A few years ago, I read The James Bond Shower: A Shot of Cold Water for Health and Vitality at the Art of Manliness. In the Ian Fleming novels, Bond started his showers hot and ended them cold, not something most people do or would think to do.
Even with the article laying out the many benefits of cold showers and promising me I could be a little more like James Bond, it wasn’t enough to break a habit that had lasted nearly a lifetime. Hot showers are comfortable. Hot showers are normal. Why change that? I finished the article, filed it away as merely interesting, and moved on. I never tried cold showers and never thought of it again.
And then I moved to Brazil.
Where I stayed, there was no water heater. In a country that stays as hot as Brazil, it’s more common to store water on the roof and let the sun do its thing, and it does that thing far less effectively than a water heater. If you wanted an actually hot shower, you depended on an electric shower head. Initially, the one in my shower was completely broken. An electrician came and fixed the wiring eventually, so it technically worked, but it kicked the breaker every single time. Using it was more trouble than it was worth.
So for the majority of my time in Brazil, I exclusively took cold showers. Not James Bond, start-hot-end-cold cold showers. Beginning-to-end cold showers. At first, I frowned at the prospect, but Brazil’s weather helped me ease into it. On some days, the water would come out almost lukewarm, and on others, with that stinging icy tinge. That icy tinge, to the uninitiated, doesn’t feel too good. It shocks, it hurts, it feels like work.
It didn’t take me long to prefer it, though. Eventually, you start to enjoy it (or at least accept it). To those who have never tried it, who might read this and file it away as interesting, I encourage you to give it a try.
I’ll tell you some of the benefits of taking cold showers. Some will echo the Art of Manliness article (which you should read), others are more anecdotal, but I think they’re convincing enough.
Cold Showers: The Sin Killer
Spiritual Warfare—fasting, abstinence, prayer, etc–is about cashing in temporary discomfort for an eternal reward. It helps us develop strength of character, self-discipline, and mastery.
Viewed in this light, the spiritual benefits of cold showers are obvious. We are all influenced by our fallen nature and naturally tend toward the deadly sins. The only way to overcome these sins is by cultivating their corresponding virtues. At the root of sin is a disordered mindset. Either we’re reckoning a good thing evil or an evil thing good. This disordered mindset causes suffering. For example, gluttony is a disordered view of our relationship with food and, if taken to its natural end, leads to misery, disease, and death. The only way to transform our disordered mindsets is with Spiritual Warfare. And we engage in Spiritual Warfare with intentional, constant discomfort. We assess what it is we are inclined to do, and then we do the opposite.
The constant pursuit of comfort leads us to complacency, idleness, mindlessness. Spiritual Warfare leads to discipline and resilience.
Cold showers are small acts of Spiritual Warfare. If approached with the right intentions, they can lead to gratitude, humility, temperance, whatever other virtue we’re hoping to develop.
In suffering, even and especially in small habitual ways, we can appreciate all the good we’ve inherited and all the good we’ve been able to amplify, and we can better recognize what evil remains to be dealt with.
For me, no other reasons outweigh this one. It doesn’t matter what physical effects may occur, although they are welcomed. What matters, ultimately, is the soul. If you can develop yourself through Spiritual Warfare, you’ll surely progress on your Physical Warfare across the board, even if that progress isn’t directly related to the temperature of the shower.
Higher Energy Levels and Increased Alertness
Nothing wakes a man up like a shot of cold, especially if that cold is encompassing his entire body. Taking a cold shower leaves you feeling ready for anything. You’re so shaken by discomfort, your body gets in a fighting mood. Your heart races and you’re ready to do whatever needs to be done.
The increase in energy and alertness could possibly be explained by an increase in testosterone. A 1993 study by the Thrombosis Research Institute that’s cited in the Art of Manliness article found that men who took daily cold showers saw an increase in testosterone production (though this study is called into question by some).
Keeps Your Skin from Drying Out
This is the most evident physical benefit I’ve experienced. My face didn’t take kindly to tropical weather for whatever reason, especially with this beard. Whatever it is about Brazil that dried my skin out, hot showers exacerbated the problem. Cold water didn’t.
Improved Circulation and Recovery
Cold showers constrict blood flow. While hot showers bring blood to the skin’s surface, cold showers send blood to keep your organs warm. Switching from hot water to cold water and back again is one way to give your circulatory system a workout and improve your overall circulation. If you’re an athlete or even just a regular exerciser, healthy blood circulation means faster recovery from your training or workouts.
How to Start Reaping the Benefits of Cold Showers
If you’re convinced about (or at least open to) taking cold showers, the best way to get started is through necessity. I really lucked out. The shower head was broken and then a total pain in the ass to use, so I didn’t have a choice. Due to the necessity of taking cold showers, I came to enjoy cold showers.
Most people, however, will have the temptation of hot water staring them in the face. If you’re just starting out, the James Bond method might be a more comfortable approach (But comfort isn’t the point, right?) Start taking a shower as usual and gradually lower the temperature. Your body will adapt to each drop so that by the time the water is full-on cold, it will just feel refreshing.
However, I’m a proponent of the "just do it" method. Get in the shower, put it on cold, turn it on. That initial shock of cold water is one of the best parts. Commit to doing that for a week and I guarantee you’ll start to like it.
But habitual discomfort will make you stronger.