When my son-in-law Jake and I decided to walk to the North Pole (you can watch the documentary on YouTube, it’s called ‘The Last Degree North Pole’), we were advised that, due to the extreme low temperatures, we would need to consume 9,000 calories each day of our week-long adventure. As it turns out, our clothing was so good that we only burnt 6,000 calories per day. But that’s still a whooping 3,400 more than we would normally expend. What was really interesting was that, while we were walking and pulling our sledges, we took off our thick overcoats and even at -40°C we walked wearing very thin jackets. The point is this: when we are in cold conditions our body consumes a colossal amount of energy to keep us warm.
I once read that we actually burn more calories per hour standing in a cold sea on a British summer holiday than we do jogging for the same amount of time. Wow! Don’t run a marathon but get into surfing! Apparently, when we are shivering, we burn around 100 calories every 15 minutes. Let me stress of course that we must not take it to the extreme or we might get hypothermia, which can be fatal. If we get too cold and can’t keep heating our entire body, then it focuses on warming our core and horrible things begin to happen to our arms and legs. I witnessed this for myself when the doctor we took with us on our North Pole expedition got the insides of his gloves damp and suffered terrible frostbite.
What about cold showers? If you can, wow – what a great start to the day you are going to have. Actress Katharine Hepburn was said to have taken a cold bath or shower every day and swore by its benefits.
How does taking a cold shower contribute to our health? It makes us breathe deeply as we gasp so that we take in more oxygen. This leads to an increase in heart rate, releasing a rush of blood and energy throughout the body – that’s why we should do it in the morning and not at bedtime.
Cold water is also great for our hair and skin too. It makes our hair shiny, stronger and generally healthier. It also closes our pores, which is why we should always use cold water after a shave. According to Dr Joseph Mercola, a natural health expert, “It can lower blood pressure, clear blocked arteries and improve our immune system”.
On a scientific level, taking a cold shower, exposure to cold temperatures, cold-water swimming or cold baths, is referred to as cold thermogenesis (CT) and many elite athletes embed it into their weekly training. CT can:
- Help cure or reduce stress, and as we have already read stress is possibly the biggest cause of heart attacks
- Increase the strength of our immune system
- Increase metabolism
- Activate adiponectin hormones, which increase consumption of glucose and breaks down fatty acids