Human Body

Is Cold Water Bad for You? Effects And Benefits of Cold Water

Is Cold Water Bad for You
Nora Taylor
Written by Nora Taylor

In our modern days rarely anyone considers that being cold is a nice experience. People subconsciously cringe at the idea of being cold in any way and avoid that unpleasant experience. But they don’t understand that being cold now and then can actually have highly positive and beneficial effects on the body and the overall health.

On the other hand, there are other people who actually spend some time immersing themselves in cold water, especially during the winter; others do winter swimming, and yet another group of people (due to lack of natural resources) may just take a cold shower on a daily basis. The ordinary person may wonder why anyone would want to experience something so unpleasant, but after reading this article you may change your mind, if you’ve never came across the idea of getting cold regularly. In the end of the article you will know if cold water is good or bad for you.

Benefits of swimming in cold water

Before talking about whether cold water is good or bad for you, we better spend a little bit of time explaining what actually happens to your body when you’re immersed in any type of cold condition, especially water.

  • Immune response
  • Brown fat production
  • Faster metabolism
  • Reversing diabetes

The basis of cold conditions and cold water is that it immediately stresses the body. You may wonder how that could be good for you, but here is what actually happens. Our bodies evolve and better adapt if unfavorable conditions occur on a regular basis. Of course, the body needs time to recover from the experienced stress, but this gives it, in evolutionary terms, a way for better adaptation to changes. The body also adapts to the stress.

Swimming in the cold water

In addition to that, your immune system also responds to the cold water and reactivates. You can imagine how you turn the switch onto your immune system, thus making sure that you won’t catch a cold every time autumn approaches or someone in your surroundings has the flu. As the immune system becomes more active, the result is that it will function in full speed.

Another great benefit from taking cold showers or swimming in cold water is that your body begins producing its own brown fat. This is a relatively new discovery in the scientific world. So far we believed we just have fat in our bodies, but the truth is that we have white fat and brown fat. White fat is all the fat cells we have all over our bodies (and which is the reason why so many people are fighting obesity).

Brown fat on the other hand is actually good fat, since it helps burning more effectively the white fat. Brown fat is often located on the back of a person, near the neck and below it. Tests are showing that people who endure a month or two of intensive cold water immersion have significantly increased their brown fat production, thus speeding up the process of burning white fat. The result is that they usually become more lean and healthy, and better endure cold conditions.

You may wonder how brown or white fat can be in any way beneficial. The reason is that white fat is simply an oily substance, which is hard for the body to metabolize. As for brown fat, it contains lots of mitochondria cells, which produce ATP. This chemical helps the release and transmission of energy stored in the white fat cells.

ATP uses the oil reserves and quickly turns them into energy. If a body lacks brown fat, white fat cells will be hardly used for anything and the oil reserves will remain there until the person performs heavy workouts and sweat a lot as a result. You can boost the effect of exercise, if you regularly swim in cold water or take cold showers.

Another great effect is that brown fat uses tryglicerides and stored sugars, which could have a positive effect on people with type 2 diabetes (or are in a pre-diabetic state). It is even possible to reverse the effects of diabetes in the first place.

In addition, as you swim in cold water or take a cold shower your body activates a gene cryptically called UCP1. It is also activated during workout and exercising. This gene also helps in the effective production of brown fat, as it uses the white fat stores. Again you can see how cold water and exercising can have a mutually beneficial symbiosis.

The effects of cold water on the body

Let’s take a closer look on each process that occurs in the body as you immerse it in cold water.

  • Immune system activation
  • Improved blood circulation
  • Natural antioxidants production
  • Fights depression
  • Reduces pain
  • Fights Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Fights obesity

First of all, as we already mentioned above, your immune response rises significantly. Your body produces more natural defensive cells and hence protects you in the long term from a wide range of common illnesses and flues. Many people defending the cold water as a natural immune system booster claim they rarely suffer any illnesses at all, let along catching the usual cold.

Next, your blood circulation improves radically. This is especially important for people who suffer slow blood flow, often feel cold to the hands and feet and exercises rarely. People who avoid workouts tend to have slower metabolism and slower blood circulation. Thus, some organs and the periphery don’t get enough blood and oxygen. These people often report they are constantly cold. If you are one of these people and you dread doing any workout at all, you should try the cold water treatment.

Cold water on body

A nice addition to the above benefits is that the body begins producing natural antioxidants in the blood stream. This is a way to slow down aging and improves once more the overall health condition.

Cold water can also effectively fight depression and fatigue. It’s been reported that people having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, after trying the cold shower/swimming treatment, report having more energy and feel more vital. In addition to that, cold water helps the production of beta-endorphins in the blood stream.

As we all know endorphins are those chemicals responsible for the good and bright mood some people report after eating chocolate or exercising.

And as we already mentioned, cold water can fight obesity by producing more brown fat and thus burning the white fat much rapidly and more efficiently.

Experimenting with cold water

If you want to reap the benefits we pointed out above, you should start trying these things out yourself. It may be a bit stressful at first, but as you acclimatize your body to the changes you’ll begin experiencing the real joy and benefits.

Take a cold shower

Many people report the first experience they have and they share how invigorated and lively they feel. Many even say that the overall daily stress they had experienced is no longer affecting them so strongly and doesn’t have a negative impact on their physical and mental health. Some share how they begin to prefer cold showers to warm showers, including swimming on a regular basis in cold water.

The explanation is that when the body is under stress for a minute or two under cold water, you may get overwhelmed, but with time you get used to that surge of stress hormones (cortisol and nor adrenaline). As a result you will feel less affected by other stressors throughout your day. You will be less irritable, upset or angry in comparison to before.

The first advice to people who have never tried cold shower or swimming in cold water is to try that gradually. If you try it with cold shower, the first time you experiment, do it for no more than a minute. Get under the shower and you can either run the cold water immediately, or you can gradually acclimatize your body as you little by little have colder and colder water running. Different approaches work for different people. As long as you spend a minute in the coldest water possible under the shower that would be best.

Under a cold water

As you get used to the cold, you can try and spend more than a minute. Spend two minutes. You will begin to enjoy this and it won’t be as shocking as in the beginning.

If you dread and procrastinate the action, you can do a public vow (in a close circle of friends and relatives) that you will test cold water showers or swimming for one or two weeks. You have to set a mental decision that you will get to do this every day, first thing in the morning.

For some people getting a cold shower before they even brush their teeth works best. You may find a method that suits you better. You could try having cold shower before you go to bed. It will soothe your senses and in fact help you sleep better, as you will be more relaxed after you exit the shower.

After you set this routine and it’s no longer a new thing for you, you can go even further. During the winter you can begin walking in the snow barefoot. You can also try swimming in a lake. Break the ice and get in the water. Some people train themselves to try and start a fire while they are submerged in a frozen lake.

They are so well acclimatized and trained that they don’t even suffer hypothermia within the usual time limit (which is often common for ordinary untrained people). It has been tested and proven that people who swim in cold water on a regular basis, shiver less and their heart rate slows down during extremely cold weather, thus preserving the body heat for the proper function of the vital organs. It almost sounds like an evolution in modern times, when we’re too used to the comfort life we have.

If you still struggle with getting used to cold showers, you can try to train yourself mentally before you begin. Get into the routine of doing something while under the shower. You can scream, shout, yell, dance, cry, get angry, whatever, so long as you get through the one minute. You will realize that this actually releases energy, which actually wakens the body and psyche.

You will begin associating the cold shower with something which releases either negative energy (shouting, screaming, crying) or positive energy (creativity – singing, dancing, etc). Either of these two unlock some part of your mentality and consciousness, which you probably have neglected. You will begin loving cold showers, because you will also do something else you love doing. As a result cold showers may turn to your favorite activity and you are welcome to do that even twice a day – as long as you enjoy it.

Ice vs heat infographic

Another thing you will begin noticing is that when you exit the cold shower or water, you will in fact not feel cold. Probably you have noticed that when you exit a warm (even hot) shower you actually feel cold. This is because the body has accumulated heat from outside, but the internal ‘heating’ mechanism is idle. Whereas when you have a cold shower, your body turns the internal heat up and when you exit the cold shower/water that mechanism will be in full speed.

As a result, you will even feel warm and refreshed. People also report that they don’t feel that cold any more, whatever the weather and are much more used to cold overall.

Our final advice is to experiment and see what works for you. But the key take-away from the above said is that you need to spend at least a minute in cold water – the coldest your shower can produce, or spend time in cold water outside (lakes, rivers, sea).

Do this every day for at least 8 days to 2 weeks. Always observe how you feel immediately after the cold water immersion and throughout the day. You can write a diary and keep a record of your symptoms and if any condition you have actually improves.

Also, consult your general practitioner about your ideas. If you have a heart problem you should better stay away from extreme cold. But if your GP gives you the green light, go ahead and try the above advice. We can promise you’ll feel the change.

About the Author
Nora Taylor
Nora Taylor

Nora Taylor is passionate about helping developing countries and people worldwide to deal with infections and diseases. She is certified in Workplace Emergency First Aid, Red Cross First Aid and Marine First Aid. Nora lives in Vancouver, BC, but travels to Africa and Asia every year. Her dream is that one day we can conquer many known diseases through a proper preparation and education of people in all parts of the world.

  • Cyrill Nikeyev

    No doubt that cold water is a healthy way to keep fit, but there are some factors that should be taken into account. People having the excessively high blood pressure (like me) should be very careful with such things ant try to decrease water temperature gradually. Also, its pretty hard to get a cold water in hot summer, so I used to mix water with the artificial ice from the fridge.

  • Actually even perfectly healthy people should stay away from sudden changes in temperature. You should always make the passing gradually so you won’t shock your entire system in an emergency estate.

  • A cold shower is refreshingly good in the morning to activate your “sleepy body”. It also lowers your blood pressure for you to able to sleep the whole night. After working out, my body feels inflamed, so I always take a good cold shower to calm my body and lessen my body pain. I have also proved that cold water can dry out your wounds. But, everything beyond moderation is still unhealthy, so it is best to know your limits on using cold water.

  • Cold showers are always good but be careful when taking them right after a work-out. The body experiences shock once the transition from hot to cold happens. I would suggest that you rest for a bit and do some cool down exercise to lower your body temperature before hitting the baths.

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