Cold Showers 101

by Michael Plank

All the cool kids are doing it (Pun!). Maybe you’ve tried it. Maybe you’ve heard about it. Maybe you haven’t and you can’t possibly understand why someone would opt out of the luxury of a nice, hot shower by voluntarily taking a cold one. But regardless, here’s what you need to know about taking cold showers.


Reduced Stress Levels – voluntarily submitting to stressful situations (like exercise or cold) helps your body improve its ability to handle stress in general, making future stress easier to deal with.

Alertness – nothing wakes you up like a cold shower. It also promotes deep breathing which helps you expel excess CO2 and bring in high levels of oxygen, which helps your brain work better.

Strengthened Immune Response – there seems to be evidence that regular cold water exposure (at or below 60 degrees) of 2 minutes or more increases the white blood cell count in the body, helping you to fight off viruses more effectively.

Improved Mental Health – there is also evidence to suggest that cold water exposure helps regulate anxiety and depression triggers, and can certainly help disrupt spiraling thought patterns in times of stress.

How to Take Cold Showers

Start small – Starting in the Summertime is great. The cold water that comes out of the tap in my house in July is 67 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s quite cold if you’re used to showering at 105-110. But in February, the water that comes out of the tap is 37 degrees. That is not. the. same. Start in July. And don’t worry about doing only cold right off the bat. Take your regular, hot shower, and then at the very, very end, turn the water all the way to cold for just the last 30 seconds. It might take your breath away. Breathe deep, and exhale forcefully and slowly (it will trick your brain into calming down). Move around in the water; shake your limbs, turn around, and when you hit 30 seconds, turn it off. (Give it at least 30 seconds – the first 5-10 seconds is the hardest). Build up from there week by week. Pretty soon you’ll discover that once you can make it through the initial shock, if you can do it for 90 seconds, you can do it for 5 minutes.

Use tips and tricks – Just turning on the cold water works, but there are ways to get your body to adapt to the cold faster which will make the process a lot more bearable.

  • Start with hot water and do whatever you plan to do to wash your face and hair (the cold on your head is generally tougher to deal with than elsewhere). When you’re ready, turn the water to cold, take a deep breath, hold it, and put your face in the water for 10 seconds. Make sure the water flow over (but not into!) your nostrils. This stimulates the Mammalian Diving Reflex, which does a bunch of cool things, but one of them is that it slows the heart rate and pulls blood from your appendages in toward your heart and brain, meaning it will lessen the shock of the cold on you’re warm arms and legs.
  • After the breath hold, pull your face out of the water, breathe deeply, and turn slowly, exposing your whole body to the cold. Keep breathing deeply, shake your limbs like your shaking water from your fingertips, and work to stay loose.
  • Do the turn a second time. This time, take a deep breath in, hold it, and flex your arm and shoulder hard as the water hits it. Think about sending hot blood to that area and hold it for 5-6 seconds. Lift your arm and do the same thing on your ribs and side: deep breath, flex, hold for 5-6 seconds and think about maximizing blood flow to the area. Repeat for your chest and stomach, other arm, other side, back, and each leg, front and back.
  • From the time the water turns cold until now takes about 60-90 seconds. Once you’ve made it through that, you are through all the initial shock and will probably find that, although it might be a little uncomfortable, you can now spend as much time as you want in the cold (in the summer! – it is much more uncomfortable in the winter).

Shoot for 2 minutes total. A full two minutes of cold exposure seems to be the magic number for achieving the benefits that cold showers can offer. After the 2 minutes are up, end your shower, or go back to hot if you’d like.

If you decide to give it a try, give it at least a week, or five showers in a row, before you make your judgment.

Last, but not least, if you absolutely hate it, don’t do it. Personally, I like them and have been doing them for years. But a lot of the evidence for their benefits is pretty light on scientific rigor. And you can 100% be a tough, strong, kind, balanced, self-actualized person without the cold. It’s just one tool of many!

For more info, check out the Wim Hof Method, and Episode 34 of Melissa Urban’s podcast.