Cold Shower Challenge: Be Careful Seeking Comfort

I have grown quite fond of entertaining life philosophies and practices that have avoided extinction over multiple millennia. The general idea, whether biologically or socially related, is to accept and engage in practices that have proven advantageous at every stage of human development (i.e. from hunter gatherer populations to the globalized societies we are growing into).

There is no doubt that this logic is oversimplified, but that which has survived thousands of years is likely to survive a thousand more.

Take books (the ones that come in paper form) as a prime example. The Kindle came out in 2007 and, with speculation abound, it looked as though our page turning days were coming to an end.

Now, you might make the argument that books haven't disappeared due to the economic impacts it would have (closing of book stores and libraries, consolidation of the publishing and textbook industry, and the like) or the countless distractions found in digital media (I definitely see this as a valid point), but I like to side with the less explainable, emotional connections we have formed through our ancestry.

Books are far more than their one-dimensional definition of “reading material.” They are aesthetically pleasing to the eye when scattered around the house on various shelves and tables. They are an external representation of an owner’s personality development. They signify an individual’s home, regardless of whether or not “home” is a physical location or simply the inside of one’s heart.

An e-reader, on the outset, cannot attain this romantic characterization, and therefore, will be hard pressed to push physical books into the past. The idea of carrying around 10,000 books on a lightweight, handheld device sounds great in theory, but in practice, the weight of the device is proportional to the (positive) emotional weight it carries.

This drawn out example leads me into the main point of June’s Monthly Challenge update. Just as books have been around for centuries and provide an indescribable feeling of contentment and tranquility, bathing in cold water shares a similar history that we should not ignore.

Whereas an e-reader has been less successful (so far) embedding itself in our culture, the advent of the hot shower stole the show. It is quite difficult to find anyone in the more developed world that doesn’t consistently bathe or shower in warm water. Without understanding the positive, hidden impacts cold water immersion had (and still has) on the human body, we happily traded in an ancient tradition in hygiene for nothing more than a simple comfort.

Beyond some emotional benefits (i.e. once again, comfort), which can easily be found in other tasks that don’t waste a vital resource (e.g. water), and opening up your pores (which can then lead to dry skin), the benefits of taking a hot shower are pretty mediocre.

On the flip-side, cold showers provide us with increased immunity, improved blood circulation and body temperature regulation, better skin and hair health, activation of brown fat, improved lymphatic movement, an all-natural antidepressant, and the topic of today, increased myelin activation.

When I initially did my research on the hot versus cold debate, it quickly became evident which side of the argument had more depth. And as with any debate, when examples are few and far between for one side of the argument, the discussion is not worth entertaining further.

So, as I stated above, today we are going to explore myelin. I’ll give a brief overview of what myelin is and then dive into its pivotal importance in our ability to function free of pain and difficulty.

Conduction Velocity in Unmyelinated Neurons versus Myelinated Neurons - Wikimedia Commons

Conduction Velocity in Unmyelinated Neurons versus Myelinated Neurons - Wikimedia Commons

Myelin is a key component of a properly functioning nervous system in vertebrates (and some invertebrates). It’s like upgrading from outdated snail mail to the latest smart phone with every form of communication at your fingertips. Myelin allows your brain to communicate with your body (all the way down to your toes) with impressive speed.

Without it, your lines of communication breakdown and you are left in a less than optimal state of being. The most common (at least what I think most people have heard of) disease that is the result of demyelination is Multiple Sclerosis (MS). If you need any insight as to the difficulties this disease presents its hosts, feel free to read some stories, here, here, and here.

Where do cold showers come into the picture? Well, I’m glad you asked. When your body undergoes this adrenaline pumping temperature change, your neurons go into frenzy. They fire off messages left and right to let your brain know something is going on and that it needs to assess whether or not the body is in danger.

During this hyperactivity, your myelin sheath is enduring a rare stimulation that our modern, less dangerous (e.g. no more sabretooth tigers) lifestyles simply don’t provide. This daily stimulation enhances the communication and focus of your neurons, which gives you that “ready-to-take-on-the-day” energy you can’t imitate via caffeinated beverages or energy drinks.

If you haven’t mustered up the courage to start your mornings with an icy jolt, I hope you found one of the advantages listed above as a motivator to give it a shot! This has truly given me 20 straight days of energized mornings, regardless of any sleep I need to catch up on during the week.

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