Exploring Cold Showers – discomfort challenge 1

Welcome – the following is an invitation to:

  • explore how you respond to cold
  • use that experience to inform design to embrace the cold

Why? This is Challenge One in preparation for our Uncomfortable Design Workshop, Ubicomp 2019 in London, Sept 10. Anyone can register for this workshop – it’s open – Join US!

Yes. Ice bathes actually help to burn more fat because your body works harder to keep itself warm. Than when your hot and you body cools itself.  actually that’s not the reason at all…ice baths constrict your blood vessels so that circulation is temporarily cut off. When you get out, blood rushes back into your muscles and “cleanses” out all of the knots and build up of lactic acid..etc. It has nothing to do with fat loss.

Ok why else cold shower for the sake of design? The premise of the workshop is that we’re wired to be a little uncomfortable – it’s how we adapt and get better. A little colder, a little hungrier, a little more load from time to time.  REad more at the workshop main page.

Cold Shower for 5 days: know thyself

This week’s Discomfort Design challenge is simple: explore how, over the course of 5 days (and let’s say 5 showers) your response to turning off the hot water changes.

Guaranteed, if you haven’t tried this kind of cold-shower exploration before, you may surprise yourself.

Image result for cold showers

– 30sec to 3 mins in a “use the cold tap only” shower – can be at the end of the shower, or that’s the whole thing (you’ll see below an option for shampooing that starts warm and then turns cold)

  • -approaches: the masochist – just step into it;
  • the rest of us – put arms in; rub; move up to shoulders, front, then turn around and do the rest with your back in – big skin area. Rubbing yourself to acclimitise is fine. Before starting into the cold, mentally focus and remain calm. That first gasp will pass.

OPTIONS: if you have a timer, set an alarm to go off every 30 secs to three minutes just to see what you notice. When do you get to the “this is ok” place? Does it happen sooner every day?

GEEK: what is your cold water shower temperature? In San Diego of late it only got to 17C. In the UK right now, it’s 12.

FOR YOU: what do you notice about yourself before, during and after the shower? What do you notice is the same/different each day?

you can check out this inventory the Rand36 – pre and post– used in one of the shower studies too

why bother to test this? In terms of the workshop goals, we’re focusing on where discomfort for us is good for us and the environment, so:

Relation to Sustainability goals for Workshop:
If we can work in environments that let us set thermostats down then we are conserving energy. That’s one of the biggies.

To this end, If we can become friends with slightly colder scenarios, we may find this shift in temperature an easy win, new normal.
We may also find ourselves willing to explore more physical means of transportation for longer in a year and in less ideal weather. Whether this is walking or biking more of the year. This kind of active transport is both good for our health and again reduces energy.

That’s also a potential benefit too around the built environment.

Relation to Personal Health – including Mental Health.
In sports science there’s considerable interest in cold showers to assist with recovery after a big fat bout of athletic prowess – latest work seems to show that “active recovery” is just as good – or possibly better – for that recovery than cold water immersion

But let’s set that aside for a sec since if we shower, let’s say, when we get up in the morning, we may not need an ice bath to do recovery from an active sleep – so why have a cold shower? It’s certainly bracing – so if you’re trying to kick caffeine there ya go. But what about other aspects of health?

Not all Cold Water is Equal
There’s a lot of open questions about what showers vs ice baths vs cold water swimming (outdoor pools or sea) do for a person, and what the most effective temperatures are, but here are some of the explored parts.

Image result for winter swimming

1) breathing – moving from initial shock shallow breathing to deeper breathing to relax into the experience – this is a big part of how we get over that feeling of panic when hit with cold.

2) antioxidant levels? – in ice swimmer, it seems that antioxidant levels go up. Thats great for longevity and sickness prevention.

3) less tension/fatigue? And then there’s cold water pool outdoors swimmers – less tension/fatigue.

4) hormone responses – gender – here’s a fun observation from one of the rare studies looking at gender effects of cold stress (being cooled to a point where core temperature drops – in a process taking at most 2h). Men and women cool down and recover pretty much in the same way – but what happens inside us seems to be different in 4 ways. 1) men shiver more than women 2) men have a big stress response (women don’t) 3) men have a bigger metabolic response (producing heat) to cope with the cold than women. 4) one inflammatory marker – TNF-alpha – goes down in men but not in women. That said – inflammatory markers didn’t go up in men or women.

Bottom line: men have a bigger metabolic response to cold stress; women, insulative. This may have to do with body fat to muscle ratios. Women may use more what’s called non-shivering thermogenesis (NST) to cope with cold stress (you’ve heard of brown fat or BAT?). Open questions: what does cold stress do to our immune response?

5) immune response – there is one recent cold shower study that may suggest at least a correlation of better immune function with cold showering for as little as 30seconds at the end of an any-temperature shower for 30 days. And that winter swimmer study really seemed to lean into that way back in 2000.

, folks actually did report both better wellbeing after a month of cold showers, and also that their reported days of illness intensity went down.

6) depression be gone? Only one study – but oft referenced in the popular press – showed there *may* be an effect mitigating depression.

7) Benefits to Hair – why else are we in the shower besides our spiritual and homeostatic wellbeing? You have an excuse to use a two phased approach – do your warm water shower to be kind to yourself and shampoo; hit the cold for the rinse and soaping the rest of yourself – also you’ll find that rubbing yourself when adapting to the cold can help shift through the shivering.

There are a multitude of other claims/studies from fixing circulatory systems to upping testosterone, relaxing, upping fertility and increasing weight loss – and the big one in hot weather – cold showers give you better night’s sleep. Right because all the reasons that they cause you to wake up in the AM suddenly invert at night. No. I mean go ahead and experiment with a cold shower vs a warm one at night – see what happens in what context.

(i’ll plug in the refs over the week for y’all)

ROLE of Cold for DISCOMFORT DESIGN – here’s at least one research question. The role of cold on cognitions has been studied very little. One thing does seem clear: cold is distracting. If we are focussing on it, we are distracted, and thus not focussing on the task at hand. Not great in a work environment especially if trying to solve a problem, or be present to one’s family. Cold adaptation seems to suggest that that improves task focus. (Duh?) but that adaptation might also have other creative benefits to be explored.

SUSTAINABILITY AND HEALTH – This workshop is about how to put together opportunities to leverage our physiology of discomfort for positive benefit to help create sustainability benefits.

So the focus on exploring cold adaptation potential via cold showering is a way to see

  1.  how might cold showering help a person, personally, to be healthier happier and sustainabler?
  2.  how might the experiences of the shower be translated to the workplace or home?
  3. what else?
  4. And BIG 4 for the workshop: how translate these ideas into Interactive Discomfort Design.