Cold Showers: Hype or Longevity Boosting?
Longevity Lifestyle #2
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In case you missed by previous post on how longevity science can reduce suffering, you can find it here.
My next few posts will be a series on how to live a “Longevity Lifestyle”. This includes simple and cheap science-backed practices that you can incorporate in your daily life to feel more energetic, slow aging, and improve your healthspan (number of healthy / disease free years you live). I personally practice these lifestyle actions that I will be discussing, so if you have any questions as you begin to implement them in your life, feel free to comment or reach out with questions.
The posts will include science-backed explanations for why these practices improve healthspan and tips on how to best implement them. So it’s convenient for you as a reader, I’ll typically break the post into the following sections:
What the Lifestyle Hack helps with
Why the Lifestyle Hack helps
How to practice the Lifestyle Hack
Feel free to read the sections you find most relevant.
Preview of some of the Longevity Lifestyle topics I’ll write about:
Cold Showers / Cold Exposure
Fasting (Intermittent fasting + Longer fasts)
Exercise & Mitochondrial Health
Sleep (Science behind sleep’s impact + Sleep tips)
Longevity foods & Gut Health (+What not to eat)
Supplements for Longevity (Vitamins & Minerals)
The first Longevity Lifestyle topic I’ll be covering is Cold Showers or Cold Exposure.
Note: When I speak of the benefits of cold showers, they apply to most forms of cold exposure such as cryotherapy or being out on a cold day without a jacket. Cold showers are simply one of the easiest ways to expose yourself to the cold.
What do Cold Showers Help With
Cold Exposure - Good for Longevity?
The short of it is that cold exposure has been well-studied in animals to be beneficial for longevity1 and one of the reasons for that is because it’s a hormetic stress. Hormetic stressors are the good type of mild stresses on your body that essentially contribute to longevity in the future. As a rule of thumb, if something is a good hormetic stress for you, it’s good for your longevity. Other examples of hormetic stressors are exercise, fasting, eating organic vegetables, and eating cruciferous vegetables (yes, they in fact have a hormetic effect on us), all of which I’ll be covering in the next few posts.
Other Benefits of Cold Exposure:
Focus + Adrenaline: Who doesn’t want increased focus? Next time, you are looking to boost your focus and motivation, try taking a cold shower before hand. Cold showers can increase dopamine levels up to 2.5x above baseline and it stays at that elevated level for more than 2 hours! Note that it’s a misconception to think of dopamine as being “bad”. It certainly can be bad in certain cases, but it is essential for motivation2, and cold showers are one of the best ways to boost focus and motivation. In fact, cold showers prior to exercise have also been shown to boost performance due to increase in adrenaline.
Brown Fat Activation + Fat Loss: Studies show how cold exposure can increase brown fat volume in humans. Brown fat has several benefits and can improve glucose and insulin sensitivity, increase fat oxidation, and protect against diet-induced obesity. More commonly, brown fat is known to have a higher resting metabolic rate which means that it burns more calories at rest and helps with fat loss.
Reduces Inflammation: Inflammation has been implicated in the aging process, and has come to be known as “Inflammaging”. Cold exposure can decrease inflammation in people and this benefit has been well touted by Wim Hof (aka the Iceman) as well, who is well known for popularizing the benefits of cold therapy.
Mitochondrial Biogenesis3: This is a process by which new mitochondria are produced. Mitochondria is responsible for energy production. They convert energy from food to ATP, which is the basic fuel molecule used by our cells to generate energy. Hence, they are aptly known as the “powerhouses of the cells.” It is well known that as we age, our mitochondrial health declines, which is likely responsible for our reduced energy levels with age. Cold exposure can generate new mitochondria which helps with more energy, specially as we age.
In short, the mitochondria is responsible for energy production. However, mitochondrial health declines with age. Cold exposure can boost production of new mitochondria and help with more energy.
Stress Reduction and Enhanced Mood are some of the other benefits.
How to get Started with Cold Showers / Cold Exposure
If you are new to cold showers, you can start small. Try turning the shower to cold for a few seconds at first, and then a minute and slowly ramp it up over the days.
You don’t necessarily need to take cold showers everyday in order to get its benefits. You can start with only a few days a week.
You can also expose yourself to the cold by stepping out in the cold without a jacket. Obviously, don’t overdo it to the point of hypothermia.
Another way of exposing yourself to the cold is sleeping in cooler temperatures. Skip the blanket or turn off the heater or turn up the air-conditioning. This is also the reason you see the rise in cooling blankets.
My favorite way of exposing myself to the cold is jumping into cold lakes and waterfalls! It’s super fun :)
What Should You Watch Out For?
Cold Showers post Exercise: Cold showers can in fact blunt some of the pro-inflammatory benefits of exercise. So, it’s best to wait an hour or so before taking a cold shower post exercise. Unless of course, you are a professional athlete - they commonly do cryotherapy post exercise to help with muscle soreness and reduce some of the high levels of inflammation caused by exercise. But the level of exercise most of us do is far from overdoing it, so don’t blunt its positive effects by taking a cold shower right after. Wait for an hour.
Cold Showers before Sleep: You want to take warm showers before sleep (I’ll talk more about this in my posts on sleep). But we discussed how cold showers increase adrenaline levels and it’s not something you want before you go to bed. You don’t want elevated energy levels before you sleep.
Hypothermia: This is a case of dangerous drop in body temperature due to prolonged exposure to the cold. Do not overdo cold exposure. But, merely taking cold showers for a few minutes is unlikely to induce hypothermia.
Cold Water Adapted: In case you become adapted to the cold, you will not get all of its benefits. In this case, either increase the levels of cold you expose yourself to or wait a few days before going back under cold showers such that your body is not acclimated anymore.
And That’s It: Let’s Summarize!
Cold Showers and Cold exposure are a cheap and simple practice you can incorporate in your daily life to increase healthspan, burn fat, increase levels of focus, reduce stress, improve mood, and even help with immune functioning! So why not get started today, itself? Trust me, cold showers will feel great! Try them for yourself and feel free to comment about your experience!
See you next time,