This week, as part of our immunity series, I thought I’d venture out of the kitchen and into the domain of simple, accessible, free and (mostly) enjoyable lifestyle hacks.
I’ve been searching for some of the most effective in terms of boosting overall health and immunity and especially those techniques supported by genuine research.
I’ve always found myself gravitating towards health strategies that are truly empowering.
One of the most frustrating things to witness in the health and wellbeing sector is the heavily marketed notion that the latest gadget, the most expensive test, or the most elaborate supplement regime or powdered superfood is a prerequisite for good health.
Obviously, these things have their place, however the pathway to good health doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.
Very often it’s simply a matter of adopting certain habits which, if practiced consistently over time, produce surprisingly impressive results.
And so, my first and perhaps most important lifestyle hack is … wait for it … cold showers.
Theme: Immunity series
Topic: Lifestyle hacks for super-immunity: Part 1 – Cold Showers
Stay with me, folks!
I realise it’s probably the wrong time of year to run with this one, with temperatures already plummeting, but take my word for it, if you can master it mid-Winter, the rest of the year will be a cinch.
And the tangible health benefits will make it worth your while, I can assure you!
There’s not a single practice that has revolutionised my health and had me passionately preaching to friends and family, to a greater extent than this one.
I am as devout a “cold-showerist” as they come.
Cold exposure stimulates our immune system.
It does this primarily by boosting the production of white blood cells.
Studies show that not only does it increase the number of lymphocytes and natural killer (NK) cells, which defend against tumours and virus-infected cells, but it increases activity of those cells as well.
One study found elevated levels of virus-combatting cytokines, gamma interferon and interleukin-4, and that they worked more synergistically.
The simple practice of taking cold showers is also an effective weight loss tool.
It’s thought to convert white fat (the universally dreaded kind of body fat) into brown fat – the more favourable, active form, which burns calories, effectively transforming food into body heat.
Cold exposure also boosts adiponectin, a fat-burning hormone which reduces inflammation and improves insulin sensitivity and glucose regulation.
Low levels of both brown fat and adiponectin are associated with obesity.
Lots of other benefits
There’s also a lengthy list of additional benefits.
Cold exposure reduces inflammation and oxidative stress (one study hints at the possibility of it boosting glutathione production – the body’s master antioxidant); drastically enhances mood, energy levels and cognitive function; improves resilience and adaptation to stress; and increases circulation, with a tangible improvement for those suffering with cold hands and feet during Winter.
Now, no doubt; some men may call out one or two disadvantages to exposing (parts of) their bodies to cold but, before you do, you should know that studies have also shown that cold showers are effective in fighting the most dreaded strain of flu: man flu!
Finally, it goes without saying there are potentially significant environmental benefits from saving water, not to mention the financial benefits in terms of reduced power bills.
A cold shower led recovery perhaps?
Best to avoid cold showers if and when any acute illness does happen to strike.
Do you really need my help to explain how best to take a cold shower?
Maybe not, but, according to the literature, some ways are more effective than others.
The greatest physiological response to cold occurs during the first 30 seconds – so if that’s all you can manage, rest assured that you’ll still reap the majority of the benefits associated with this technique – consistency is the key.
Alternatively, at the end of your regular daily (warm) shower, you can slowly reduce the water temperature to the lowest you can tolerate.
Aim for 5-10 seconds of cold initially, gradually working up to 1-2 minutes, over time.
For the faint of heart, Summer and Autumn are by far the best seasons to start, as it allows time to build the practice and reap the rewards throughout Winter when you really need them. And rest assured, it will get easier with time – in fact, cold exposure has an addictive quality thanks to the instant energy it generates.
Just ask the Frigid Digits. They worked all this out a long time ago!
Well, best of luck with this one!
To any fence-sitters: give it a try – I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Even a week should convince you that bravely sacrificing your morning comfort is worth it, for the energy and cognitive boost alone.