Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hit the Delpino! The Benefits of Cold Showers

Ahh, shower time! One of the most indulgent times of our adult day. If you have kids, this may be the only time you are alone. A hot, steamy shower is great way to freshen up...but did you know that you could be gaining many benefits from trying cold showers?

Cold showers are common in many parts of the world where hot water is hard to come by. The coldest shower I ever had in my life was one I took in Potosi, Bolivia. Potosi is one of the highest cities in the world and, let me tell you, it gets COLD up there. Add to that the fact that many budget or "backpacker" hotels don't cater to their clients by providing hot water in the shared bathrooms...and you can imagine the shrinkage going on when I hopped around under a stream of tiny ice cubes to try to wash the dust off from a day-long tour of the local silver mines. But I digress...

Cold showers are also popular in many cultures for their health benefits. Japanese bath houses usually prescribe a practice of prolonged sitting times in hot and dry saunas interspersed with quick plunges in a pool of icy water to stimulate the circulation. I've also heard of cold showers being called "Scottish showers" alluding to the Scottish manly right of cold water dips. Heck, James Bond even enjoyed a splash of icy water at the end of his showers in several Ian Fleming novels (but I've never seen that featured in any Bond films...his film showers are usually heated up by a sultry seductress). Again, I digress...

I've been experimenting with cold showers after seeing several references to the health benefits. For example, Tim Ferriss in his book The 4-Hour Body, includes a chapter on the weight loss benefits of several types of chilly treatments. The idea is to lower the body temperature in order to make the body burn calories through shivering or to try to warm back up. I'm not that extreme. Here is my protocol:

I start with warm water to soak myself and to wash my hair and face. Then I put some shower gel on a sponge or wash cloth and turn the water to cold while I stand aside. Once I've got an arctic flow going, I back into the water letting it fall on my neck and shoulders while I lather up my front side (and heave a few VERY crisp breathes). I now face the shower head while I lather up my back side. I rinse my front side (cold water feels much colder when it hits your arm pits or "the twig and berries" if you know what I mean), then turn around to rinse my back side and stand for a bit with the water on my neck and shoulders. By now, I've usually fully adjusted to the temperature and I find the cold water refreshing. If I have any sore muscles from my recent weight training, I spend a few extra seconds with the stream focused on those areas.

The benefits that I've noticed are that the frigid flow wakes me up faster than a triple espresso, it totally relieves any muscle soreness or fatigue (this is incredible considering the amount of heavy lifting, sprinting, and yoga I'm doing), and I feel a relaxing, warming effect for about an hour after the shower as my body brings the temperature back up (this is hard to describe, so you'll have to feel it to believe feels like that wrung-out feeling you have following a massage). You can also totally freak out your significant other by giving them a glimpse of what it would feel like to be a necrophiliac if you hug them when you're cold and clammy!

I highly recommend you try a cold dash at the end of your next shower. What at first may be unpleasant will soon become something you look forward to in your day.

P.S. -- If you're wondering about the title of this post. Doogie Howser's best friend Vinnie Delpino was in line to inherit his father's family business selling shower heads. In one episode, Vinnie dreams of a day when professional athletes would hear their coaches barking, "Hit the Delpino!" instead of, "Hit the showers!" For some odd reason, my mom thought that was the funniest thing ever and incorporated it into the fabric of my childhood. (Probably the only person reading this that doesn't need the explanation is my brother, Kevin.)