If you have ever read the James Bond books by Ian Fleming, you may remember Bond’s ritual of starting off his shower with nice, hot water, and then turning it down to cold for the last few minutes. This practice is commonly known as the Scottish shower, and has been practiced since antiquity.
A History Of Cold Water Therapy
Cold water bathing has a long and varied history. In ancient times, hot water was a luxury few afforded. However, even when the Ancient Greeks developed a water heating system, they continued to bathe in cold water for its health benefits.
The Spartans even went so far as to condemn the use of hot water as weak and unmanly. They believed that cold water tempered the body and made one more vigorous.
For hundreds of years Finnish folk have enjoyed a pastime referred to as “avantouinti” or “ice hole swimming”, in which they would sweat in saunas before taking a plunge into an ice cold lake or river.
Beginning in 1820, a German farmer named Vincenz Priessnitz began advertising a new form of medical treatment called “hydrotherapy”. He turned his farm into a hydrotherapy sanitarium, which became wildly popular with the nobility of Europe. Hydrotherapy spread to the United States in the 1840s and by the end of the 19th century over 200 hydrotherapy resorts existed in the U.S.
The popularity of hydrotherapy began to decline in the twentieth century, as doctors began to prescribe drug treatments rather than the more holistic medicine previously practiced. While it fell out of favor in most branches of medicine, doctors continued to prescribe it to heal strained muscles and broken bones. You will still see the use of ice baths in sports medicine today.
5 Health Benefits Of The Scottish Shower
Improves Circulation. Good blood circulation is necessary for overall health and also increases the speed of recovery from strenuous exercises. Alternating between hot and cold water while you shower is an easy way to improve your circulation. Cold water makes your blood to move to your vital organs to keep them warm. Warm water causes the blood to move towards the surface of the skin. Cold water proponents say that stimulating the circulatory system in this way keeps it healthier.
Relieves Depression. Research at the Department of Radiation Oncology at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine indicates that short cold showers may stimulate the brain’s “blue spot”– the brain’s primary source of noradrenaline — a chemical that might help mitigate depression.
Keeps skin and hair healthy. Hot water dries out skin and hair. Cold water can make your hair look shinier and your skin healthier by closing up your cuticles and pores.
Strengthens immunity. In a study conducted in 1993 by the Thrombosis Research Institute in England, individuals who took daily cold showers saw an increase in the number of virus/infection fighting white blood cells compared to individuals who took hot showers. Researchers believe that the increased 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.
Weight Loss. According to a 2009 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, brown fat cells in study participants were increased up to 15 times after frequently taking cold showers. While this increase in brown fat cells seems to contraindicate weight loss, this increase in fat is actually a good thing. The body has two types of fat—white and brown cells. White cells are the type that constitute love handles and the buildup of fat on the stomach and neck. Brown cells are packed with mitochondria, the energy center of cells, and can be burned for energy to keep us warm. When the body increases its production of brown fat cells, we more easily reduce the build up of white cells that occur during caloric surplus. That same 2009 study found that participants had the potential to lose up to nine pounds of fat per year by simply taking cold showers.
How To Take A Scottish Shower
As a disclaimer, people with some health conditions should not take cold showers because of the shock it causes to the body. If you have the following conditions, please refrain from attempting the Scottish shower:
- Heart disease. Your heart rate and metabolic rate increase when exposed to cold water. This can cause problems to a diseased heart.
- High blood pressure. Cold water causes the contraction of your blood vessels and could apparently cause a stroke.
- Overheated or feverish. Your blood vessels need to dilate in order to release heat. Cold water causes them to constrict.
If you’re healthy enough to embrace the Scottish shower, here’s how you do it:
- Start your shower off as hot as you can bear (but don’t be stupid about it).
- Shampoo and soap up.
- When you are ready to rinse, turn the water down as cold as it will go. Spend a few minutes meditating on the pithy one-liner you’ll say when you’re done showering.
- Repeat the hot/cold cycle a few times if you want, but end on a cold cycle.
- Exit shower and don a tux (a la Bond).
Some advice on implementing the Scottish shower: gradually increase your exposure. Start with one cycle per shower and don’t turn the cold water ALL the way on. Over the course of a week or two, increase the time you spend under the cold water and decrease the temperature of the water.
That’s the Scottish shower in a nutshell. Let us know how you do in the comments!