The thought of hopping into an ice-cold shower may be a hard sell, but there are many surprising benefits of getting chilly.
While a nice, warm shower or bath offers a relaxing reprieve from the day, taking a quick plunge into a cold shower may be just what the doctor ordered. Cold water immersion can boost fat loss, reduce depression, improve muscle soreness, and more.
The Benefits of Cold Showers
Discover how cold showers work their magic and the most effective ways to take them.
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1. Boost Fat Loss
Our bodies contain two types of fat: white and brown. White fat is considered “bad”, as it’s the one that is stored in our body in response to weight gain from eating too many calories. It’s what causes “love handles” and other types of jiggles we’d rather not deal with, as well as the more serious issues associated with obesity, such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. (1)
Brown fat, on the other hand, is a type of “good” fat that is denser and helps our bodies generate heat, keeping our organs warm in cold temperatures. (2)
It turns out that cold showers can help stimulate brown fat to generate more heat (which equals burning more calories), thus increasing your metabolism. One study found that exposure to cold temperatures increased the metabolic rate of brown fat in volunteers by 15-fold. (3)
2. Reduce Muscle Soreness
Research shows that cold immersion can help treat and even prevent delayed-onset muscle soreness, which is the type you get post-workout. One study found that being exposed to cold water for roughly 15 minutes can help reduce soreness compared to passive recovery. (4)
3. Boost Mood
Scientists theorize that our lack of exposure to alternating hot and cold temperatures like our ancestors did (like diving into a cold lake, then returning to the warmth of a fire) is causing negative changes in our brain chemistry. (5)
Studies reveal that this theory has solid legs, showing that cold water stimulates your sympathetic nervous system, increasing endorphins (those feel-good chemicals). Cold water also increases electrical impulses to the peripheral nerves in your nervous system, which could have an anti-depressive effect. (6)
4. Boost Immunity
If you feel like you might be coming down with something during cold season, a cold shower just might help strengthen your immune system to fight off any bugs.
Studies show that cold water immersion can increase the number of leukocytes, granulocytes, and monocytes – the natural killer T cells of your immune system that help fight off “invaders” like cold and flu bugs. (7) One study even found that 29 percent of workers who switched from hot to cold showers took off less sick days from work. (8)
5. Reduces Fatigue
Starting your day with a nice cold shower may also give you the morning energy boost you need to power through your day.
Studies show that when we’re tossed into the cold (be it in cold water or a cold environment), our sympathetic nervous system is activated, causing the release of hormones and chemicals like noradrenaline that boost alertness. (9) As part of the “fight-or-flight” response, it’s your sympathetic nervous system’s job to prepare you to move quickly to get away from or defend yourself from any type of danger or stressor. In this case, it’s the shock of cold water.
Research on cold exposure and chronic fatigue also mention that cold exposure reduces serotonin everywhere in the brain minus the brain stem, which reduces fatigue in exercise-induced fatigue cases. (10)
6. Improved Skin Tone
Cold showers may also give your skin a coveted glow. Many people claim cold showers have improved their skin tone, and researchers have discovered there may be a scientific basis for this phenomenon.
Studies show cold exposure can, in fact, increase peripheral circulation, which includes your skin along with your hands and feet. This could result in more nutrients and oxygen being delivered to your skin, improving tone. (11)
How to Take Cold Showers
The easiest way to warm up to cold showers (pun intended) is to ease into them.
Start by slowly lowering the temperature at the end of your usual shower. Keep lowering until you start to get uncomfortable, then stay here for 2 to 3 minutes.
Each subsequent shower, reduce the temperature a bit more than the time before and begin increasing your time under the cold water. Aim to eventually reach 10 minutes.
The Bottom Line
Humans have been diving into cold lakes, oceans, and streams for at least several thousand, if not millions, of years. Considering this, hot showers and baths are a relatively new invention for our bodies and may be negatively affecting our mental and physical states.
Try cooling down your next shower. You may just find getting chilly has more benefits than you thought!
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