My 30 Day Cold Water Challenge

Woman is up to her shoulders in the river near sunset smiling at the camera

In December of 2021 I got multiple pings that I needed more cold exposure in my life. I’ve dabbled in taking cold showers in the past, and my memory was always that I felt invigorated afterwards. I happened upon a few podcasts about the benefit of regular cold exposure to the metabolism, mitochondria, and immune system and I decided to give it a go–experiment with 30 days of getting into very cold water.

I also thought cold exposure could likely be beneficial to clients, and I always like to experiment with myself to see what someone would really be getting into before asking them to get into pools of ice cold water.

My commitment for this 30-day experiment was simple: expose myself to cold water everyday for 30 days in the form of a cold shower or bath, and stay in for at least a consecutive two minutes. That’s it. 

The definition for cold based on research for cold therapy is anything less than 59oF/15oC.

You can read more about the benefits of cold exposure in this article.

Why do a cold water challenge?

I was personally curious about the norepinephrine boost that reportedly comes with the shock of getting into cold water. Living in Portland, OR I often feel that winter slump of low energy and low motivation during the gray months and I was hoping it would serve as a pick me up.

Log of my cold water experience:

Day 1: Feeling very eager to get started! I fill the bath with water as cold as it will go and add all the ice I have in my freezer. It measures about 50oF. I leave the bath and get into a sauna for about 20 minutes, figuring I will do some hot and cold therapy. I dry off after my sauna and get in the bath. (I’ll admit I was feeling pretty confident given past experience with breath work and meditation, and was sure I could just take deep breaths without issue.)

In reality, I immediately panic, start to hyperventilate, and get out after exactly 39 seconds. After recalibrating with some deep breathing and feeling utterly humbled at how difficult that was when I have seen countless influencers on Instagram soaking in 37o water with ease, I will myself to get back in. This time, I manage to stay in for 3 minutes. I feel very, very sleepy and relaxed afterwards.

Day 2: I take a cold shower in the late afternoon because that is when I most often shower. I prefer to do it after a workout or at the end of my day. This is easier. I put on a great song, start at a luke warm temperature, then quickly make it as cold as it will go. I’m able to stay in for five minutes. Again, I feel very sleepy afterwards and it’s hard to stay awake until bedtime (this is highly abnormal for me- I never nap, and I don’t get tired until it’s bedtime most days).

Day 3: I do a 15 minute sauna, and a six minute cold bath. No freaking out this time, but definitely not easy. I was white knuckling my way through it. 

Day 4: Today is a simple contrast shower ending 3 min cold. Alternating hot and cold honestly feels more stressful and than just doing cold at this point.

Day 5: Doing cold has been a great excuse to get more heat too! Today is 20 sauna, 3 minute cold shower. Very refreshing!

Day 6: Simple 20 minute sauna then a 2 minute cold bath. It was really hard today, and I ended up bailing after a short time then getting back in for four minutes. This one was harder than all of the others (except #1). It was physically painfully but I used a guided meditation from Adrienne at Morozko Forge and that did make it easier. I HIGHLY recommend Adrienne’s guided meditations if you want to try plunging in cold water. I feel amazing and light since doing it without the fatigue I got earlier in the week.

[During the first week, I noticed that after my cold exposure I would get a rush of feeling really good. It would usually last for the rest of the day and I observed a noticeable dip the next day where it seemed to wear off. After two full weeks on the experiment I stopped getting that dip and the good feelings became continuous.]

Days 7-9: Continued with cold showers every day for 3 minutes.

Day 10: started with four min hot shower then 5 min super cold. It was hard. All I wanted was a long hot shower. I felt cold the entire time where it almost stung my skin. Curious if it felt harder because of stress or maybe getting closer to my cycle. Today was also a travel day to Wyoming. When we arrived in Wyoming, I felt utterly stressed from a terrible flight that involved two attempts at landing due to intense cross winds and everyone on the plane feeling motion sick from the turbulence. I craved a cold shower when we arrived, and I felt a LOT more relaxed afterwards and was able to fall asleep easily. Typically it’s hard for me to sleep after a flight. 

Day 11: Two min wake up cold shower. The water in Wyoming is COLD—about 45oF which is five degrees colder than my Portland tap water. I’m starting to really crave it now, and I took a second cold shower post workout for eight minutes including hair washing. I’ve started to really enjoy it, crave it, and have fun while I’m in the shower. I listen to music and feel very alive. Today after my shower I feel joyful, energetic, and calm. 

Day 12: My first outdoor cold plunge in the Big Horn river. It was about 32 degrees outside and I don’t know the temperature of the river but I would guess 35oF. I stayed submerged up to my neck for 1 min 40, and was technically in the water up to my knees for an additional minute. This was hard. I had intense mind chatter demanding I get out saying was unsafe. I felt numb when I got out and some foot pain with numbness. That went away quickly one I was dressed. I was still cold for the next two hours until I took a hot shower, and then I felt great. I felt sleepy and like it was a bit harder to focus afterwards. 

Day 13: Did a 3-4 min cold shower upon waking. I craved it on waking today. I feel good when I wake up with energy, and I desire that feeling of aliveness, joy, refreshment, and excitement from the shower. 

Day 15: Woke with a 3.5 min cold shower, and did a second cold shower after a short sauna. I notice that my mood is remarkable uplifted all day since I started doing this experiment. I’m feeling more energy, more focus, higher creativity, and no inflammation. Historically when visiting family I would have some bloathing and lethargy from eating a diet higher in foods I don’t typically eat. I’ve had zero issue this trip and also negligible PMS. 

Day 16: 2.5 minute cold shower 

Day 17: I took a cold bath today and it was challenging. I got my cycle later in the day which likely explains feeling more sensitivity to the cold. It felt like my skin hurt and I was cold longer after I got out. 

Days 18 and 19: 3 min cold showers. I notice I really hate it, but feel amazing when my cold shower includes a hair washing. It’s way more intense and I sometimes get a mild brain freeze, so I’m cautious to avoid that by keeping my head out until necessary, but it feels great afterwards. 

Day 20: 5.5 min cold plunge including my head. 

Day 21: 20 minute sauna, followed by two rounds of three minute cold plunges with breathwork in between them. The second plunge is always easier than the first one. 

Day 22: 6 min cold bath after 25 min sauna

Day 23: My first attempt using ice to reduce the temperature of my tub water. I got two bags of ice which I realized when I got home was only 15 pounds. It brought the temperature down to about 40 degrees. I did two rounds—the first was 3 minutes, the second was 4 minutes. This was much harder than at 46 degrees. My brain cried “pain” and it was so hard to stay in the water and not give into the urge to bolt. I was able to stay in, and as always Adrienne’s guided meditation was a life saver. I felt more of that rush when I got out compared to the warmer water. 

Day 24: – Added homemade ice, water temp went down to about 40 again. It was much easier today than yesterday. I did two rounds of three minutes.

[Quick tip–the best way I found to make the bath colder is to add large homemade chunks of ice. I fill small plastic spinach containers and tupperware about half full with water and freeze overnight for big beautiful pieces of ice!]

Day 25- I was feeling icky all day. Decided to take an ice bath around 5:15 to see if it might help me feel better. I didn’t add outside ice (just tap water) and was able to stay in for 4 minutes but it was hard. Today I really hated the cold and felt far more sensitive to it. I did feel better afterwards.

Day 26: Cold bath with the tap, stayed in for 6 minutes

Day 27-29: Cold bath everyday. I notice significantly more benefit after the bath AND I have to say I hate the feeling of ice cold water pelting me in the shower. I find that stressful and like its much harder to tap into the zen space where I connect with my breath. The bath is silent, still, and refreshing. I’m able to really breathe and relax my body. I find the shower less fun so I haven’t been taking them. I’m not sure when it happened, but the “cold shock” upon getting in the water has significantly reduced. 

Day 30: I DID IT! I celebrated by driving out to the Sandy River to do an outdoor swim. Adam came with me for moral support (and safety). The water was 38 degrees and it was a beautiful sunny day with outdoor temp of 46 degrees. I was able to stay in the water for 4 minutes and 15 seconds. It was beautiful and fun! I got some strange looks from people out by the water enjoying the sunset. The first minute was the hardest and then I felt like I could stay in all day.

Afterwards my feet were mildly numb and it took a long time to heat up. As we did the 40 minute drive home, I couldn’t even feel that my seat heater was on for the first 30 minutes. Re-warming is important after a swim, and I’ve just been observing how long it takes my body to come back to normal temperature and I’m careful not to push it too far. 

What now?

This experiment honestly provided more benefits than I was hoping for when I started. In reflecting on the 30 days, I can see that while I did adapt to the cold water some, I have varying levels of sensitivity to it based on stress, inflammation, and where I am in my cycle.

The benefits for me have included:

  • More energy that is consistent all day 
  • Feeling creative
  • More upbeat mood
  • No more feelings of inflammation in my body
  • Quick recovery from my workouts
  • Deeper sleep
  • Overall feeling of ease and calm

I plan to continue with daily cold exposure. Given the mental challenge of doing something uncomfortable, I feel like for me doing it daily will be key to continue momentum. We shall see where the next phase of the experiment takes me, especially once winter ends and we get into the summer months. I’ll write a follow up post in the spring!

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