For the past week I’ve taken cold showers. Cold as in icy, as-cold-as-the-tap-allows cold. Mountain snowmelt cold.
I got interested in experimenting with cold showers for a few reasons. Bathing or swimming in cold water is known to have a number of beneficial health effects, including improved circulation and high white blood cell count. I’m prone to dry skin in the winter, and cold water is supposed not to dry the skin out as much. I’m interested in all things primal; recognizing that humans are but newly domesticated from an evolutionary perspective, selectively reverting to the hunter/gatherer practices we are still largely adapted to can sometimes have unexpected benefits. And then there’s the undeniable machismo factor; I want to know that I can take icy showers if the situation demands.
It does get easier over time. The throat-constricting drowning reflex abates after the first couple of showers, as does the subsequent heavy breathing period. I still puff and blow a lot as I’m getting acclimated, but I’m no longer getting faint and dizzy from hyperventilation.
Mountain man showers are easier than James Bond showers. I found that it’s easier to get acclimated if the shower starts out cold, than if it starts hot and gradually get colder. Of course, some would probably say that the hot/cold contrast is the whole point, and exercises the circulatory system more effectively.
I’ve also been using very little soap, reserving it for my feet and certain other less mentionable areas. No shampoo either, just conditioner. I’m trying to avoid anything that will remove my natural oils, out of curiousity to see how my skin and hair fare without being stripped of their natural protection daily. So far so good; I’m not suffering from too much dryness, and my hair seems sleek and glossy. On the all-important question of smell, Stacey reports that I stink no worse than usual.
Washcloths hurt in cold water; I’ve just been using my hands to scrub.
It’s surprising just how fast my body acclimatizes. Within 30 seconds of entering the shower I’m no longer shocked by the cold. It never becomes comfortable, but it becomes bearable pretty quickly. Keeping moving helps a lot. Also, keeping at least one part of my body in the stream at all times helps to stay acclimatized.
Cold showers make it much easier to get out of the shower quickly. I’m prone to becoming lost in thought under the warm stream and daudling for 20 minutes or more. In the past week I’d estimate my showers have taken 3-5 minutes.
The invigorating effect reported by other cold bathers is real. I come out of cold showers not just awake, but energized. The effect lasts an hour or more.
Besides the energizing effect, there’s also the psychological boost of having done something badass. As in “I just took an ice-cold shower in the middle of winter! I think I’ll go punch a shark in the nose!”
Cold showers will lower your core temperature, so caution is in order. I’ve come out of the shower with a temperature as low as 93.3F, which is technically in the mild hypothermia zone. I was back within normal parameters within 20 minutes, however.
A man’s got to know his limitations, and I don’t know if I could do this if I showered first thing in the morning. My schedule gives me the ability to shower mid-day, when my metabolism has already gotten going. I’m just not sure if I could face icy waters straight out of bed every morning.