Cold showers are good for you - official

By Oliver Gillie

21 November 1999

This picture is not of myself. I feel that the supposed cures attributed to cold water are more likely to be a result of the patents who are prescibed this "cure" deciding that they would be better off not complaining about their symptoms rather than endure further "the cure".JH

Cold showers and cold baths, which were part of the regular regime of Edwardian gentlemen, may be set for a comeback. Later generations have dismissed cold showers as a masochistic fetish designed to control sexual appetite. But now German doctors have found that immersion in cold water has beneficial effects on body chemistry.
Year-round swimmers in Berlin have half as many chest infections as other people, say doctors from the Herzog-Julius Hospital in Bad Harzburg and the Medical School at Humboldt University in Berlin. Swimming in freezing water, cold plunges in ice water following a sauna, and other forms of cold immersion harden the body and benefit health by increasing resistance to chest infections, the German doctors say.
Dr Werner Siems, a biochemist at Herzog-Julius Hospital became interested after observing patients with rheumatoid arthritis who were given exposure to cold at -110C for up to three minutes at a time. Patients, who wear shoes and gloves and special protection for the nose, mouth, ears and other sensitive parts, report a reduction in pain following treatment in the cold chamber.
Studies of year-round swimmers, both men and women, have found that regular exposure to cold changes the body's chemistry, making it more resistant to oxidative stress. The swimmers' bodies have increased quantities of a substance, glutathione, and elevated levels of several enzymes that enable the body to remove reactive oxygen from the body more quickly.
It appears that swimming in cold water may help the body combat natural decay caused by reactive oxygen. Among the possible, but as yet unproven benefits could be protection against heart and blood vessel disease. "Modern life has a deficiency of stimulating factors such as cold, heat and physical stress and this results in poor resistance to disease," said Dr Siems. "Brief exposure to cold causes a mild oxidative stress which may prepare the body to resist a greater stress." Cold treatment is popular in Siberia, where it has been witnessed by Professor William Keatinge, of Queen Mary and Westfield College in London, an expert on cold exposure.
"In Russia they call this treatment Ivanov therapy after a guru who walks in the snow barefoot and without a shirt," Professor Keatinge said. "I saw a number of expectant mothers in Krasnoyarsk, central Siberia, troop out of the hospital clinic into the snow in bikinis, meditate for a few minutes, and then troop back.
"But I was even more astonished to see a newborn baby given Ivanov therapy. The baby was only a few hours old when a nurse poured a bucket of ice-cold water over its head. Then I was shown a one-year-old boy who had been given the treatment every day of his life. He had become so used to cold water that he continued to play on the floor after it was poured over him as if nothing had happened." Russian doctors particularly recommend the ice-water treatment for what they call post-Chernobyl syndrome, an anxiety condition recognised in Russia which may have psychological aspects similar to ME, the persistent fatigue syndrome.
Professor Keatinge has for many years been studying the increase in deaths in this country during the winter. He has shown that some 30,000 people in Britain die each winter as a result of exposure to cold. These are mostly older people who go outdoors wearing insufficient clothing during cold weather when they may, for example, have to wait in the cold at a bus stop.
"Cold stress acting over a period of half-an-hour to several hours causes the blood to become more concentrated and increases the risk of a heart attack," said Professor Keatinge. "Shorter exposures to cold may make people more resistant to it, but there are risks. People who swim in the cold may suffer heart attacks. So it is not advisable for older people, unless they have been doing it for a long time. It is particularly ill-advised for anyone who suffers from angina." 'It's brilliant. It is like an addiction' The air had a frosty nip as Chris Ruocco dived into water at 9C (48F), writes Oliver Gillie. Every morning, winter or summer, Mr Ruocco swims in Highgate pond, north London, along with other members of the Highgate Lifebuoys.
He began swimming in the pond at the age of 10, when, as a boy boxer, he worked out with the legendary trainer, Georgie Francis, and has been swimming year in, year out ever since. The cold baptism of Highgate ponds has blessed a generation of boxers such as Frank Bruno, John Conteh, Cornelius Boza Edwards, and Bunny Stirling who all hardened themselves in its water under the guidance of Francis.
"It is good for toughening up," said Mr Ruocco, who won prizes in the ring as a young amateur.
The cold plunge gives Mr Ruocco a big lift before he begins his work as a tailor. His clients have included pop groups such as Wham!, Bananarama and Spandau Ballet. Now after more than three decades of toughening up Mr Ruocco does not look his age.
"An hour after swimming you feel a glorious glow through the body. It's brilliant. I have to do it. It is like an addiction," he said. In the winter the Lifebuoys have to break the ice before they can swim.
Along with a few others Mr Ruocco swims year round despite warnings from Health and Safety Officers employed by the City of London Corporation who are responsible for Highgate pond.
Tim Graydon, secretary of the Lifebuoys, warns: "You have to build up to it slowly. I wouldn't recommend cold swimming for someone who does not take other regular exercise. It doesn't matter who you are, diving into cold water in mid-winter is a shock to the system. Nobody can stand cold water for long - you have to get out sharpish." The Lifebuoys, who were founded in 1903, run a Christmas day race which has had to be cancelled twice when the ice was too thick to break.

Subj: Re: Cold showers are good for you - official

Dear John,

I didn't know about cold water, but I definitely knew it was a little bit stressful last war when used by the Germans (or at least the Gestapo). However, they used to handcuff the prisoner hands in the back and pour his head into a cold bath as long as possible to deprive him of breathing. Then he was shortly taken out of the water and asked if he wanted to talk, and so on... It was supposed to be efficient... I never tried it successfully as I tried it on my own, but the result is slightly different as you remove your head from the water whenever you want...




Dear Pierre

That is my feeling also - cold showers and cold baths are a torture. I am sure that the supposed cures attributed to cold water are more likely to be a result of the patents who are prescibed this "cure" deciding that they would be better off not complaining about their symptoms rather than endure further "the cure".


Pravda has reported "Whipping therapy cures depression and suicide crises" which sounds a similar style of treatment.


Subj: New research (2005) on cold-baths

Dr Clough took a group of university students up a mountain in Derbyshire and made them put their hands in a bucket of cold water while answering questions. He said the research showed cold water increased mental toughness.

Cold baths help workers face stress, researchers claim

Thanks to Tug for pointing this out.