Hydrotherapy is an old practice, and it involves using water as a tool to achieve better health and wellness. One common hydrotherapy practice is cold water therapy, and it’s been used for a long time for its purported health benefits, one of which includes fat burning.
A cold shower is usually one below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Apart from weight loss, people have associated different health benefits with such shower temperatures, including better blood circulation and less muscle soreness. This benefit is why cold water showers help fast recovery after intense workouts.
Realistically speaking, the chances of losing significant weight by having cold showers are slim. Nevertheless, in this article, we’ll analyze cold water therapy and, in the end, you should have an answer to the question, “do cold showers burn fat?”
How the Body’s Fat System Works
Understanding how the fat system operates in our body is important to give us a clearer view of how cold temperatures might affect the body. Firstly, note that your body’s fat is a source of fuel. However, there are different kinds of body fat, and they do not behave the same. Majorly the body has three types of fat, namely: white, brown, and beige fat.
White fat (white adipose tissue) is the most common fat tissue in the body. This fat has distinctive features and roles it plays in the body. White fat cells store extra calories in large, oily droplets for the body’s future use. When this kind of fat is in excess in your body, it can cause obesity.
Brown fat cells, on the other hand, have smaller droplets and are rich in mitochondria, unlike normal fat tissue. This means that the body more readily and efficiently converts these fats into energy. Newborns have an excess amount of brown fat, as it protects them from cold, given that they cannot shiver and do not have body hair for insulation.
However, as we grow up, our brown fat levels diminish to a smaller percentage of our total body fat. Also, activation of this fat occurs less frequently as we age, and only activated brown fat has calorie-burning capacities.
There are a few things that can cause an activation of our body’s brown fat, and one of these includes exposure to cold temperatures. Sometimes, your body can turn white and beige fat into brown fat to help combat cold and maintain a healthy core temperature.
What Happens When I Take a Cold Shower?
When you subject your body to a colder temperature, and your body temperature dips, by reflex, you activate the shivering mechanism. This mechanism triggers a hormone called irisin responsible for producing brown fat. This hormone is also at play when we exercise.
However, just because the cold temperature might trigger brown fat production, and brown fat can up your calorie burn, does not mean that taking lengthy cold showers will help you lose weight. In theory, it does, but this is hardly the case, as you would need many hours of cold showers or ice baths to burn enough calories to lose weight.
A study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation showed that people who had 2 hours of cold showers (66 degrees Fahrenheit) for six weeks lost one to two pounds. When your body is exposed to cold and you start to shiver, your body tries to counter the cold by producing heat.
It does this by activating brown and beige fats to create energy. During this process, your body can also transform white fat into brown or beige fats to help combat the low temperature.
Brown fat, when activated by low temperatures, can burn several calories. However, its fat-burning capabilities are not nearly as intense as you think. Even though cold baths could boost your body’s metabolism, the number of calories burned will not be significant.
Findings from a 2014 Cellular Metabolism study hint that cold temperatures may not offer any extra benefits if you already exercise. In this case, shivering would not be able to raise your irisin levels any more than your physical activity already does.
Benefits of Taking a Cold Shower
Although many people prefer steamy showers, there are several benefits to taking cold showers besides just the possibility of fat burning. Warm showers have benefits, but it may be worth it to include cold showers in your daily routine. Here are a few more perks to taking a cold bath:
Hair and Skin Health
The benefits of cold showers to your skin health are backed up more by anecdotal claims than scientific evidence. Showering with hot water might temporarily open your pores.
On the other hand, cold water baths constrict your blood flow and cause your pores to retain their natural oils, thus leading to healthier, glowing skin. There’s also the possibility of cold water closing up your hair cuticles.
It also does not dry out the sebum layer of your hair, thus potentially leading to stronger, healthier hair. Cold temperatures might also aid blood circulation, which can positively impact your skin’s health.
Reduces Post-Workout Muscle Soreness
Cold showers could help your sore muscles relax and repair after a workout. Cold showers could also help to reduce pain and inflammation, helping you recover from an intense workout quicker.
Increases Blood Circulation
Cold exposure causes your body to enter survival mode and try to generate body heat. Your heart pumps faster, and this improves blood circulation throughout your body.
This could help boost your body’s metabolism and improve your general health. However, note that getting a half-hour workout remains the most effective way to get your blood pumping.
A cold shower in the morning can help wake your body up. The cold water “shocks” your body as it hits your skin, causing you to become alert and increasing your heart rate and oxygen intake. The cold could also trigger the body to produce noradrenaline and beta-endorphins, which can have mood-boosting effects in some individuals.
Could Boost Immunity
Although there is a need for further research, some studies indicate that exposure to cold water could boost your immune system. The metabolism process is purported to provoke this immune response after cold exposure.
Drawbacks of Cold Showers
In as much as there are some benefits to taking cold baths, it also comes with some risks. When you stay out in the cold for too long, you run the danger of developing hypothermia as these icy waters cause a body temperature dip. The symptoms of hypothermia you might experience can be mild or severe, depending on several factors.
If hypothermia sets in, you might have trouble focusing, causing weakness and fatigue. It can also slow down your reflexes, and these symptoms can be unsafe for you when you are in the shower. It’s never a good idea for your body to lose more heat than it can produce for a long time.
Hypothermia can take a toll on your heart function, causing heart failure in extreme cases. Thus, you should avoid cold baths when you are sick or have some heart disease. Cold showers could also increase your appetite, potentially leading to more food consumption.
Thus, it’s best to practice more tried-and-true methods of losing weight, as exposing yourself to low temperatures might not be worth the risk of losing just a few calories. In some cases, contrast showers may be a better option than cold showers.
Safer Ways to Lose Fat
Your body’s fat loss when you take cold showers may not be significant. Even though cold water immersion does help with burning calories, in theory, it may be unsafe for several people. Also, it is not the most pleasant shower to subject yourself to daily. To lose weight, it’s best to practice the following tried-and-true methods of attaining sustainable weight loss.
Physical Activity/ Exercise
The best way to burn fat and lose weight is to exercise daily. Adding simple exercises like jogging, cycling, swimming, yoga, etc., to your daily routine will help you burn calories and stay healthy. These exercises increase your heart rate and get your blood circulating to boost your body’s metabolism.
Some studies also show that partaking in some exercises in cold water, like cold water swimming or exercising under cold conditions, can promote fat loss. Some other activities that aid weight loss are walking, plates, strength training, and interval training exercises.
Pairing your active lifestyle with a healthy diet remains the best way to lose weight and stay fit. Eat lots of fiber-rich foods including fresh fruits and vegetables. Fiber-rich foods have been shown to help curb hunger pangs and help you enjoy fewer snack breaks between meals. Fruits, vegetables, oats, and whole-grain bread are all examples of this type of diet.
Additionally, keep yourself well-hydrated and full by drinking plenty of water. You can make better dietary decisions overall if you learn to read food labels.
Also, reduce your alcohol intake as well, as it contributes to weight gain over time. There are times when supplementing your diet with all-natural ingredients can be helpful.
There might also be an advantage to staying in a cold room. Slightly lowering your AC might support your weight loss and trigger brown fat growth in your body. Your body burns more calories when your body temperature dips slightly.
Thus, mild exposure to cold for longer durations might give you a slight weight loss advantage over short ice-cold showers. All in all, these temperatures might only support your weight loss, not cause it.
Cold Showers Vs Hot Showers
There are several differences between cold and hot showers. As we have seen, there are some advantages and a few drawbacks to taking cold showers or cold baths.
Similarly, a hot shower has both positive and negative effects. Taking a long, hot shower at the end of the day is a great way to relax and unwind. These higher temperatures activate the parasympathetic nervous system, causing muscle relaxation and aiding restful sleep. It might also provide relief for those with respiratory problems.
Hot showers are therapeutic if you have a cold, as they can offer a natural remedy to symptoms of a cold. A steamy bath can help you open your airways and ease your breathing. It can also help open up your pores and release dirt and oil lodged in the skin.
However, hot showers can dry out your skin, especially when the temperature is too high. Hot temperatures can damage your epidermis and prevent your skin cells from retaining moisture.
In some cases, steamy showers can worsen some skin conditions like eczema. If you have blood pressure problems, too-hot showers may not be a good idea, as they can worsen your condition.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What Is a Contrast Shower?
A contrast shower is also known as a contrast water therapy. It involves alternating your bath temperature at intervals, and it’s a practice that athletes have long used to promote muscle recovery. Contrast showers help your tissues work out, stimulating your tissues without much physical activity.
To take a contrast shower:
- Shower with warm water for about three minutes
- Switch to cool water for one minute
- Repeat the cycle up to five times
- Finish your shower time with cold water
It’s important to follow this technique, as there’s a theory behind the procedure. Ensure that the warm and cool showers have a wide temperature difference. Also, ensure that the duration of the cold showers should be shorter than the hot water. Your hot water to cold water duration ratio should roughly be about 4:1.
The cold water constricts your blood vessels, therefore sending all the blood to the middle of your body. When the hot shower hits you, it reverses the process of opening your blood vessels and getting your blood pumping again.
2. Can Taking Cold Showers Daily Affect My Health?
A daily cold shower could adversely affect your health, depending on some factors. For example, bathing in ice-cold water may not be ideal if you live in an extremely cold region. Also, if you have some medical condition like arthritis, daily cold showers are a no-no. In fact, it’s best to stick with hot showers to improve your mobility in such conditions.
However, for sports people or athletes with sports injuries, daily cold showers can help reduce inflammation. Generally, when it is safe, daily cold showers will boost your willpower and mood and offer several other advantages.
Cold showering is a great way to burn some calories as it can trigger brown fat growth in the body. These fat cells generate heat in the body by burning fat. This means that, in the bid to produce heat, this fat burns calories and might help you to lose weight faster.
However, there are some drawbacks to regular cold exposure, including the risk of hypothermia. Even though these fat cells help to maintain a stable body temperature, they might not effectively produce enough heat to stabilize the internal temperature.
Just a few minutes in cold water can cause hypothermia, which can induce deadly heart failure in severe cases. Thus, it is best to stick to more sustainable fat loss methods and reduce your home and office temperature if necessary to aid your weight loss.