There’s almost nothing better than getting back from a hot, sweaty workout and hopping in a cold shower. Not only can they cool you down, but science shows a cold shower (anything below 70°F/21°C) could be beneficial for your health and possibly aid weight loss.
Before you turn down the dial on your shower, here’s what experts have to say about the research and why indirect factors may play a bigger role than the shower itself in shedding pounds.
THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF COLD SHOWERS
Research shows cold water showers for 2–3 minutes once or twice a day can boost your mood by activating the sympathetic nervous system. Another study showed people who took cold showers called out sick 35% less than those who took warm showers, possibly due to the immunity-boosting benefits of improved circulation. Other research performed in mice shows cold showers could potentially make the body more resistant to certain types of cancer.
Another benefit of cold showers: reduced muscle soreness and inflammation. Similar to cryotherapy, “a cold shower can definitely make it easier to recover and hit the gym the next day, potentially earning the benefit of some extra calories burnt,” says Dr. Giuseppe Aragona. When cold water hits the skin, it sends the body into fight-or-flight mode, causing a release of hormones and endorphins that push more enzymes, nutrients and oxygen into the blood, helping with tissue repair.
CAN COLD SHOWERS HELP WITH WEIGHT LOSS?
“We know that cold water therapy or cold water immersion can increase someone’s metabolic rate — the rate at which they burn calories — so in theory, if you’re exercising in cold water or exposed to it, you will burn more calories,” says Dr. Caroline A. Andrew, a weight management specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery. However, Andrew adds that there is also substantial research showing appetite can increase after being in cold water or a cold environment. So, even if you’re burning more calories, you might eat more afterwards, she points out.
“A cold shower can activate healthy brown fat that contributes to eliminating harmful adipose (white) fat,” adds Dr. Rashmi Byakodi. However, the gains might be minimal and more research is needed to determine the exact temperature, duration and frequency required to achieve weight loss. Thus, Byakodi advises against viewing it as a magic bullet for weight-loss. “Cold showers cannot replace other healthy weight-loss habits, but they can be used in combination with those practices,” she says.
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While a cold shower itself might not cause significant weight loss, other indirect factors can be helpful. For example, “cold exposure has been shown to help people cope with negative sensations in the body,” says Paul Harrison, a meditation expert who focuses on retraining the mind to handle difficult circumstances. “By being exposed to cold conditions, we learn to be less reactive to uncomfortable physical stimuli,” he adds. This can be beneficial for weight loss because it can help us sit with small amounts of hunger and prevent overeating, says Harrison.
What’s more, research shows cold showers can minimize depression and anxiety. “Many people put on weight and emotionally eat because of stress and anxiety, so by relieving these conditions, cold exposure makes people less likely to consume more calories than the body needs,” says Harrison.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While indulging in cold showers can boost mood levels and aid recovery after a challenging workout, it’s not a quick fix on any weight-loss journey. Instead, it should be used as a complement to other science-backed weight-loss strategies including a well-balanced diet and regular movement. Since you likely can’t hop in a 10-minute cold shower without hesitation on your first try, build up slowly. Start by gradually lowering the temperature at the end of your usual shower for 2–3 minutes and then warm it up again if you want. After a few sessions, standing in that discomfort is more doable for extended periods.
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