Cold Showers: From Hippocrates to Neurobiology

The Father of medicine prescribed cold baths for many of his sick patients. The Romans and Turks built bath houses, where health seeking citizens would go from a hot sauna-like room to a tempered room where they gradually finished sweating and finally climb or dive into an ice cold swimming pool. Modern Scandinavians, presumably following Viking traditions, cut holes in the ice and more or less briefly immerse themselves in frigid midwinter waters, with or even without a preceding sauna.

I read an interesting interview in the Harvard Buisnesss Review in the seat behind the copilot of a very small Cessna on my way back to Bar Harbor from the #HarvardWriters2018 workshop.

Dutch researcher Dr. Geert A Buijze and colleagues demonstrated that a daily cold shower, even 30 seconds of ice cold water at the end of a more typically soothing warm one, decreased workers’ sick time by 29%.

The explanation, he speculates, could be that cold water induces shivering and raises cortisol levels, which in turn increases energy and stamina. It could also have something to do with activating brown fat, or maybe it’s even a placebo effect, but, as we now know, even the placebo effect is reasonably well explained by modern neurobiology.

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