Cold shower benefits (Ultimate list with research)

Benefits of cold showers


Cold showers are cool, obviously… But do they really have the benefits claimed by plenty of articles over the internet? The short answer is yes.  Some just are not scientifically proven and some might be just placebo.  There has been a lot of research, discussions, and blog posts about benefits of cold showers so let’s find out what immersing your body into a cold water do to your body and mind.

The 20 benefits of the cold shower:

  • speed-up recovery after sport
  • improved immune system
  • boost happiness
  • better sleep
  • increased testosterone levels
  • nicer skin and hair
  • greater willpower and discipline
  • increased alertness
  • improved focus and attention
  • reduced inflammation
  • improved blood circulation
  • support weight and fat loss
  • decreased cortisol level
  • better temperature control of your body
  • increased metabolic rate
  • saved time and money
  • cool down your body
  • reduced fatigue and energy increase
  • analgesic effect
  • and bonus: it’s a cool topic for discussion (not really a benefit though)

Looks like a lot of benefits for a few minutes outside your comfort zone, right? Well, sort of. Some benefits aren’t proved by any research yet so they might be only result of placebo. The important thing here is that you will still end up better off.

Let’s review the benefits one by one to see which are proved by research and which are just myths.


1. Speed up recovery after sport

Scientifically proved ✓

Cold showers are used by many professional and amateur athletes as a recovery technique. Cold showers reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) which is the result of swelling and trauma in muscle tissues caused by intensive exercise.

Cold shower has not been proved as efficient in reducing DOMS in this research Ice‐water immersion and delayed‐onset muscle soreness: a randomized controlled trial but proved efficient in another two researches  – Efficacy of Cold-Water Immersion in Treating Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness in Male Distance Runners and Effect of cold water immersion on repeated cycling performance and limb blood flow.

The fact that many elite athletes use the cold shower to reduce recovery time might be a good indication that this benefit is not a myth.

From my own experience, the difference in a recovery time when I started to take cold showers was significant. If you want to speed up your recovery after exercise, try cold showers as it might help a lot.

2. Improved immune system

Scientifically proved ✓

If you take cold showers regularly, you might see an improvement in your immune system. This benefit has been also scientifically proven so if you are prone to get a cold, cold showers might help.

In a research from 2015, The Effect of Cold Showering on Health and Work, the trial group reported 29% reduction in sickness absence. This has been proved on 3018 participants with no prior experience with cold showers. Although using exact numbers when it comes to immune system might be a challenge, the positive effect stays.

I can speak for myself that my immune system improved dramatically with cold showers. I used to get a cold several times a year (I think mainly as a result of frequent training) but that has changed with cold showers.  I get a cold rarely and if so it’s not that severe as it used to be.

3. Boost happiness

Positive effect not proved directly

Cold showers improve your mood and might help you to fight depression. When your body is immersed in a cold water it releases noradrenaline and beta-endorphin which improves your mood and boost happiness. Moreover, due to a high amount of cold receptors on your skin, it starts to send an overwhelming amount of signals to the brain which might have an anti-depressive effect (read more in this research ). This benefit has been proved only on a non-significant sample but many articles suggest a positive correlation. Another effect is that your body has a lot of cold receptors on the skin and once

This benefit has been proved only on a non-significant sample but many articles suggest a positive correlation. Another effect is that your body has a lot of cold receptors on the skin and once

I don’t see any significant changes on my mood when I take a cold shower although this is very difficult to observe as it might be connected with plenty of other factors (such as annoying neighbors or crowded public transportation at the morning).

4. Better sleep

Scientifically proved ✓

Can a cold shower help you sleep better? Yes, if you have troubles getting to sleep, a cold shower might help you despite the fact that it increases alertness. It’s because a drop in a core temperature helps to trigger sleepiness.

You might notice that falling sleep is way easier when your body temperature is lower. If you take a cold shower for at least 2 minutes, your body temperature will fall and it will be easier for you to sleep. This hasn’t been directly proved by any study (if you know about any, I will gladly add that here) but research about Plasma norepinephrine responses of man in cold water suggests that cold showers will help you to fall asleep faster.

Although I don’t have any problems with sleeping, I found this to be true as I always feel little tired after the cold shower.

5. Increased testosterone levels

Not proved ✗

Increased testosterone levels thanks to cold shower is a long term discussed benefit stated on many sites and claimed by many authors included well-known authors such as Tim Ferris. However, there is no scientific proof that cold showers actually increase testosterone levels.

In this study Effects of physical exercise and cold stimulation on serum testosterone level in men the results were opposite with a decrease of T-levels by 10 % during cold water stimulation. Furthermore, this research proved increased Cortisol levels during short-term exposure to cold water. Cortisol and testosterone have a strong correlation meaning that when one is increasing, the other is decreasing (correlation data).

So, this one is a myth and cold showers don’t increase your testosterone levels.

6. Nicer skin and hairs

Positive effect not proved directly

Hot water dries out your skin which is quite the opposite your skin needs. Although I haven’t found any research which would prove skin improvement due to cold showers, this one should be quite obvious.

Have I seen any improvement in skin or hairs since I started to take cold showers? Well, I can’t really say that the improvement is directly related to the cold shower but yes,  my hairs feel softer and less dry.

7.  Greater willpower and discipline

Proved ✓

If there is something that you will get from cold showers for sure, it is definitely a greater willpower.  Jumping into the cold shower especially in the morning might not be a pleasant thing to do but after some time you will get used to doing this without any hesitation.

You will benefit from greater willpower also in other areas of your life and you will realize, that the first seconds are actually the worst. The reward will be a great feeling of doing something you were afraid to do.

This one is also difficult to be proved by any research but you will see it quickly on yourself when each session will be easier for you to do.

Scientifically proven: No Personally proven: Yes  Community: Yes


8. Increased alertness

Scientifically proved ✓

Cold showers temporary increase your alertness because your body starts to produce Norepinephrine as a response to the stress situation.

Thanks to norepinephrine (noradrenaline), your brain gets more oxygen and helps you think clearer, faster. Your blood flow is increased as well resulting in increased alertness.

The relationship between norepinephrine and cold was proved in the research Plasma norepinephrine responses of man in cold water so there should be no doubt that this is a benefit of cold showers. 

For me, cold showers in the morning are probably more effective than coffee so if you need to boost your alertness, give it a try.

9. Improved focus and attention

Scientifically proved ✓

The same research as in the previous point can be used also here.  Norepinephrine is responsible for improving your focus and attention although the effect is rather temporary. However, if you need to study for an exam or you are working from home, quick cold shower can improve your focus and attention.

10. Reduced inflammation

Scientifically proved ✓

Similar as ice baths, cold showers are used to reduce swelling and inflammation in your body.  During the cold shower, blood vessels are constricted to retain more heat within the body. This helps

Although this hasn’t been directly proved by any research, similar research was done on Cold applications for recovery in adolescent athletes. This works on very same principle with cold showers which can be used to reduce inflammation during muscle repair process.

11. Improved blood circulation

Proved ✓

The feeling of heat rush when you finish your cold shower. It is awesome, isn’t it?  This happens because your blood starts to circulate faster to keep your body warm. As a result, your skin will look healthier and your body feels rebooted.

12. Support weight and fat loss

Scientifically proved ✓

Does a cold shower help you lose fat? This one is pretty interesting because a lot of articles are referring to a simple principle – your body in a cold water needs to maintain its temperature hence burn more calories.

This is further supported by the fact that once your body is immersed in the cold water, brown fat tissues are activated to produce more energy. While this is true, there is only very small difference. 

Cold showers can be used to support weight and fat loss but you shouldn’t expect that you will lose weight just because of cold showers.

13. Decreased Cortisol levels

Scientifically proved ✓

Your body produces a stress hormone called Cortisol as a  reaction to any stressful situation. During first seconds of cold shower Cortisol level might go up but will quickly decrease over the time. The study Scientific Evidence-Based Effects of Hydrotherapy on Various Systems of the Body proved decreased Cortisol levels even from immersion in 32°C water, which might even not be considered as a cold shower. The decrease of Cortisol was present until the temperature was lowered to 14°C with no decrease beyond this temperature.

14. Increased metabolic rate

Scientifically proved ✓

The very same research as above proved increased metabolic rate during cold shower. Metabolic rate in the study increased by 93% in 20°C and 350% in 14°C. This is also connected with higher calories expenditure during cold shower.

This is also the reason why many elite swimmers are on high calories diet and do not gain any fat.

15. Reduced fatigue and increased energy

Scientifically proved ✓

Cold showers decrease muscle fatigue and increase your energy levels. In a study, muscle fatigue was reduced when the body was immersed in cold water. However, another research suggests this only as a hypothesis.

Unlike other benefits, such as increased cortisol levels, increased energy level, and reduced fatigue can be easily observed on yourself. I have seen this one on myself especially in the morning when I feel more energized than before.

16. Cool down effect on your body

Positive effect not proved directly

Cold showers can effectively decrease the temperature of your body in a short amount of time. You can use the cold shower to reduce body core temperature during fever which will be also accompanied by pain relief effect (next benefit).

17. Analgesic effect

Scientifically proved ✓

Forget the medications. Cold showers will relieve pain without any side effects or addiction. This has been also proved with research so if you have a headache, jump into cold shower rather than taking a pill. I have a very good experience with using cold showers to minor headaches.

18. Better temperature control of your body

Positive effect not proved directly

With cold showers, your body will learn itself to regulate its core temperature better. You won’t be that cold during winter time and you will feel more comfortable also during summer. Especially first week of cold shower routines will be accompanied with a lot of shivering which is a natural response of the body. Your body will eventually get used to this and shivering will stop.

19. Save time and money

Proved ✓

Cold showers help you save money and time. Sure, you won’t be a millionaire but you can save couple hundreds of dollars a year, which isn’t bad, right? And you will probably save some time as well because you won’t get too comfortable like in the hot shower.

20. Discussion topic

Proved ✓

The last point isn’t really a benefit but if you try a cold shower challenge, you can share your feelings and observations with your friends and have a cool topic for discussion.

Summary

Cold showers offer a lot of benefits but shouldn’t be taken as a miracle life-changer. The best thing is that you can benefit cold showers even from the first one and you will feel great once you finish it, believe me. Let me know how was your first experience and what benefits you see over the long term in the comment section below.

Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

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