The Benefits of a Cold Shower – aka Hydrotherapy

The Benefits of a Cold Shower – aka Hydrotherapy

Yes, a cold shower. Most people can’t even think of it without feeling a shiver. The benefits of using water to our health have been known for a long time. In recent years there has been a bit of a re-emergence of the use of cold water in treating the body and the mind. Good examples are  cold water baths used in the Wim Hof Method or the increased popularity of open water swimming throughout the year.

However, both practices can be a on the extreme side of therapy and are not necessarily suited for everybody. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to harness the power of water. This is where the cold shower or foot or hand baths can play a role. It’s all part of hydrotherapy, a more deliberate approach to using water.

What is Hydrotherapy?

It’s the therapeutic use of water to stimulate or otherwise influence various body systems. The principle behind hydrotherapy is to gently disturb the normal physiological state of the body and as a result bring it back into balance.

In hydrotherapy warm and cold water are used to bring about change in the body.

The temperature receptors in our skin react to the changes from warm to cold and that has an impact on our autonomic nervous system and our cardiovascular system as cold is perceived as a “threat” to our body’s survival.

From my point of view there is one very fascinating part of hydrotherapy:  Water applied to different parts of the body targets different organs or systems in the body. So you don’t necessarily have to emerge yourself completely in cold water or have a cold shower, but hand and foot baths can do the trick! Hand baths reflexively affect brain, lungs and nasal mucosa. Foot baths reflexively affect brain, pelvic organs, intestines and lungs.

Benefits of Hydrotherapy

The overall benefits of hydrotherapy are:

  • It retrains the nervous system to be in the Rest and Relax Response
  • It improves sleep
  • It improves immune function
  • It improves blood flow
  • it improves digestion but also elimination
  • It increases overall vitality
  • It makes you feel warmer

I find it most fascinating that there is a reflex connection between our hands and feet to different organs within our body that get targeted. Hand baths reflexively affect brain, lungs and nasal mucosa. Foot baths reflexively affect brain, pelvic organs, intestines and lungs.

Generally it is a very safe practice, but there are a few cautions including any condition where the neurological or cardiovascular function is compromised, concurrent cancer treatment, pregnancy, menstruation and high blood pressure for full body immersions).

How to do a “Cold Shower”?

You gain the most benefit if you have a cold shower in the morning.  Trust me, it is quite stimulating, especially during the winter months when the water coming from the tap is very cold.

Have a warm to hot shower for approx. 5min, make sure the water runs from base of neck down the front and back of body. Follow this by a cold shower for 1-1.5min (think of it as the length of 10-12 breaths) in the same pattern.

Definitely end it with the cold shower. It’s important to towel yourself dry and get dressed straight away so you’re not getting chilled.

Ideally you have some 30min relaxing time after that. You can use it to have a cup of tea and plan your day.

Give it a try, especially on a morning when you are feeling a bit sluggish. If the cold water straight out of the tap is too cold for you, you can mix it with some warm water, however, you want to make sure that the change between the warm and the cold water gives you that “brrrr-effect”, meaning it needs to be noticeable.

How to do a foot bath

Now, if the shower is one step too far, how about a foot bath? Foot baths are excellent to help with sleep issues and are calming to the nervous system. They are best done at night close to bedtime.

All you need are two plastic storage containers that are big enough to fit both your feet (you can find them at Big W or K-Mart).

Immerse your feet from toes to just above the ankle. Leave them in the container with the warm water for 3min and then transfer them to the cold water for 30sec, repeat this three times, making sure you finish in the cold bucket. Towel dry the feet thoroughly and then go to bed or put them into warm socks before going to bed.