I Took Cold Showers for a Week to See If They Really Worked

Spoiler alert: they do

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Whenever I visit my family in Taiwan, my grandfather takes us to Japanese-style hot springs in the mountains. It’s exactly what you might expect: a bunch of men of various sizes—like Russian nesting dolls—lumbering around and lowering themselves into various gradations of boiling water, exhaling “ahh” like they just drank a cold Sprite. They sit there like monkeys, quite pleased with themselves.

Then, there's a small pool in the corner, but there are no bubbles in it, no steam rising from the top. It is still as the full moon. The old-timers point to it and whisper, That is the best one. That one will cure all your ailments. But few dare to approach it.

It’s the cold bath. 

It hasn’t been surprising to see the hype around cryotherapy—treatments involving cold temperatures and water—resurge in modern times. A lot of influential people—Tim Ferriss, Dr. Rhonda Patrick, Wim Hof, Lebron James—have championed the benefits of cold, and they often end up doing so on Joe Rogan’s podcast. While not everyone has access to liquid nitrogen baths, anyone can attempt “the poor man’s cryotherapy”: cold showers.

Cold shower proponents claim a wide range of effects, including reduced depression, hair and skin health, muscle recovery, improved circulation, increased testosterone, and even weight loss via the stimulation of brown fat. You’ll usually see articles exalting cold showers as the ultimate panacea, or you’ll see an obvious hater trying to disprove each and every benefit.

The science is still out—multiple studies contradict each other—which means a writer like me can parachute into the grey area and explore if this thing really works. I decided to take cold showers every day for a week. 

Every morning or afternoon, depending on my schedule, I would turn the shower knob all the way to the right and, after a few queasy wheezes, jump in. 

Let me tell you what it feels like to take a cold shower: Icicles raining on your back. Piranhas nipping at your feet. The breath of the Yeti in your ear. After about 20 seconds, though—as long as you’re fully immersed, with the water running over your hair—it becomes tolerable, and the water even starts to feel lukewarm as your body acclimates. Like suddenly being granted the power to breathe in space, you stop spasming and are surprised to find that you can move and think normally.

Let me tell you what it feels like to get out of a cold shower: Fucking amazing. It’s tempting to dawdle in a hot shower, but because the air outside the cold shower is warmer, it actually feels better to leave the cold shower. I can’t not see that as a powerful metaphor for facing the day. 

When you look in the mirror after a cold shower, your skin and hair do seem to glow. I asked a few friends to take cold showers too and they reported similar benefits. Mentally, you’re soaring. You feel zapped with energy and focus. And that electricity carries over for hours—I would plop into my chair afterward and churn out a thousand words in fifteen minutes. 

The cold shower gets easier every day. It is a form of mental toughening that I can imagine translates to other tasks in life. After a week of cold showers, I can’t definitively report that I lost weight, that my testosterone increased, or that my circulation improved. But I can strongly attest to the mental benefits: my energy and focus improved, and the sun shone brighter on my day. 

If you’ve never done cold showers before, try one, and make sure you fully commit—throw your body into the coldest temperature and flap around for 90 seconds. Trust me, they get easier. If only for the psychological benefits, I recommend everyone keep a cold shower into their toolbox—for deployment on a groggy morning, after a sluggish afternoon nap, or right before an all-nighter. 

You can, of course, still take hot showers—but I recommend saving them for before bed. They’ll put you right to sleep. 

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