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July 13, 2023
The majority of gym goers are constantly on the lookout for new, efficient methods of burning fat.
Since cold water therapy is a hot topic in the fitness world, and just about everyone already has access to a shower, one of the more popular questions is: Do cold showers help you lose weight?
From cold showers to ice baths and cold plunges, cold water therapy has several proven benefits, but its effect on fat loss has been debated. So we decided it's time to dig down and get you some answers, so you can stop questioning and start taking advantage of the science.
In this article, we'll look at the evidence on whether cold showers help burn fat, other benefits of cold water therapy, and the details on how to get the most out of it.
Table of Contents:
Most people prefer warm or hot water for a basic shower to get clean, as it's more comfortable, but cold showers are better for athletes and muscle recovery. So if you want to make this transition, how do you know what temperature to turn the knob down to?
For these purposes, a shower truly gets "cold" when you drop the temperature below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, or 15 degrees Celsius. Scientists agree a range of 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit, or 10-15 degrees Celsius, is required to reap the benefits of cold water therapy.
Although the cold shower is the most common and convenient method, cold water therapy involves immersing the body in any type of cold water, including an ice bath or cold water plunge. We'll discuss those options a bit later.
There are many differing opinions and beliefs regarding cold shower weight loss. Health professionals and scientists agree that cold showers may help burn fat, but they are not a straightforward or long-term solution.
While scientists struggle to find a definitive answer, anecdotal evidence strongly supports cold showers for weight loss. Reddit has an entire community known as "r/coldshowers" with over 40,000 members. One particular thread titled "Anyone else rapidly losing weight?" highlights the success of several members.
The original poster lost 30 pounds in one year while making no lifestyle changes except 60 deep breaths in a cold shower daily, while other users mentioned losing 5 pounds in a matter of days1.
Cold showers are a great way to ease into cold water therapy because you can easily adjust the temperature and slowly let your body become accustomed to it.
Cold showers, and all forms of cold water therapy, help lose weight primarily by speeding up metabolism. When subjected to cold temperatures, the body responds by burning stored energy to raise body temperature.
Studies have shown that cold temperatures activate brown adipose tissue (also known as brown or good fat), which breaks down stored glucose and fat to create heat2. Increasing the amount of brown fat available, as well as regularly activating it, will help burn fat and lose weight.
While cold showers are a convenient way to start cold therapy, ice baths might be more effective.
Ice baths are bathtubs traditionally filled with ice to achieve a temperature between 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit. The person will typically sit or lay down for five to ten minutes, ideally covering the body up to the neck. Ice baths can be more effective than cold showers because they cover more surface area, accelerating the metabolic response to cold exposure.
One particular study explored the effect of intermittent cold exposure on brown fat in mice. For the study, the rats were periodically introduced to the cold at 4 degrees Celsius for one to eight hours, three times a week.
The results showed that the cold exposure increased metabolic rate roughly twice and activated brown fat. This significantly increased energy expenditure, so the scientists responded by increasing food intake to compensate for the energy requirement.
The mice also had improved glucose homeostasis3. This shows that cold temperature can double your metabolic rate and activates brown fat to try and maintain a stable body temperature. Since activated brown fat burns calories to release heat in an attempt to keep you warm, theoretically, it could accelerate weight loss.
Plenty of science shows that cold water therapy can activate brown fat cells, which are useful for burning fat. However, there's a need for more conclusive research to determine whether a direct correlation exists between regular ice baths and fat loss.
To learn more about ice baths, check out our Ultimate Ice Bath Guide!
While the benefits of cold water therapy on fat loss are debated, several benefits are scientifically proven to be effective. Some of the other benefits of ice baths and cold showers include:
One of the most common reasons people use cold water therapy is to boost the immune system.
Some studies have suggested that cold exposure, like cold water therapy, increases the production of white blood cells, which protect the immune system. The "shock" that our body experiences when we first feel the cold causes a fight-or-flight reaction in the body, which triggers multiple hormones to increase, like cortisol.
Consistently using cold water therapy can better prepare the body for future fight-or-flight situations and help build a stronger immune system.
A well-documented benefit of cold water therapy is its ability to improve hair and skin health.
Hot showers and hot water damages keratin cells, which causes the hair and skin to dry. The cold water closes pores to prevent bacteria from getting in, helps reduce skin inflammation, strengthens your hair cuticles, and improves circulation, gives the skin a healthy glow.
One of the most popular reasons people use cold water therapy is for recovery and reduced muscle soreness.
Cold water causes our blood vessels to constrict, thus increasing blood flow. This increase in blood flow helps flush out lactic acid and other waste products that prevent muscle repair. The increased blood flow also helps carry important nutrients to the muscles, which helps recovery and therefore reduces soreness.
A review of 17 separate studies was conducted by Cochran to test cold water immersion on post-workout muscle soreness. They concluded that cold water therapy reduced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)4. Cold water therapy also helps reduce inflammation, which further aids in muscle recovery.
This is one of the top reasons why athletes take ice baths.
Cold water therapy causes our blood vessels to constrict, which directs blood toward the organs, carrying more oxygen and nutrients in the process.
The cold water triggers our body's fight-or-flight response, which increases blood flow to help warm the body. The increased blood flow leads to several other benefits, such as reducing pain and improving recovery.
We keep mentioning the "shock" the body experiences when it feels the cold water that triggers the fight-or-flight response. This reaction sends electronic signals to the brain that increase endorphins.
These endorphins help improve alertness, energy, and clarity, improving overall feeling. Studies have shown that cold showers and cold water therapy can increase endorphins and help relieve depression symptoms5.
As we mentioned above, cold water therapy needs to be at a temperature below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, or 15 degrees Celsius, to be effective.
That means you'll have to break out the thermometer if you're getting set up in your bathtub. Fortunately, many modern cold plunge tubs have replaced buckets of ice with an electronic temperature control, so you can directly adjust the setting without having to wade through cubes of ice.
If you're new to cold exposure, start closer to the 60 degrees mark and slowly lower the temperature as your body adjusts. Even the fittest and most experienced cold water plungers should not go below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid possible side effects.
Just like with cold showers or any type of cold water therapy, you need to start slowly and gradually increase the amount of time.
For beginners, it is best to start with a manageable time, with most finding 30 seconds a good starting point. As your body becomes accustomed to the cold, you can work up to a target time of 3-5 minutes.
Seasoned ice bathers can even stay submerged for 10-15 minutes, but going much longer than that can be more stressful to the body than it's worth.
Although there are numerous benefits of cold water therapy, there are also a few potential side effects. As always, we recommend you speak with a healthcare professional before starting cold water therapy.
If you want to use cold water therapy regularly, it's time to consider investing in an ice bath tub would be a good idea.
While cold showers are a great and convenient way to introduce your body to cold water therapy, full submersion maximizes the benefits. Cold plunge tubs allow more body surface area to touch the water, and there are options for all budgets. Plus, you won't have to keep lugging ice back and forth from your freezer to get set up.
The best overall ice bath tub on the market is PLUNGE, created by the creators of Cold Water Plunge on TV's Shark Tank. Their revolutionary technology combines powerful cooling, filtration, and sanitation to provide clean, cold water. While many products on the market require you to make or add the ice yourself, the Plunge is ready to use in an instant.
And for more great product recommendations, check out our article on the 5 Best Ice Baths!
In this section, we will cover some of the most common questions related to cold showers and cold water therapy for weight loss.
While this heavily depends on your diet, exercise routine, and genetics, cold showers can help you lose a few pounds. Anecdotal evidence shows some losing as much as 30 pounds in one year from cold showers.
Yes, all cold water therapy increases metabolism. The body has to work harder to increase body temperature, so the metabolism increases.
Calculating exactly how many calories is impossible, but cold exposure doubles our metabolic rate. So, people will burn roughly one or two extra calories per minute than usual, equaling roughly 10-20 extra calories in a 10-minute shower.
Cold water therapy can be used post-workout to help with recovery and muscle soreness. However, studies have shown that cold water immediately after exercise can negatively impact muscle growth. Only take a cold shower post-workout if you need help with recovery or reducing inflammation.
Yes, cold showers are good for you. A daily cold shower can improve your immune system, skin and hair health, improve circulation, help with recovery, and help burn fat, among several other benefits.
Yes, cold plunges are good for you. Cold plunges are another form of cold water therapy with several benefits, such as improving mental health, including depression, and improving the immune system.
Cold water therapy, including cold showers and ice baths, has a wide range of proven health benefits, but their fat-burning effects have long been debated.
Based on the research we found, there is some science to support cold water therapy for burning fat. Cold water therapy activates brown fat, which burns more calories to increase body temperature. Alongside lifestyle factors like diet and exercise, cold showers, cold baths, and cold plunges can all play a role in burning fat.
Cold water therapy also increases blood flow, improves skin and hair health, boosts the immune system, improves mood, fights depression, and more. Based on all of those benefits, including burning fat, most people can benefit from trying cold water therapy. Bottom line, cold showers are worth a try, so why not just dip a toe in?
If you want to learn more about all of the fantastic benefits of cold water therapy, check out our Complete Guide To Cold Therapy. And if you're ready to take the plunge directly into ice baths, head to our article on the 5 Best Ice Baths to find your perfect fit!
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