When you think about being exposed to the cold, happiness probably isn’t the first feeling that comes to mind. However, research has proven that the colder you are, the happier you are! A positive impact on mental health is perhaps the least published benefit of cold exposure but this could be the reason Finland has topped the happiest country for the fifth year in a row. Finland has long, cold winters but also winter swimming is highly regarded in socially and culturally important. Are they onto something here?
The cold is an acute, hormetic stressor. Not to be confused with chronic stress which builds over years. Hormetic stressors are short-lived and intense, such as intermittent fasting, cold exposure and HIIT workouts.
Any form of cold exposure for example wild swimming, cold showers and ice baths will send many electrical impulses to your brain. They jolt your system to increase alertness, clarity, and energy levels whilst releasing endorphins, also known as happiness hormones. Doctors have stated, “Because your body has to work harder in the cold, your endorphin production is boosted, even more, leading to a happier state of mind,” said Kevin Plancher, a New York M.D.
Some have theorized that exposure to cold water could in fact have an antidepressant effect by raising levels of mood-regulating chemicals in your body. Similarly, a Finnish study showed the rush of endorphins lowers stress levels, reduces anxiety, helps you cope with worries, and boosts your general well-being. After the four-month study, the winter swimmers felt themselves to be more energetic, and active, and their overall well-being improved.
There’s even a study on cold showers as a potential treatment for depression. Participants took cold showers at 20 degrees celsius once or twice a day, starting at 2-3 minutes. The study found through practical testing by a statistically insignificant number of people, who did not have sufficient symptoms to be diagnosed with depression, showed that cold hydrotherapy can relieve depressive symptoms rather effectively. The therapy was also found to have a significant analgesic effect and it does not appear to have noticeable side effects or cause dependence.
“When you rise, be happy because you are alive. You are going to change the world.”– Wim Hof
What does this mean for heat?
Many can probably relate to feeling exhausted during the summer months. With your body working in overdrive to avoid overheating and keep vital processes functioning; you’ll find yourself feeling rather lethargic. In this case, sunshine isn’t the best medicine!
The science, whilst currently limited, isn’t to be ignored! Start your cold-water journey with cold showers, a DIY ice bath or get out into nature. Whichever method you choose, get out there and get your cold on!