I had put it off as long as I could. It was time. Just do it, I told myself. Then, I took a deep breath, soaking up a few precious last seconds of warmth and turned the shower nozzle to cold. All the way to cold.
Immediately, my muscles became tense and I gasped for air like a survivor from the Titanic. I rotated my body periodically to make sure the stream of ice cold water hits every side of me. I tried to count calmly in my head. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand…
When my time was up, I slammed the nozzle down, stopping the stream of water. I quickly toweled off and felt my body tingle as the blood rushed back through my veins. I felt a surge of energy and accomplishment as I finished getting ready and started my day.
That has been how my mornings have started for the last thirty days. You may be asking yourself why, in the name of all that is holy, would I subject myself to such torture first thing in the morning? I assure you that it is not because I am just a glutton for punishment.
I have read about the benefits of cold exposure in the past, but it popped back up on my radar after reading Aubrey Marcus’s new book, Own the Day, Own Your Life. It’s a great book and he is a big advocate on cold showers. So, I thought I’d look into it a little more.
Actually, there is a lot of research to support the many benefits of cold exposure for the body. Dr. Rhonda Patrick, who earned a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences, published a 20-page report back in 2016 explaining the adaptations that come from cold exposure. These include positive effects on mood, vigilance, focus and attention. She also stated that it had the ability to help repair damaged synapses in the brain and prevent muscle atrophy in the body. Cold exposure has also been shown to lower inflammation and pain by decreasing the levels of 3 inflammatory mediators. And, on top of all that, it can improve the immune system, increase metabolic rate and the burning of fat.
Upon reading the laundry list of benefits, I concluded that I could essentially become superhuman if I started taking cold showers. Needless to say, I was intrigued, but was it really all it was cracked up to be? What was stopping me from finding out? Some discomfort, rock hard nips and a little shrinkage? No problem. I had to test it out for myself.
So, I decided that I would commit to it for thirty days. Every morning I would take my normal, hot shower, but I would end it with cold water. At the end of thirty days, if I felt like it was beneficial, maybe I’d keep it as part of my daily routine (Disclaimer: don’t take cold showers late in the day, unless you want to be up all night).
The first few days were the worst. I had to really talk myself into leaving the comfort of my hot shower for the savage cold that awaited me. But, I did it, kicking and screaming the whole way. A few days I even forgot to turn the water to cold before getting out of the shower and drying off. When I remembered my commitment, I cried for just a moment. Then, I got back in and cranked up the cold.
The more I did it, the easier I got. I started with just thirty seconds of cold to end each shower, but I eventually began to stay in longer as I got used to it. I’ve worked myself up to 2-3 minutes, if you can consider me counting in my head as a reliable clock.
The best part was that my suffering seemed to be paying off. I felt more awake and alert after my cold showers. I didn’t feel like I had to suck down two cups of coffee before I could function. My productivity improved in the morning and I didn’t feel that mid-afternoon lull in energy near as often. My body felt great and I was seeing some improvements in my body composition (in all fairness, I was also dialing in my food intake at the time, but the cold showers couldn’t have hurt, right?)
These benefits alone are enough to make me a cold shower convert, but the greatest one I’ve seen is a bit less tangible. And, that is the momentum that you gain from starting your day doing something that is difficult, but you know is good for you.
It’s not easy to leave the comfort and warmth of your bed in the morning and dive into a cold shower. It sucks, but you know what? I bet that after you take that cold shower, you are way more likely to eat a good breakfast than to grab a donut on your way to work. And, after that cold shower and good breakfast, I bet you have more energy and are more productive at work. Then, you’ll want to keep that train rolling and make sure you hit the gym for a good workout. And, at the end of the day, you’re probably pretty tired from getting after it all day and I bet you get a good night’s sleep instead of staying up into the wee hours of the morning scrolling through your phone. Wake up the next morning. Rinse and Repeat.
You can’t underestimate the snowball effect that one positive habit in the morning can have on the rest of your day and your life. Small changes lead to big changes over time. This is something that is 100% in your control and when you continually make the difficult decision to do something uncomfortable in the short term, but beneficial in the long term, it becomes habit. And when you habitually do the things that you know you want to do, you will become the person you want to be.
Look, at the end of the day, I’m just a guy in a cold shower asking you to join me. Well, not in the same shower. Separate showers. You take yours and I’ll take mine, but together. Metaphorically, that is. Okay, this isn’t coming out the way I wanted. Let’s start over…
I realize that there are people out there who, even with knowledge of the plethora of benefits that come from cold exposure, wouldn’t take a cold shower if you paid them. I get it, and that’s fine. But, I challenge you to find something that you can do first thing in the morning to start your day on the right foot. Maybe it’s reading. Maybe it’s exercise. Or meditation. It doesn’t really matter as long as it is something that is going to serve you in the long term and that you can make a habit of every day.
Long term goals are awesome, but focus on what you can do today. Fall in love with the process and good things will happen. And if you do decide to make cold showers part of your daily routine and you find yourself gasping for air like a fish out of water, I’ve heard it takes at least 30 minutes before hypothermia sets in, despite how it might feel. God speed.
- many research-based advantages of cold exposure: Rhonda Patrick, “Cold Shocking the Body,” com, 2015, https://www.foundmyfitness.com/reports/cold-stress.pdf.
- “2.” Own the Day, Own Your Life: Optimized Practices for Waking, Working, Learning, Eating, Training, Playing, Sleeping, and Sex, by Aubrey Marcus, Harper Wave, an Imprint of HarperCollisnPublishers, 2018.