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People Who Take Cold Showers Take Fewer Sick Days, Study Finds

When you're really cold, your body's auto-response is to warm itself up.


We've all been there -- we think the water in the shower is too hot, so we turn it down a hair, only to realize, no way, that's too cold! But if even a moment of lukewarm water is uncomfortable, imagine subjecting yourself to an ice-cold shower on purpose.

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A group of 3,000 Dutch study participants voluntary concluded their daily showers with 30-, 60- or 90-second blasts of chilly water for 30 consecutive days. Researcher Geert A. Buijze compared their reactions and lifestyles throughout the experiment to a control group. He found that participants who took a cold shower for any of the three durations above took 29 percent fewer sick days off from work during the 30-day period.

Related: How This Showering Trick Can Make You More Energized for the Workday

Cold water didn't exempt them from illness, however. Participants who took cold showers reported feeling sick for the same average number of days as those who stuck to a comfortable water temperature.

The difference was, those who took cold showers (roughly 50 degrees Fahrenheit) experienced more mild symptoms and had more energy, which allowed them to power through work days rather than stay in bed. (Buijze says going to work when you feel a bit crummy is all fine and good as long as you wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough, etc.)

Buijze laid out some possible explanations for the results in an interview with Harvard Business Review. He noted that people shiver when exposed to cold, which is the body's way of trying to warm itself up. From there, the body secretes hormones such as cortisol (nicknamed "the stress hormone"), which kick the fight-or-flight response into gear. When that wears off, relaxation sets in. Buijze also described a connection between "brown fat" (good fat) and cold temperatures. When brown fat is "activated," it burns calories, which warms up the body.

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He was inspired to do the research by mounting anecdotal evidence about the benefits of ice baths. Hippocrates, "the father of medicine," prescribed them. Spas and remedial care feature them even today.

None of Buijze's volunteers -- all healthy adults -- took cold showers prior to the study, but two-thirds of them continued the practice after the 30 days.

For the brave who aspire to be healthy and present at work, there's more you can do: Buijze found that participants who took a cold shower for 30 to 90 seconds each day and engaged in regular physical exercise took 54 percent fewer sick days than those who did neither.

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