I've never really given up anything for Lent. I'm Catholic by association, but far from the most holy-moly, play by play pietist you'll ever meet, but I do dab within the rules a little bit...sometimes. Over the years, I've given up the occasional soda or beer or something I don't really like anyway in attempt to fit in. This year was way different.
It wasn't for religious purposes or doctrine. My 46 day experiment had more to do with hacking myself, and testing my mental toughness through cold thermogenesis, aka; cold showers. What could be a better way to ask for my God's help than trying to go without something I love, for so long a time. I'd learned about cold thermogenesis from listening to the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast and following that up by reading about the legendary "ice man;" Wim Hof. Wim has taken his philosophy on cold to a whole other level. His story is incredible and totally worth a read.
Cold thermogenesis takes place when your body forces itself to produce heat when stimulated by exposure to cold temperatures. Ice baths, cryotherapy, rolling around in the snow in a bathing suit, or cold showers can all be used to achieve this intention. After reading about its many benefits, which you'll see in a moment, I had decided that for the duration of the Lenten season (March 1st to April 16th), that I was going to turn the nozzle all the way to "C" every time I hit the shower.
Cold thermogenesis is praised by masochists and health fanatics alike for a having a host of benefits, which include, but may not be limited to;
Lowering body fat by activating "brown", mitochondria-packed fat that burns energy (calories) to produce heat
Enhancing immune function by stimulating cells that fight infection
Increasing pain tolerance
Lowering blood sugar
Helps to strengthen your skin and hair by preventing your cuticles and pores from opening as well as maintaining some of the good natural oils your body produces
Cutting food cravings
Improving deep sleep
Build cardiovascular endurance
Improving adrenal function
Supporting your thyroid
Increasing hormone levels
If those benefits came in a single pill, I think they'd fly off the shelves quicker than bread before a snow storm.
My first cold shower came after a 5 mile run. I did this on purpose to make sure I had built up a sweat and was relatively warm. It still sucked when that water hit me. It was a beautiful, 70 degree (Ash) Wednesday- so that helped. I lasted about two minutes, just enough time to quickly wash and rinse myself. I have to say; I noticed an immediate difference. In an attempt to make myself warm under the freezing cold water, I was unintentionally flexing every muscle in my body. I never felt so ripped in my life. My chest, legs and arms felt absolutely solid. It was wild. Afterwards, I felt more refreshed than I had ever felt from taking a hot shower- maybe it was my ego congratulating myself for actually going through with it or a placebo effect- either way, I felt no regret. After that, I had some dinner and was chillin'- no pun intended.
The next few days were more of the same. At first, I was letting the water hit my feet, than taking a step, than another, than another, and another until I was totally under the water. I realized after about four days, this wasn't the way to go. My new method became; taking as many deep breaths as I needed, walking directly under the water and letting it hit me right over my head and onto my face. I read somewhere that I'd know it was "working" when I'd start to develop brain freeze under the water, so that's what I was trying to do. Now before you all give a resounding "F**K THAT!" I'm happy to report; the benefits were starting to show. After just a few weeks, I noticed that my abs which had gone MIA since Christmas had started to make a slight appearance. Although sometimes painful and unexciting (to say the least), that charged up feeling afterwards was there every time. I felt like my sleep was improving as well. My cold shower was a great alternative to a early morning cup of coffee if I decided to go without that day (which I'll do 1-3 days a week).
I definitely noticed reduced brain fog and as well as a decreased appetite. This came as a surprise not having thought either was an issue in the first place. I feel stronger now than I have in a while.
There is an easy way to get the benefits of cold thermogenesis without completely giving up your hot, steamy, "normal" showers, as long as you're of the belief that you can do anything for 30 seconds. All you need to do is start by taking your regular shower at whatever temperature you like and for the last 30 seconds, blast the water over your head at as cold a temperature as you can get it. You're not going to like it, but the dramatic change in temperature will shock your body into thinking its freezing and force it to quickly produce heat, which as you learned earlier is where the benefits of cold thermogenesis show its face.
Easter is coming in just two days, so my sentence is almost up, but I'm honestly unsure if I'm going to go back. Between the cold showers and cleaning up my diet just a little bit, I've noticed a significant loss of body fat, improved sleep and cognitive function. Between working two jobs, training Muay Thai and writing this blog, I need every advantage I can get. These cold-ass showers might have found a place in my regimen, but only time can tell.