outside in the sun to let it dry naturally.

  38. This article really spoke to me. I never have liked hot water; I take showers in I guess you would call- “room temperature” water. And hot tubs are just so uncomfortable for me. It’s a very interesting topic that I’ll definitely do more research on. This site inspires me so much– keep up the good work!

  39. For anybody still interested, I take 1-2 cold showers per day (hot for about 1 minute to open pores, cool for 1 min, then gradually colder for about 4 minutes until BAM… coldest setting for about 7 minutes).

    I have noticed a few worthy changes:
    -increased energy levels (no doubt about this)
    -improved sleep, skin, immune system, and sex drive
    -potentially increased metabolism, though not as definitive as the above benefits

    TIPS: do things in the shower such as… brush your teeth, recite a speech, do basic maths, calf raises… ANYTHING to get your mind off the cold, but brandon is right, it’s incredibly liberating.

    1. I like the sound of this protocol – but what about movement during the shower? Do you stay in one position or keep alternating between back and front? Because that can be excruciating, but perhaps more beneficial.

      1. I take cold showers 4 or 5 times a week. My tap water from the well is 55-57F after I let it run a while. I start with the feet for a few seconds, then I spray the legs then the trunk in front, then I do the face. I make a point to hold the spray on my forehead until it hurts. That takes about a minute. The trigeminal nerve is what sends you into the dive reflex from what I have read. Then I start cooling off the back shoulders and legs. I rotate the spray around various places to get maximum cooling effect. After having done this for a few weeks, the water temp is not feeling cold at all. I could stay in all day I think at 55F. I usually limit my time to around 10 minutes. After the treatment I check my chest skin temperature and find it is usually 60F or so, where as it started at 90F. I know my metabolism is working harder, I’m converting the white fat tissue to brown tissue which you can feel becoming softer. The result is better weight loss rate, body composition changes are good and recovery from exercise is faster. Oh, and I am sleeping MUCH better.

        A few weeks ago my family went to the shores of Lake Michigan for my 64th birthday wish and I swam for 20 minutes in 49F temperature lake water. I loved it and was not cold in any way. No one else could stand to get in the water past ankle deep. Clearly we are wired to adapt to the cold.

  40. I used to habitually take cold showers consistently over a period of about 2 1/2 years (incl. ice cold showers in the winter time in north-central European climates), but I can’t remember feeling a huge difference in health – on the other hand, my lifestyle wasn’t as much in line with “Mark’s teachings” as it is today.

    I don’t think I’ll go back to cold showers in the morning (never really felt like I fully adapted to those), however, nowadays I’d even enjoy cold showers after a workout during daytime/night, when the body’s fully warmed up.

    As far as surfing goes, even here in SoCal, I’d prefer wearing a wet suit most of the time, since the symptoms of hypothermia (at least for me) become apparent real quick when you’re not wearing a wet suit.

  41. I have been using Cold water therapy for the past 1year, it feels great.

  42. Interesting Article. I find it especially interesting that you said that repeated exposure to cold temperatures allowed the subjects to better control their thermogenics, I have read other studies that seem to indicate that they may do this through encouraging your body to produce BAT (brown adipose tissue) or brown fat instead of WAT (white adipose tissue) or white fat. Brown Fat is supposed to be more thermogenically active and easier to burn to regulate body temperature under periods of stress (exercise, cold, etc.) Just thought I would share, it certainly seems to fit with your article, and when I read things that seem to fit with my pre-existing knowledge, just reinforces the validity of the information in my mind.

  43. Let’s see, cold showers… Oh! It helps decrease an active libido too right?

    Seriously, I spent some time in Mexico on vacation this Spring and pampered myself to a daily massage at the Hotel. After each massage, they had me switch between the sauna and a COLD bath. Wow! Very invigorating and I definitely felt better than the usual post massage experience here in the US.

    The mention of cold water therapy in T-Cell Lymphoma cases/prevention is interesting to me as my Mother-in-Law just survived it last year.

  44. As the weather has been getting cooler and wetter, I have taken to running indoors on the tredmill. The swimming pool is no longer heated (60 F) but we have had the hot tub on (104 F). After my run, I immediately plunge into a cold pool and while bracing at first can easily endure 10 minutes of gentle lengths followed by a plunge in the hot tub. I do this hot/cold dip back and forth a couple of times. The contrast and sensation is amazing. Almost a silky feeling. I feel so refreshed and do not suffer the excessive muscle pain after an workout.
    It feels great.

  45. Hey m from India over here during winter its not so cold but for our country people it is…
    I stay in a Joint Family through out my childhood m seeing ma Uncle taking bath in cold water use to ask him always y he bath with cold water always even during the winter & i was told tat is very gud to bath with cold water – mainly u do not feel cold.
    From past 4 yrs. now i have been bathing in cold water in due to this now m becoming strong internally i do not feel cold in winter…
    Now i have gone through many sights one of which i have mentioned it is very healthy taking cold bath / ice bath / ishnan.

  46. Hi,

    In Shia Islam, we have teachings where it is recommended to rinse your feet with cold water after a shower.

    Napoleon Hill, in his books, also mentions cold rinsing after showers for better health.

  47. Thanks for the article Mark.

    This is something new to me, I have CFS too and was interested to read the comments aboutit being a potential treatment.

    It’s defintiely something I’m going to be experimenting with.

    I always loved hot showers, the hotter the better, even if sometimes they did make me more fatigued, as did hot baths.

    I tried my first full cold shower this morning striaght after reading this, not sure of the temperature but at first it was torture but i was surprised how quickly i got used to it, instead o ice cold it began to feel just slightly cold and i was able to stand under it for longer without jumping around like a sissy.

  48. After reading about the benefits of cold showers, I started taking them regularly two weeks ago and I am now totally addicted to them. I prefer to start cold and stay under the cold water (approximately 50F) for 5-8 min. I feel totally invigorated afterwards.

    I have a question though for the other cold water afficionados on this forum. When you feel a bit “under the weather,” is your experience that cold showers help, or do they put undue strain on your body?

    1. I have been doing this now for several years and I am soon to be 68. I start with a very hot shower while I shave then turn it all the way cold for several minutes. I do this day in and day out and may even take a cold shower later in the day. It even invigorates me if I seem to be a bit under the weather. If you still seem to experience some cold or flue symptoms try inhaling Hydrogen peroxide mist through the mouth. I emptied out a nasal mister and give myself about ten pumps while breathing in deeply.

  49. Cold exposure can help with fat loss as well. Cold exposure has been shown to cause brown adipose tissue (brown fat or BAT) to burn white fat to produce heat (via thermogenesis). Also, cold exposure has been shown to cause the body to produce additional brown adipose tissue. One efficient way to take advantage of this is to exercise by swimming in cool water. Water is very thermo-conductive.

    If you want to learn more, search Google for brown adipose tissue and cold exposure.

  50. Love the cold water. My husband and I swim as many days a week as our schedule allows, never less than 3. We check the temperature once or twice a month, so far February has been 5 to 5.6 degrees celsius. People say we are crazy to jump in the ocean with just our bathing suits and mask and snorkel [love to see all the amazing sea creatures and plants as the seasons change], but I can’t imagine not swimming. Too much to say about it here but we love it. People always ask me what I do at 44 to be so healthy, happy and youthful….jump in the ocean and if I’m lucky that day, swim with the seals.

  51. All this and no mention of the great Victorian cold water therapists of Britain. Nor of Professor Vijay Kakkar (The Chelsea Thrombosis Research Institute), who did much systematic research and specifically promoted ‘Thermo-Regulatory Hydrotherapy’ for CFS in the late 80’s… and introduced the idea of brown (adipose) fat storage so perhaps answering the above question
    Lots of benefits… partic. heart and circulation, blood thinning, lymphocytes tc. but adapative effect is controleld by consistent and fairly measured increase in full immersion at reducing temps and increasing times (down to about 15C, quite warm when 3 months into it 🙂

    Turning to cold at the end of a shower, does stimualte the circulation, great for muscles, relaxing whole body afterwards and in the morning, removing residual back-pain if run down spine… however, the shower/sprinkiling effect is ‘disturbing’ and actually much more shocking and upsetting than the feet, lower body and then full immesrion in a proper bath of cold water. That is without doubt the far better way to do it… in fact, cold showering can put people off, it can be so disturbing being ‘splashed’ with cold water. There is a proper way of doing T-R-H-T… worth checking out, feet first spash (hence that runni g through the shallows) then sit for a few minutes then lie back and immerse up to neck.. keep moving and use a thermomenetre and a clock. Warm drink and carbs soon after… NEVER warm shower or warm bath after, let the body warm itself. Never exercise ctrongly after, always before if required. Shivering can be strong, to start with (first month or so) Hey it’s natural!
    Quite a lot of research into thermal adaption exists.. one major effect is on the hypothalamaus, the body’s thermostat.
    I’ll try to upload the original European Newspaper Articles by Prof. Vijay Kakkar (Thrombosis Research Institute)

  52. I am originally from Russia, known for its cold winters. I remember my grandma getting half naked in the backyard and rubbing her skin with snow. There are clubs of people doing regular cold dips in winter rivers, who call themselves “Walruses” (Morzhi).
    Just a question from the Russian CW though. Though we leave in a cold climate, people are obsessed about dressing warmly, avoiding drafts etc. I can imagine that a lot of women will scald the cold water practice because “it will negatively affect and cause inflamation in female organs”. What do you think about that?

  53. while I don’t “go primal” I do engage in in short, high intensity workouts 1-2x per week and the cold pool at my gym is amazing the night of my workouts for relieving soreness. I’m 42 yrs old so muscle and joint stiffness come more frequently but the cold pool (up to the neck for 15 min) is a big treat for me.

  54. <>

    It will do nothing but improve their gemital health actually.. cold water, is not ice, it is cold water! Usually water at depth rarely dips below 4 degrees C (the anomalous expanion of water, it is denser at 4C than above or below that temp)

  55. I do two sessions of 10-15 min. per day when I’m home or shower in cold water for 3-5 min. when on the road.
    The water temp. at home is about 54 deg. F. I use a 100 gal. horse tub from Rubbermaid, $100 and added a drain. I’m 56 and trying to get in top shape for the rest of my life which I expect to be around 90. My plan is to live long and die short. All the best.

  56. There is a well knwon fact in Northern India that up to 50% of modern disease can be prevented with cold water baths and showers however they must never be undertaken straight after excercise and you should always wait until sweat has dried

  57. Good read, as someone who plunges into cold pool after a sauna several times a week I found it interesting. Ive always wondered what the shock effect is now I know, it’s feels even more shocking coming out of a sauna and diving into a cold plunge 15C. I’ve been doing this for 20 years now and do so as it makes me feel good. I’d like to learn more about the science behind what is going on, especially the sauna. Ironically I have a teenage child with CFS and am going to try hard to get her to take the plunge from now on!!
    Geoff in SW Oz

  58. Back in 2009 I got hot and sweaty whilst out on my bike, then the eve got cold and I had to cycle back home 8 miles in a soaked top and it was hell. This gave me major shivers as it seemed to upset my skin somehow and felt shivery and chilly but sweaty for 3 years after and could not work out if I was hot or cold. Docs couldnt find anything wrong with me, all blood tests ok but I felt at a loss what to do. I then went on hol (Oct 2012) to a spa hotel where they had a steam room and plunge pool which I did both all week, and I think it kind of helped with my symptoms and felt quite ok end of last year and up to about a month ago where I got a chill and the cold sweats and feeling cold but sweaty have returned with a vengeance. Any form of cold makes me wrap up (nine layers), so I am wondering if cold bath treatment might work for me again or make things even worse for me this time. I have started taking steam rooms again this week at the gym but they dont have a plunge pool only a drench shower in the spa area which is too much of a shock. I am desperate to be “normal” again and be able to go out on my bike or walking without having to take multiple tops to change into due having to wrap up as I feel cold and shivery, but sweating underneath.

    Constructive comments welcome.

  59. Thank you for the good article.
    The most important aspect in my
    opinion is the activation of brown fat,

  60. I have also heard that immersing your face in a bowl of ice cold water for 30 seconds several times helps to reduce stress and improve sleep. Does anyone have experience with this technique?

  61. While in school for massage therapy we learned of the benefits of cold and hot therapy. It has been my personal experience that both are nice in their own ways, but when used together in alternating therapy they are very beneficial, and I feel the effects more quickly. After a nice warm shower, I turn off the shower head and turn on the faucet with the coldest water possible. I let the water run over my feet till the just numb feeling sets in. This causes the body to respond and send in the blood flow to warm up my feet. They become their own little heaters… It’s pretty awesome.

  62. Am I the only unlucky dude whose body has rejected the cold showers?
    I began 6 months ago with full cold showers and gradually prolonged them to comfortable 3 minutes. Although I would always feel great and invigorated, I noticed that 30 minutes afterwards chills and cold hands and feet wold set in and I would warm up only inthe afternoon. Autumn came and I found myself very intolerant even of mild cold, so I decided to start with warm water and end with usual 3 minutes of cold but that did not ward off the uncomfortable cold sensations. Finally, on the first winter day I caught a heavy cold, so I had to suspend cold showers completely. After 5 days of inly warm showers, my hands and feet are warm again and I am not nervous out in the cold anymore. Chills are also gone.
    I would like to continue with cold showers but at this point I don’t know if they are really for me. I am 44 yo healthy male 188cm / 80 kg, a bit thin constitution.
    Do you have any advice for me?

    1. Why not start cold and end warm? That way you could go through the initial cold shock, but allow yourself to warm up at the end. I also think that really layering yourself up and doing some light exercise afterwards does wonders.

  63. This subject interests me. A question for anyone who can answer – how about hot sauna followed by cold water immersion following either endurance or strength training? I do this quite often and feel pretty good. What are the potential benefits of raising body temperature in hot sauna and then lowering it through cold water immersion either post exercise or as a therapy on its own?

  64. Not everybody is created equal for cold showers. You should modify them in terms of exposure duration and body parts you expose to cold water according to your body’s response.
    Your symptoms are neurological but they don’t have to originate in the brain, as your MRI confirms. Many people, including me, do not react well to exposing head and neck to cold water. To me, exposing these two to cold showers were giving headaches, periferal vision problems, shoulder pain and a bit trebmling hands. In one week after excluding head and neck from my cold shower routine, these symptoms have gone.
    As a start, I would suggest that you completely stop doing cold showers for 3-4 weeks and see if your problems will disappear. If not, then most likely your symptoms are not linked to cold showers and you should carry on with medical exams.

  65. I’ve been experimenting with cold shower for years and you do build up tolerance and it is now almost an addiction. I do a mustard oil massage first, however, during Colorado winters and then take the plunge with ice cold water while scraping the oil off, which also warms the skin. One of the many perks is that I used to feel cold throughout the day, but now cold weather no longer bothers me, and I noticed that whenever others complain of feeling cold, indoors or out, I don’t.

  66. I’m on day 2 of a 3-5 day water fast. I cold water swim 4 days a week, 40-45 degrees but have been refraining while fasting. Would it be to my benefit to contine or would wreck the fasting process somehow?

  67. In the African Region where i live presently, cold showers are an absolute must, the heat is unheard of

    Back in the UK where i am from, usually had sunny days where you can feel the sun but the windy breeze reduces the effect of the heat

    But over here, the heat is scorching from the sun directly, you gotta love cold showers at least twice a day