The Terror and Joy of Cold Exposure

I’ve taken cold showers for some time now. It’s better for your skin, your hair and has quite a lot of health benefits. By now, ice-cold water is the new black as far as I’m concerned. If I ever accidentally step into a warm shower at the gym, I instinctively jump out of it. I suppose that’s what the person accidentally stepping into the remains of my chilly ritual does too.

I’ve decided to take this cryotherapy-light of mine one step further. My new raison d’être is to swim outdoors at least once a month, every month of the year. I’ve taken three relatively cold swims in Swedish lakes during September, which is obviously no real struggle since autumn just kicked in. The challenge will increase as weather gets grimmer. Here is a video from one of the swims. As you can see, it’s quite a windy day and I do not linger very long.

For the moment, I’m at an archipelago conference center on the Swedish west coast for work. I’m giving a lecture on gender equality in the educational system. The facilities include a sauna and the ocean, both of which I delved into last night. I took no less than three dives into the great blue (or rather, grey). My review is: if you have a sauna, it’s no bother at all. It almost doesn’t count. On Friday night, I’m going no fuss lake-swimming with a friend who is equally excited about this slightly self-punishing project. I’m curious to see how she finds it.

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In the south, where we currently live, winter is seldom very cold. This is closer to the winter scenery of my northern part upbringing. It was sometimes too cold for us to get to school and we occationally had to grease our faces before going out.

So, what is the point of it all? (Cold baths, that is. I won’t tell you anything more existential right now.) For one, cold exposure will aid in the production of brown fat tissue, which helps the body to burn fat in order to keep warm. It usually takes a couple of weeks of really cold weather for the brown fat tissue to get to the level where it actually does you any good. The last few winters have been too mild for that effect to bloom, so I’m tempted by the prospect of speeding it up and subsequently tolerating the cold season better. One can only hope. It should come as no surprise that someone who’s obsessed with the idea of moving to Spain is not overly delighted by Scandinavian winter. The question is, could I get there? Or, could I at least suffer less?

Cold therapy also fights inflammation, increases your life span, is great for the nervous system, the immune system, sleep quality and blood sugar levels. Read this article if you’re interested in the scientifically proven goodness of tormenting yourself for no apparent reason.

I find that one very interesting effect of regularly taking cold showers is a generally better and sturdier attitude, which is a great thing for an aspiring minimalist. Yes, it’s a bit uncomfortable, but so are many things in life. If you just breath and stay for a couple of minutes, it’s over and you can reap the immediate benefit of feeling euphoric, or at least revived. The habit has some meditative and spiritual qualities that I’m happy to keep exploring.

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