by Erica Garza
If you’re the kind of person who likes to wake yourself up in a steamy shower or soak in a hot bath at the end of the day, you may want to turn the faucet handle the other way. Health benefits of cold showers and baths include radiant skin, better immune function, increased circulation and heightened alertness. Even the ancient Romans took cold baths seriously. If you’re curious about whether you should add some teeth chattering to your daily regimen, here are some reported health benefits to help decide if it’s right for you.
Radiant Skin and Shiny Hair
According to board-certified dermatologist Jessica Krant, hot water can strip our skin of its healthy oils. By boosting circulation, cold water gives our skin a healthy glow while also constricting blood vessels to temporarily tighten pores and decrease redness. Cold water also benefits our hair—sealing cuticles for more shine.
Stronger Immune System
Taking daily cold showers can increase disease-fighting white blood cells and strengthen our immune system, say researchers at Britain’s Thrombosis Research Institute. A study conducted in the Netherlands found a link between cold showers and fewer sick days, suggesting that the practice can strengthen immunity. Participants who took cold showers for up to 30 seconds for one month called in sick 29 percent less than the control group, and two-thirds of the people continued taking cold showers after the study.
When we plunge into cold water, our body releases endorphins, those feel-good hormones commonly associated with a “runner’s high.” A study published in the journal Behavioral and Brain Functions showed that cold water also helps reduce the long-term exhaustion that characterizes chronic fatigue syndrome. Even more, some research indicates that cold bathing can lessen stress and anxiety.
Faster Workout Recovery
If you usually spend the day after working out hobbling around, cold water can help speed up muscle recovery and relieve soreness. Cold water has regenerative properties and reduces inflammation, ideal for repairing muscles after a strenuous workout.
Cold temperatures may also activate the brown (good) fat in the body, which keeps the body warm by burning calories. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that people with more brown fat have lower body mass indexes. Brown fat doesn’t just mean a smaller waistline. It has been proven to protect against diabetes and obesity by regulating blood sugar.
If a cold shower still seems unappealing, you don’t have to give up your hot showers to enjoy its benefits. Leaving a cold blast to the very end of your hot shower will still do the trick if you can stay in it for 30 to 90 seconds. Your heart rate may go up the first few times, but your improved health will make the experience worthwhile.
Keep in mind that cold showers are not recommended for those with cardiovascular disease or who are at risk for heart attack or stroke. If you have any concerns, speak to your doctor first before building your own Roman-style bath house in the backyard.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist. Her work has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, The Telegraph and VICE. She lives in Los Angeles.