As for all therapies, the precondition is “first, do no harm”. Following these guidelines will help you receive maximal benefit from cold water therapy and avoid adverse effects.
1) Listen to your body.
When you exercise, you probably notice a point where you feel satisfied with your workout. Up to a point, exercising leaves us feeling energized throughout the day. But if overdone, it can cause persistent feelings of exhaustion and lethargy. Cold showers are the same way; a quick, cold shower should leave you feeling invigorated. But, too long and cold of a shower can leave one feeling chilled and sluggish. Always calibrate your application to invigorate, but not freeze yourself.
2) Do not use “ice cold” water.
You do not want to overstress your system with excessively cold water. Sebastion Kneipp, one of the founders of naturopathic medicine, utilized water anywhere from 50 °F to 68 °F. However, note that a shower can feel colder than its actual temperature.
3) Adjust duration to personal response.
In general, take shorter applications of colder water, and longer applications of warmer water. Again, use your body’s response as your gauge. You may need to work your way up to longer applications if just starting out. You can also adjust the duration to compensate for seasonal fluctuations in water temperature.
4) Curb the intensity if you are elderly or sick.
If you are not healthy, try progressively splashing water onto the body, or just applying cold water to one body part. Those susceptible to heart attacks should know that cold water can exacerbate stress on the heart, much like heavy exercise, and could potentially trigger heart attack or stroke. Only a doctor can say whether cold showers are compatible with your particular physiology.