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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Doesn’t everybody love a hot shower? Not if you’re a cold shower fan.
These brave souls may bear the chilly waters because it feels good, but there’s also a whole host of health benefits you can gather just from turning the temps down during your morning rinse.
Increased energy and better metabolism are two big bonuses of a cold shower, as well as things like improved circulation and reduced muscle soreness. Are you ready to try a cold shower?
What is a cold shower?
This might sound like a silly question, but water temperature does have to be in a certain range to be considered a cold shower. If you’re anywhere under the 60 degrees Fahrenheit mark, you’re in cold shower territory (Bleakley, 2010).
If you dare, you can go lower than that. Studies report health benefits from cold water may come from short spurts in 50–54 degrees Fahrenheit water (Higgins, 2017).
If you’re interested in trying cold showers but are afraid of the chilly temperature, there’s good news: you may only need to shower in cold water for a few minutes to reap the benefits (Bleakley, 2010). Even as short as 30, 60, or 90 second increments may be effective, and then you can turn the hot water back on (Buijze, 2016).
A good cold shower or ice bath may have a lot to offer––check out these six cool benefits.
1. Boost in energy levels
When you take a cold shower, it’s a shock to your system. The cold water against your skin wakes up your brain, kick-starts your heart rate, and gets blood pumping as your body responds to the sudden cold. As a result, a cold shower may help you feel more alert and awake.
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2. Improvements in your immune system
Not only does that cold shock wake you up, but it may also improve your immune system. One study found that people who took cold showers were 29% less likely to call in sick to work (Buijze, 2016).
Another study found that regularly taking cold water showers could make your body more resistant to certain types of cancer, though it’s worth noting this study was performed in rats––not people (Shevchuk-a, 2007).
3. Alleviate depression symptoms
When you’re exposed to ice-cold water, your sympathetic nervous system turns on. A cold shower floods your brain with electrical impulses, which increases endorphins. This switches your brain to focus on handling the cold and creates an antidepressant, pain-relieving effect.
In a study of healthy people, cold showers helped relieve symptoms of depression. These effects are temporary, however, and are not a substitute for mental health treatment (Mooventhan, 2014; Shevchuk-b, 2008).
4. Improved blood flow
When your skin is exposed to cold temperatures (as in the case of an icy shower), your circulatory system kicks into high gear to maintain your core body temperature.
In order to do that, it constricts blood vessels and redirects blood towards your core. This jolt to your system increases blood flow and circulation to deeper tissues. To increase circulation back to your skin and hair, you can finish your shower with a blast of warm water.
5. Relieve muscle soreness
Both hot and cold water therapy helps muscles recover after an intense workout.
When you apply ice or cold water to your skin, the temperature in that area lowers. When the spot warms again after getting out of the shower or turning on hot water, your brain sends a rush of warm, fresh blood to the area, which relieves inflammation and aids in recovery (Mooventhan, 2014; Bleakley, 2010).
In addition to soothing sore muscles, showering in cold water has also been reported to lower an athlete’s perception of fatigue (Higgins, 2017).
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6. Potential increase in metabolism
When one former NASA scientist heard that Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps needed to eat 12,000 calories a day, he figured out it wasn’t because of all the swimming.
Rather, his body had a huge energy bill (in the form of calorie expenditure) trying to stay warm in cold water. He took that idea and ran with it, submerging himself in frigid dips in the tub and dropped 30 pounds in six weeks.
Of course, you’ll be spending less time in a cold shower than Michael Phelps does swimming in a pool, so don’t expect too drastic a change in how many calories you burn.
Cons of cold showers
While they yield a lot of benefits, cold showers aren’t for everybody. Here are a couple of cons to be aware of:
- Cold showers can be uncomfortable and take time to get used to, especially if you love a warm shower or hot bath.
- If you’re already cold, a frigid water bath can make you even colder, meaning it will take even longer for you to warm back up after.
- If you’re sick, your immune system is already working to its limit. A cold shower can send it into overdrive and may not be the best idea if you’re trying to fight off a bug or have a low immune system.
- Cold water immersion can also be risky for people with heart problems, and may cause arrhythmias (Shevchuk-a, 2007). On the other hand, different forms of hydrotherapy may be beneficial for people with heart failure or cardiovascular disease (Mooventhan, 2014). For example, warm-water therapy may be beneficial for people with poor peripheral circulation in their hands and feet (Iiyama, 2008).
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Is a cold shower right for you?
Cold showers can help you wake up and feel better after a hard workout. They can also improve your overall well-being.
While cold showers have lots of benefits, they’re not a substitute for medical treatment. Talk to a healthcare professional about whether cold showers are good for you or if you should avoid them when you’re sick, cold, or have an underlying medical condition.
- Bleakley, C. M., & Davison, G. W. (2010). What is the biochemical and physiological rationale for using cold-water immersion in sports recovery? A systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 44(3), 179–187. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2009.065565. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19945970/
- Buijze, G. A., Sierevelt, I. N., van der Heijden, B. C., Dijkgraaf, M. G., & Frings-Dresen, M. H. (2016). The effect of cold showering on health and work: A randomized controlled trial. PloS One, 11(9), e0161749. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0161749. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27631616/
- Fiscus, K. A., Kaminski, T. W., & Powers, M. E. (2005). Changes in lower-leg blood flow during warm-, cold-, and contrast-water therapy. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 86(7), 1404–1410. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2004.11.046. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16003672/
- Higgins, T. R., Greene, D. A., & Baker, M. K. (2017). Effects of cold water immersion and contrast water therapy for recovery from team sport: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(5), 1443–1460. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001559. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27398915/
- Hutchinson, C. (2010, October 29). Feel the Freezer Burn: Losing Weight by Chilling the Body. ABC News. Retrieved August 26, 2021 from https://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/nasa-scientist-chills-body-shed-pounds/story?id=12000983
- Iiyama, J., Matsushita, K., Tanaka, N., & Kawahira, K. (2008). Effects of single low-temperature sauna bathing in patients with severe motor and intellectual disabilities. International Journal of Biometeorology, 52(6), 431–437. doi: 10.1007/s00484-007-0137-0. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18196282/
- Mooventhan, A., & Nivethitha, L. (2014). Scientific evidence-based effects of hydrotherapy on various systems of the body. North American Journal of Medical Sciences, 6(5), 199–209. doi: 10.4103/1947-2714.132935. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24926444/
- Shevchuk-a, N. A., & Radoja, S. (2007). Possible stimulation of anti-tumor immunity using repeated cold stress: a hypothesis. Infectious Agents and Cancer, 2, 20. doi: 10.1186/1750-9378-2-20. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17999770/
- Shevchuk-b, N. A. (2008). Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression. Medical Hypotheses, 70(5), 995–1001. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2007.04.052. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17993252/
Yael Cooperman is a physician and works as a Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.