We’ve all come to recognize that traveling, as wonderful as it is, makes staying healthy challenging. Right now the challenge is staying healthy at home. Travel is stressful and often involves lots of sitting on planes, eating too much, and often leaving our best healthy habits back home. These days being home so much of the time means sitting on couches, eating too much, and making sure our healthy habits become just that, habits. My favorite healthy habit I use at home and always use when I travel is Scottish Showers! What are the benefits of cold showers? Glad you asked.
In my non-Point Me to the Plane life, I’m a holistic health and fitness coach. Combining writing about traveling with helping you stay healthy whether at home or while off enjoying some amazing destination, is what I enjoy most!
Do you know what a Scottish Shower is?
It’s become one of my favorite health routines! I want to share with you what it is, why I do it, and why you should add it to your healthy lifestyle routine as well. I hope you’ll find these tips both fun and engaging and at the very least, refreshing!
Basically, a Scottish Shower starts off with the water nice and hot, and then you turn it down to cold for the last few minutes. Cold water baths have been used for centuries as a way to treat various ailments, and modern studies support the health claims associated with this age-old treatment.
A Brief History of Cold Water Therapy
In ancient times, hot water was a luxury. People had to live near a hot springs in order to enjoy the comfort of a hot bath, so for most of human history people bathed in cold water. But even when the ancient Greeks developed heating systems for their public baths, they continued bathing in cold water for the health benefits. The Spartans felt hot water was for the weak and unmanly. When they did take baths, which wasn’t very often, they used only cold water because they thought it tempered the body and made it vigorous for fighting.
During the first century, Finnish people would sweat it out in saunas and then jump into an ice cold lake or stream, a pastime which is referred to as “avantouinti” or “ice hole swimming” and is still enjoyed by modern Finns and other Scandinavians as well. Many cultures incorporated a cold water dousing into their religious ceremonies. Some Native American tribes would alternate between sitting in a sweat lodge and jumping into an icy river or snow bank.
Ancient Russians also took frequent plunges into ice cold rivers for health and spiritual cleansing. Japanese practitioners of Shinto, both in ancient and modern times, would stand under an icy waterfall as part of a ritual known as Misogi, which was believed to cleanse the spirit.
In the 1820s, a German farmer named Vincenz Priessnitz started touting a new medical treatment called “hydrotherapy,” which used cold water to cure everything from broken bones to erectile dysfunction. He turned his family’s homestead into a sanitarium, and patients flocked to it hoping his cold water cure could help them. Among his clientele were dukes, duchesses, counts, countesses, and princesses. Priessnitz’s hydrotherapy soon spread to the rest of Europe and eventually to the United States.
Celebrities and other famous people took to it and helped popularize the cold water cure with the masses. For example, Charles Darwin, who had many health issues, was a huge proponent of hydrotherapy. The first hydrotherapy facility opened up in the U.S in 1843, just when the sanitarium craze began in America. By the the end of the 19th century, over 200 hydrotherapy/sanitarium resorts existed in the U.S., the most famous being the Battle Creek Sanitarium founded by John Harvey Kellogg.
However, the popularity of hydrotherapy began to decline in the 20th century as many in the medical field moved to drugs to treat illnesses. As doctors concentrated on conventional medicine, the more holistic methods began to be seen as quackery. While hydrotherapy was prescribed less and less to cure illnesses, doctors continued to use it to treat injuries such as strained muscles and broken bones. You’ll find athletes today taking ice baths to speed their recovery from injuries and intense workouts. It’s always good to know some history, but of course the bottom line is knowing HOW this benefits you!
Benefits of Cold Showers
While doctors may no longer instruct their patients to take a cold bath and call them in the morning, cold water can still impart real health benefits:
1. Improves circulation. Good blood circulation is vital for overall cardiovascular health. Healthy blood circulation also speeds up recovery time from strenuous exercise and work. Alternating between hot and cold water while you shower is an easy way to improve your circulation. Cold water causes your blood to move to your organs to keep them warm. Warm water reverses the effect by causing the blood to move towards the surface of the skin.
Cold shower advocates propose that stimulating the circulatory system in this way keeps them healthier and younger looking. They say that as cold water hits the body, its ability to get blood circulating leads the arteries to more efficiently pump blood, therefore boosting our overall heart health. It can also lower blood pressure, clear blocked arteries, and improve our immune system.
2. Keeps skin and hair healthy. Hot water dries out your skin and hair. If you want to avoid this, turn down the temperature of your showers. Ice cold water can help our skin by preventing it from losing too many natural oils. Your hair gets the same benefit. Along with that, one of the benefits of cold showers is how they will help your hair appear shiny, strong and healthy by keeping the follicles flat and increasing their grip to the scalp. This is great news for any of you who are scared of losing your hair.
3. Strengthens immunity. The increase in metabolic rate, which results from the body’s attempt to warm itself up, activates the immune system and releases more white blood cells in response. I see this as one of the most important benefits of cold showers because the fact that they increase your immunity is huge. Who doesn’t need a better immune system, especially if you travel often.
4. Increases energy and well-being. Every time you end a shower with cold water, you’ll leave the shower feeling invigorated and energized. Your heart starts pumping, and the rush of blood through your body helps shake off the lethargy of the previous night’s sleep. For me, the spike in energy lasts several hours. And while it hasn’t been studied, many people swear that cold showers are a surefire stress reducer. Of course that’s anecdotal evidence, but I’m a believer.
5. Cold showers build strong will power. Maybe this is one of the best benefits. To a cold shower virgin, the amount of will power it takes to take cold showers may seem like that of a superwoman, because for most people it is a pretty big change. Doing something you are so resistant to, every single day, right when you wake up, takes a lot of mental strength. And over time, this mental strength and discipline will become an automated habit that spreads into every area of your life.
6. They improve emotional resilience. Maybe this follows from the strong willpower. Do you get flustered, anxious or pissed off easily? The benefits of cold showers can help. Seriously, cold showers train your nervous system to be more resilient to stress.
Much like exercise, cold showers are stressful in a good way. Over time the body adapts to this. Along with increasing your adaptation to stressful situations you’ll feel less stressed in general. Essentially, you will be calmer, cooler, and no longer so easily ticked off.
The first time you step in that cold shower, you won’t be able to think straight, let alone breath. But after a month, they seem to help you brush off the stress that might typically ruin your mood. I know if you’ve not been taking cold showers this probably makes no sense to you, which is exactly why I’m writing this post. You won’t know until you try!
7. Cold showers increase alertness. If you’re one of the brave souls that has taken a cold shower already, then you will know that at first it is hard to breathe. But don’t be scared. This extreme deep breathing is going to dramatically increase your oxygen intake and heart rate, resulting in a natural dose of energy throughout the day.
On top of the icy cold water, this deep breathing will leave you feeling alert, instead of groggy, especially first thing in the day. I know that taking a cold shower in the morning, and feeling cold water pour down over our body seems more horrifying than soothing. However, the deep breathing in response to our body’s shock helps us keep warm, as it increases our overall oxygen intake. When our heart rate increases it releases a rush of blood through our entire body. This gives us a natural dose of energy for the day.
As an aside, Katherine Hepburn, the Hollywood actress, was a fan and understood the benefits of cold showers. She began taking them daily after being pushed by her father, Dr. Thomas Norval Hepburn, a urologist and pioneer in social hygiene. She would take ice cold baths or showers during childhood and for the rest of her life, and she would advise others to do so as well. The actress swore by cold showers.
8. Cold showers stimulate weight loss. Cold showers can aid weight loss in an unexpected way. The human body contains two types of fat tissue, white fat and brown fat. White fat is accumulated when we consume more calories than our body needs to function, and we don’t burn these calories for energy. This body fat piles up at our waist, lower back, neck, and thighs, and is the one we all struggle to eliminate. Brown fat is the good fat, which generates heat to keep our bodies warm, and is activated when exposed to extreme cold. Cold showers can promote brown fat activity.
9. Cold showers drain your lymphatic system. An additional, yet crucial, part of the body that is affected by cold showers is the lymphatic system. Your lymphatic system helps carry out waste from your cells. This is key in defending your body from unwanted infections. And when the lymphatic system is blocked, it will show up in symptoms such as frequent colds, infections and joint pain.
Cold showers, when alternated between hot and cold water will help your lymphatic system, by contracting the lymph vessels when exposed to the cold and relaxing them when exposed to the heat. This essentially pumps out the fluid that may have stagnated in your lymph vessels, resulting in a stronger immune system and healthier you.
10. Cold showers speed up muscle recovery. If you’re an athlete, or someone like me who walks a crazy high amount of miles when traveling and exploring locations, then you might know that taking an ice bath after intense training is one of the best things you can do for a faster recovery. But you don’t need a high tech training facility with cold water submersion to be able to achieve these benefits. Just enjoy the benefits of cold showers.
Although it won’t be as effective as a fully submersed ice bath, it will improve circulation, and help remove some lactic acid. Try alternating between very hot and very cold to let the blood come and go to the surface. Your muscles will thank you.
11. They wake you up and then put you to sleep! Obviously, an ice cold shower is going to get you up in the morning. We already talked about how they increase your alertness. If you have trouble getting up and energized for the day, cold showers will change this.
Ironically, while cold showers wake you up in the AM, cold therapy is one of the best ways to get an incredible night’s sleep. Strange but true, a cold shower at night puts you straight to bed. Scottish Showers are a great technique for dealing with changing time zones and needing a good night’s sleep.
Cold Showers: How To Get Started
If you’ve spent most of your life taking hot showers, suddenly turning the dial in the other direction can be a big shock to the system. And you don’t want to do too much, too soon, or you won’t stick with it. My suggestion, based on my own experience, is to gradually decrease the temperature of the water so your body can adjust.
Please note that some people with certain conditions should avoid cold showers because of the shock to the body’s system. If you have the following conditions please avoid this practice:
• Heart disease. If my normal, healthy heart felt like it would explode from the cold water shock, imagine how a diseased heart will feel.
• High blood pressure. The contraction in your blood vessels caused by cold water could cause a stroke.
• Overheated or feverish. Your blood vessels need to dilate in order to release heat. Cold water causes them to constrict.
However, if you’re healthy enough for a Scottish Shower, here’s how it’s done.
- Start off with the hot water.
- Soap up and wash as you normally would.
- When you’re ready to rinse, just turn it down to cold. Spend a few minutes under the cold water.
You’ll start seeing the benefits right after the first shower, and it only gets better as you continue.
An alternative to using just cold showers all the time is to alternate between hot and cold several times during one shower. You don’t have to start off cold! This is a relief, right? You can start your shower off hot, and enjoy it. But for the last 3 minutes it must be cold! As cold as it goes! Simply start with your shower hot, then after about two minutes change to cold for two minutes. Switch back and forth a couple of times while staying at each temperature for at least two minutes to allow the blood to flush to or away from the skin.
How to Gain The Courage to Take Cold Showers
Okay, so you know by now that cold showers are awesome. Great. Now good luck waking up tomorrow morning and taking one It’s hard to take the plunge!
If you read this far some words of encouragement are in definitely in order!
1. You just have to take the plunge. Every time you do it, it will get easier. Sometimes in life you have to step outside your comfort zone.
2. Turn it into an experiment. The thought of taking cold showers every day for the rest of your life is daunting. This happens when you try to make any lifestyle change that your mind perceives as permanent. You can overcome this daunting feeling by turning it into an experiment.
So here’s your experiment.
All you have to do is take a cold shower tomorrow morning and see how you feel. You can start hot, but end cold, for at least 1 minute. Then see how you feel. If you liked it, then do it again the next day and see how two days in a row made you feel. It’s just an experiment, not a permanent life change.
3. Here’s another unique way to approach taking cold showers.
– Write down on a whiteboard or pad: Cold Showers
– Now make 30 boxes, one for each day
– Commit now to checking off those 30 boxes
– After the 30 days, you can decide to keep going or not (I bet you’ll keep going)
Whatever you do, don’t be too serious about these Scottish Showers and have fun. Even knowing all the benefits of cold showers, if it stresses you out, then it’s not worth it. Remember, this is supposed to improve your life and keep you healthy both at home and when traveling.
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