By Dr. Jeff Leiter

So what's all the hype around cold showers, cold plunges and ice baths? Is there science behind this new phenomenon, or is it even new at all? It certainly has been made more popular since "The Iceman" Wim Hof became famous through cold exposure stunts and a strong social media presence. Well, let's get right into it and discuss the benefits of cold exposure. 

  1. RESILIENCE AND GRIT Resilience can be defined as the ability to recover from a short-term change or stress. Grit, on the other hand, refers to a passion and perseverance for long-term goals despite obstacles and challenges that may come your way. Collectively, resilience and grit are traits that are important in all aspects of life. These traits are in fact skills and can be improved with training by exposing yourself to various forms of stress. Cold exposure is in fact an environmental stress and results in an immediate physiological and cognitive response. Your first instinct is to retreat to warmth and comfort, and you have to force yourself to embrace the uncomfortable feeling of the cold. While you might think it's just a cold shower, exercising control over your impulsivity does train your grit and resilience, and will allow you to remain calm and cool (pardon the pun) in difficult and stressful situations.1 Remember, grit and resilience are skills so train these traits just like you would a hockey skill with persistent and deliberate practice. 
  2. FOCUS AND ENERGY Without getting overly scientific, cold exposure causes an increase in epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) in both the body and brain.2 These neurochemicals are responsible for energy and focus and stay elevated beyond just the time you spend in the cold. If you've ever tried a cold plunge or shower, you know the feeling of hyper focus and an immense boost in energy when you first feel the cold water. So, if you're feeling sluggish when you roll out of bed, one of the quickest, safest, and easiest ways to boost your energy is to enter the shower and turn on the ice-cold water. The good news is you only need about a minute to experience these effects that will last well into the next few hours of your day.
  3. MOOD BOOSTER Cold exposure causes an increase in the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter and hormone that can enhance mood, memory, as well as reward and motivation. When dopamine is released, you experience feelings of pleasure, and these feelings motivate you to repeat that behaviour so you can experience the feeling of pleasure once again. Exercise, sleep, listening to music, sunlight and meditation are other ways to naturally increase the levels of dopamine in your body. So, as little as a few minutes of cold exposure a day can increase your focus and attention, elevate your mood and increase your resilience. Sounds like Wim Hof might be on to something.

Cold Benefits Tub

Scott Taylor | Game On Magazine