Go From Just Surviving to Fully Thriving

Empower Yourself to Create the Life You Want

Mornings are rough. The alarm clock goes off (always too early) and we sleepily roll out of bed toward the bathroom to start our day.

We brush our teeth, hop in the shower, clean up, towel off, and lethargically go about the rest of our morning. Many times we're still waking up as we sit in our car ready to go to work, coffee in hand.

What if I told you there was an easily accessible, invigorating way to help wake you up that's already a part of your morning routine?

I'm talking about adding a little cold water to your AM shower. 

 Wait! Wait! Hear me out! It's actually pretty cool. Hahaha --- did I get an eye roll and a groan? I hope so.

Let me answer the question that's most likely popped into your head: "Why in the great bejeweled bejeezus would I douse myself in cold water? Are you crazy?"

Definitely good and valid questions. And no, I'm not crazy. Most days.

I promise this is not like the ice bucket challenge that was going around a few years ago. For those who missed out, people dumped freezing cold ice water on their heads for charity for ALS.

Ice Bucket Challenge

That’s a bit extreme.

It’s also not like a polar bear plunge, where folks dive into frigid waters in the winter, popping out seconds later looking wild-eyed and desperately searching for a dry towel. And layers. Warm, cozy layers.

There’s a MUCH better way to add cold water to your morning shower routine.

In fact, the method that I’ll share with you is based on 300 years of medicinal use.

Applying water therapeutically is known as hydrotherapy. It is the foundation of naturopathic medicine, and operates under the philosophy that circulation is the key to health.

When it's applied properly, cold water is incredibly therapeutic. Especially in contrast with hot water.

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Here’s a few tricks to know:


#1 Cold water is only therapeutic in short applications (2 minutes, max)

#2 Cold water is always applied after you are warmed up.

#3 Cold applications are always shorter duration than hot applications

#4 You always, always, always end with cold water!


That's better, right? I'm slowly becoming less crazy…

Great, now that you’re in the hydrotherapy know — hydroknow, if you will (if you won’t, I totally understand) — let’s see what it can do for you!


Improve your circulation

You might now be asking, “how in the Crayola crayons does cold water IMPROVE circulation?”

I would be, too. In those exact words.

We typically think of cold applications as shutting down circulation, like with ice.

If the cold is too cold or applied for too long, it will definitely minimize circulation, a no-no for healing.

This is especially important to know when you are caring for an acute injury like a sprain or bruise. I’m not a big fan of ice, which I’ll explain in another post.

Slowing down or stopping circulation is not our goal. Nor should it really ever be.

Proper circulation = better and faster healing.

Think about how relaxed you feel after standing in the hot water or taking a bath for a bit.

All of your blood vessels in your arms and legs are dilated and your veins are near the surface of the skin and full of blood.

When you add a short, cold burst to the end of your shower, the veins constrict and push all the blood in your arms and legs back toward your heart and vital organs.

It’s kinda like wringing out a giant sponge.

You’ve transported the waste products of metabolism through your system rapidly so they can be disposed of, and now new, fresh nutrients and oxygen can be added back to the blood and distributed to tissues and organs.

You’ve improved your detoxification capabilities by boosting your circulation. Yay!

Now imagine if you did this hot-cold cycle a few times! That’s called contrast hydrotherapy and it’s full-on awesome.

Interesting sidenote: Veins provide a major way to heat and cool your body. When they are close to the surface, they release lots of heat. When they are deeper in the tissue, they conserve heat.

With the application of cold water, the vessels dive back into the skin and conserve heat.

In other words, adding a cold burst after hot water will keep you warmer longer than if you just end your shower on hot water.


Increase your metabolism

Adding a cold water burst at the end of your daily shower will boost your metabolism.

Over time, it can even help you lose weight. That’s right, when used appropriately cold water = weight loss.

 After a short dip in the cold, your body immediately attempts to warm you up, boosting metabolic function. This reflex also helps to keep you warmer longer.

Cold water also has an unexpected influence on the type of fat we produce. A 2009 study found that exposure to cold water increases brown fat stores.

This type of fat is produced by the body to help maintain our body temperature; it’s burned when we need to warm up.

It is distinctly different than white fat, which is metabolically less active and accumulates around our waistlines and thighs from excess calorie consumption.

Cold water = healthier fat!


Boost your mood

Cold showers make you happier and boost your energy!

Bold claims, yes, but let’s take a look at the facts.

A 2007 study showed that 2 minute cold showers at 68° F helped to relieve symptoms of depression.

The cold water activates the sympathetic nervous system, releasing endorphins and adrenaline.

Endorphins boost mood and adrenaline can shake off that last bit of sleep and get your body primed for the rest of the day.

These chemicals do not remain elevated, but rather just give you a short burst to get your day going.

Cold water is also highly stimulating to the peripheral nervous system. This increased nervous system activity is transmitted to the brain, increasing activity there and helping relieve depressive symptoms.

Interestingly, the authors of the study hypothesized that depression could partially result from a lack of physiological stressors that mammals have been exposed to for millions of years of evolution, such as a sudden dip in temperature from a brief cold swim.

Fascinating! You can start your own study in the shower today!

swimming in a lake

Another study looked at winter swimming and its impacts on health. The authors concluded that after 4 months, cold water swimmers found themselves to be more active, energetic, and brisk than control subjects.

Who wouldn’t like to add “active, energetic, and brisk” as descriptors to how they feel in the morning?

All swimmers who had rheumatism, fibromyalgia, or asthma, reported that winter swimming had relieved their pains.

Pretty awesome, right?

Mood boosting and pain relieving!

Cold showers are sounding pretty good right now!


Stimulate your immune and lymphatic systems

The lymphatic system is the unsung hero of the body. It’s the sidekick to the circulatory system that never gets mentioned.

Its work is crucial for a strong immune system and is pictured here in green.


The lymphatic system runs right alongside your veins. Its job is to suck up extra fluid and return it to normal circulation.

As this fluid runs through the lymphatic system, it has to pass through lymph nodes, which are the green ovals pictured above.

The lymph nodes are the sentinels of the immune system; they are chock full of immune cells that monitor the fluid for anything suspicious.

So, as you can guess, better circulation = better lymphatic flow = more immune system surveillance = less getting sick!

Here’s the thing: lymphatic vessels are a low pressure system and they don’t pump on their own.

They only move when muscles move. So, exercise is super important for immune system function!

Cold water kinda cheats the system.

When the veins constrict, it’s pretty much like a muscle being activated, and it circulates the lymph.

Man, can this cold water stuff get any better?


Promote your muscle recovery

I’m pretty sure we’ve all experienced doing some form of physical activity and waking up sore in the morning. Or the following morning.

This is called delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS for short.

It occurs 24 - 72 hours after the trauma to your muscles — yes, when this soreness happens, you’ve literally created lots of tiny, tiny tears in your muscle fibers — and it can be pretty uncomfortable.

Cold water application, specifically immersion, has been shown to counteract these effects.

The pain is caused by inflammatory chemicals that are helping the healing process.

We don’t want to remove them entirely, but we do want to minimize them when we’ve perhaps overdone it a bit with that new trapeze sky diving dance class we tried out a few days ago.

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Pretty great stuff, right?

By this point, you should be asking yourself “What CAN’T cold water do for me?”

Maybe your math homework. It's not great at that.

I hope I’ve convinced you to at least THINK about trying a cold water burst at the end of your shower. That’s the first step.

Does it help to mention self-help guru Tony Robbins does a cold plunge every morning?

Well, he totally does and he’s really excited about it.

There are a few more specific refining principles we should go over first, before you decide to take your life your own hands and turn that dial to something other than toasty roasty warm.

The trick is to get the TEMPERATURE and TIMING of the hot and the cold just right for your circulation.


Temperature advice:

Start with a smaller temperature range (a warmer cold burst and possibly a warm instead of hot shower) and work up to a larger range.

Your body will naturally adapt and be able to handle wider temperature ranges over time. The wider the range, the healthier the circulation.


Timing advice:

The same goes for timing. You might only be able to do 5 seconds of lukewarm water to begin with.

And that’s ok. No need to be Braveheart at 6:30AM.

Work up to 20-30 seconds at that temperature, then decrease the temperature and start again at only a few seconds.

At a maximum, the cold water should be applied for 1 minute, occasionally 2 minutes if your circulation is very well adapted and robust.



Start with narrow temperature ranges (mild temperatures) if you:
  • have trouble sensing temperature changes, as in diabetic peripheral neuropathy
  • are reactive to temperature changes or cold water, as in Raynaud’s
  • have vascular disease (high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, peripheral artery disease, etc.)
  • have asthma, COPD, bronchitis (chronic or acute), emphysema or reactive airway disease

Avoid cold water to the chest if you:

  • have asthma, COPD, bronchitis (chronic or acute), emphysema or reactive airway disease

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All right. Now maybe this short blast of cold water sounds a bit more manageable.

So, how exactly do you incorporate it into your shower routine?

I’ve written a protocol for both a fixed and mobile shower head.


Fixed Shower Head Cold Contrast

Step #1

Take a nice, hot shower. Make sure you are comfortably toasty.

Step #2

Turn the temperature dial on the shower to anywhere between lukewarm and cold. Beginners start with lukewarm.

Stay at this temperature each day until you can handle it for 30 seconds or so, then begin to decrease the temperature into a colder range.

Step #3

Quickly turn around so the cold water is hitting your back.

Step #4

Move through the cold water for 5 - 30 seconds, covering your legs, back, arms, and abdomen.

  • Spin slowly with your arms crossed over your chest and move backward and forward in the shower to hit all areas of your body.

Avoid your chest* and head.

  • You want the vessels in your body to push blood back to the heart, so focus the cold water on areas besides the chest. A very short exposure to the cold on the chest can be ok.
  • *If you have asthma, avoid cold water to your chest, as it will make the vessels constrict and possibly spasm, irritating your asthma.
  • Soaking your head can be ok for more advanced hydrotherapy folks, but is often too much for beginners. Work up to this if you’d like!

Step #5

  • Turn off the water, grab your towel, and dry off.

Mobile Shower Head Cold Contrast

This routine is a little more specific, but will take you no time to get the sequence down.

Just think about pushing blood back toward your heart and you can’t go wrong!

Step #1

Take a nice, hot shower. Make sure you are comfortably toasty.

Step #2

Remove the shower head from its cradle and turn the temperature dial on the shower to anywhere between lukewarm and cold.

Beginners start with lukewarm. Stay at this temperature each day until you can handle it for 30 seconds or so, then begin to decrease the temperature into a colder range.

Step #3

  • Lift up your one foot* a little bit, bend over, and begin by spraying the cold water on the bottom of your foot, up the back of your calf and hamstring and on to your lower back.
  • *only attempt this if you have good balance. If you are concerned about falling, skip the bottom of the foot and start by applying the cold water to the back of your leg.
  • Next spray cold water on the top of the same foot, up the front of your leg and thigh to your hip crease.
  • Repeat this process on your opposite leg.
  • Start by spraying cold water on the back of one hand, up your forearm, tricep, and shoulder to your upper back.
  • Next, return the shower head to your fingers and spray your palm, up along the inside the same arm to the armpit and the front of your shoulder.
  • Repeat this process on your opposite arm.
  • Run the shower head for a few seconds over your upper and lower back.
  • Lift one arm and spray along the side of your torso from hip bone to armpit.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Briefly spray cold water on your pelvis and abdomen, starting on the right side near the hip bone and continuing in a clockwise circle around your belly until you reach your starting point.
Chest*: (optional, and always the shortest duration of the bunch)
  • Very briefly move the shower head up to your chest give it a quick couple seconds of cold, moving from left to right.
  • *If you have asthma, avoid cold water to your chest, as it will make the vessels constrict and possibly spasm, irritating your asthma.

Step #4

Turn off the water, grab your towel, and dry off.

Dr. Liz Tip #1

  • Notice how you’re feeling after your dip into the cold.
    • How is your energy level?
    • How is your body temperature?
    • What is your mood like?
    • How does your body feel?

Dr. Liz Tip #2

If you want to get really fancy, keep a journal of your hydrotherapy experience.

Jot down notes about your feelings and the approximate temperature and time of the cold water.

This way, you can track your progress and understand how your body is responding.

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So there you are! A wonderful, easy way to improve energy, circulation, metabolism, your immune system, detoxification, and muscle recovery, all while adding a full 30 seconds to your morning routine.

After a few times, I think you’ll find yourself more awake, needing less coffee, and really ready to start your day!

Feel free to drop me a line and share your cold water experiences!

Go forth and bring on the cold water!

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