There’s something impressive about taking cold showers. It summons up images of military discipline, and people claim that it makes you healthier. But how much of that is true?
In my quest to find out, I came across a 2016 paper published in PLoS One on how cold showers affected health and work. The researchers recruited about 3,000 participants who, like most of us, were not used to taking cold showers. These participants were assigned to four groups. Every day for 30 consecutive days, the first group had to end their normal, blessedly warm shower with a cold shower for 30 seconds. The second group had to do this for 60 seconds, the third for 90 seconds, and the fourth was the control group that did not suffer for science.
The participants had to time themselves, too, so if they couldn’t complete the full 30–90 seconds, they had to record how long they had subjected themselves to the water. (Keep in mind that this happened in the Netherlands, in January.) After the 30 days, the participants spent another month showering however they wanted.
During this time, volunteers were asked to take a wide variety of surveys. At the end of the period, the researchers discovered an interesting finding: the people who had taken the cold showers took 29 percent fewer sick days than the others. But, crucially, they didn’t actually feel ill (as self-reported) any less often.
People who spent two months taking cold showers were just as likely to get sick, but much more likely to still go to work if they were sick, possibly because they had grown used to being uncomfortable. So in the end, maybe there is some truth to the praises of cold showers. Cold showers probably don’t make you healthier; they just make you suck it up.