“Roger Moore is looking quite alert here as James Bond during "Live and Let Die." No doubt it’s from the hot and then absurdly cold shower he took. Anwar Hussein/Getty Images
Step right up, step right up. How would you like to be more alert every day without pills or caffeine? Less depressed and lethargic? You, sir, how would you like to have better skin? And you, ma’am, how about feeling less sore after a long run with a lot of hills? What if I told you this miracle cure costs no more than you’re already spending, takes no more time than you’re already taking and is endorsed by none other than Bond, James Bond?
That’s right, folks, it’s a Scottish shower. Or a contrast shower. Call it what you will, it costs you no more than a few gasps and shivers. This simple solution will cure a half dozen of your ills, or at least make you feel better.
The Scottish shower, of the sort favored by the great Scot James Bond himself in the books, starts with warm water while you do the washing-up part of showering. Then you gradually make the water colder and colder until it’s as cold as it goes. At first, you’ll probably only be able to withstand a few seconds of that very cold water. You can work up with each shower until you’re able to stay under the cold shower for three to five minutes.
A contrast shower is much the same, but you go back and forth between hot (but not burning) water and freezing cold water. This is thought to help reduce inflammation, especially after a workout. Spend a minute or two under the hot water, then switch to cold for a minute, and then back to hot. Run hot and cold for five or 10 minutes to increase circulation and reduce stiffness and achiness.
But wait, there’s more! Hot water can strip skin of its protective oils and make it dry, while cold water preserves those protective oils and closes up pores. Cold water increases white blood cell activity, so you get an immune boost. It also activates brown fat, which helps keep us warm, so you burn some extra fat in a cold shower. Some small studies have shown that cold showers can alleviate depression.
Not everyone benefits equally from a cold shower. If you have heart disease, high blood pressure or a fever, a cold shower can be a bad idea. Otherwise, a cold shower could clear up your skin, brighten your day, and maybe turn you into an international spy. Now how much would you pay?
NOW THAT’S COOL
Zen traditions take the cold shower a step or ten further with the practice of misogi. This is a spiritual cleansing ritual to wash away impurities in a natural (and naturally cold) body of water. Sacred waterfalls in particular are used at Shinto shrines, and weather is no obstacle. Misogi rituals take place in the dead of winter as well as on warm summer days.