By Matt Evans
Wellness isn't always about learning how to go vegan and pumping lavender into the best diffuser for essential oils for a better night's sleep. Other wellness trends doing the rounds include getting back to basics each morning with an icy cold shower.
Last year, I tried to take cold showers for a week and reported on the experience on this site. It's safe to say I'm a convert: I don't have them every day, but I still enjoy (in a masochistic way) conquering that flinch and stepping into the cold shower, and feeling that burst of adrenaline at the end.
I've graduated to staying in them for around two to three minutes, and while there's no real way to measure any physical benefits (I've not been taking photographs of my skin every day, or weighing myself regularly) I feel pretty energised and I'm sure my hair and skin look and feel healthier. Even for somebody who normally sticks staunchly to evidence-based fitness advice, I've embraced the pseudo-scientific power of home hydrotherapy.
However, it's unrealistic to think that everyone will feel the same way. YouTube channel WheezyWaiter features Craig Benzine and his wife Chyna taking on lots of different wellness challenges, such as quitting sugar, alcohol or caffeine for a month, or working out every day for a year. In this video, he records himself taking cold showers every day (don't worry, it's safe for work) to find any reported benefits.
"I'm not really noticing anything, you guys" Craig concluded, "It doesn't really do anything for me. Maybe it does something for you, and good for you, but if I need energy I'm just going to drink coffee.
Craig found cold showers particularly unpleasant, and didn't want to go back. "Maybe there's long-term benefits you can't measure, but I really don't care. We don't always have to be optimising everything – sometimes comfort is good too!"
The initial shock of the cold shower never went away for Craig, but there are some reported scientific benefits to cold water exposure. People who completed a month-long cold shower intervention were recorded as 29% less likely to call in sick for work, according to one study published by researchers from the Netherlands.
Much of the cold shower hype comes from Wim Hof, a self-styled guru known for running up part of Everest in just a pair of shorts, and immersing himself in icy water for long periods of time. Hof believes in the restorative power of cold, claiming we've lost our connection with nature in our temperate indoor environments with central heating and air conditioning.
Is he right? Who knows. Craig didn't see any benefits, but I did – the biggest one being practising overcoming the flinch of fear, stepping into the cold every morning. There's only one way to find out if it'll work for you...
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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