My wife and I love the sauna at the PenBay YMCA. We go there after snowboarding, ice skating, or long swims in the pool. We usually do three rounds of ten minutes in the sauna followed by one or two minutes under a cold shower. But today we were lucky because of a freshly fallen 6” of snow. After our first round of sauna, instead of taking a shower, we ran outside in our bathing suites and rolled around in the fresh powder making snow angels.
When exposed to cold, whether by snow or by an icy shower, the body closes off blood flow to its extremities forcing tiny blood vessels to contract. We each have over 77,000 miles of these tiny vessels which deliver nutrients and oxygen to our cells. In the same way that bicep curls make our arms stronger and able to lift more weight, exposure to extreme temperature changes causes the smooth muscle fibers of the blood vessels to open and close, making the circulatory system stronger and increasing overall blood flow.
Researchers at the British Thrombosis Research Institute suggest that when a person takes a cold shower the body tries to warm itself by shaking aggressively and, as a result, it increases its metabolism. When this occurs the body’s immune system is stimulated and the consequence is that white blood cells are increased. These are the cells which defend the body against infection from bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses. In addition, the mild electroshock delivered to the brain by the snow or cold shower sends an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which then releases norepinephrine, a natural antidepressant. Who would have thought that running out of hot water in the winter could cause you to smile?