Fat burning is an elusive goal for many people. That’s why there are many products, ideas and diets that promise quick and easy fat loss. One of these ideas is to take cold showers, which are believed to burn fat quickly. The idea that cold showers can help with fat loss comes from the concept of thermogenesis, which is when the body releases heat to keep itself warm. Cold water on the skin stimulates thermogenesis and supposedly increases metabolism, burning more calories and leading to fat loss. However, research on the topic has not been able to support the claims that cold showers can promote fat loss, at least not in the way that many people think. In this article, we will look at why cold showers may not be effective for burning fat and what other ways you can use to achieve your weight loss goals.
Can Taking Cold Showers Burn Fat?
It’s been around since ancient times, and it’s reported to help improve circulation, reduce inflammation, relieve stress, and even aid in weight loss. In particular, proponents of cold therapy suggest that taking cold showers can help burn fat (4).
Is there any truth to this claim? The short answer is: not really. While cold temperatures can cause your body to burn more calories in order to stay warm, the amount of fat burned is too minuscule to be considered meaningful when it comes to weight loss.
To understand why cold showers may not burn fat, it’s important to understand the two main types of fat in the body: white adipose tissue (which is stored energy) and brown adipose tissue (which generates heat).
What’s Brown Fat And What Does It Do?
Brown fat, or brown adipose tissue (BAT), is an organ found in mammals that has a unique ability to generate heat. This makes it different from white fat, which mainly serves as energy storage for the body (2).
Brown fat is composed of fat-storing cells (adipocytes) surrounded by numerous small blood vessels called capillaries.
The main function of brown fat is to generate heat by burning calories and releasing energy in the form of heat. This process, known as thermogenesis, helps maintain body temperature in a process called nonshivering thermogenesis.
Brown fat can also help regulate metabolism by altering the amount of glucose and fatty acids available for other tissues. In addition, brown fat is thought to play a role with immune system regulation and inflammation control (2).
The amount of brown fat varies from person to person and decreases with age. Newborns tend to have the most brown fat, while adults typically have very little or none at all.
For people who want to be healthier, increasing their brown fat may be beneficial. Regular exercise and exposure to cold temperatures can help stimulate the production of brown fat (3).
Recently, this type of fat has become a topic of interest among fitness enthusiasts who claim cold showers or ice baths can help increase their brown fat levels. The theory is that cold temperatures trigger brown fat’s thermogenic activity, which in turn burns calories and increases metabolism (3).
Studies on the effect of cold temperatures on brown fat levels have used multiple strategies, Cold Water Immersion (CWI) being the most common.
CWI involves submerging the body in cold water for a sustained period of time. Studies have found that CWI does indeed cause an increase in brown fat activity, but the amount of calories burned is still far too small to have any meaningful impact on weight loss (6).
Another study involved participants sitting out in the cold for several hours and monitored their brown fat activity (5). Results showed that exposure to cold temperatures could indeed increase brown fat activity, slightly boosting metabolism (5). Again, the amount of calories burned was still too small to be considered meaningful for weight loss.
Now, looking at cold showers, you can’t achieve nearly the same level of cold temperature as you can with more extreme methods. With that said, cold showers will have a lesser effect on brown fat activity and calorie burning.
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So, What Can Cold Showers Do?
In as much as cold showers don’t burn much fat, they may still have some benefits for health and wellbeing:
Relieving Skin Conditions
Cold showers can reduce inflammation on the skin and help relieve symptoms of eczema, dandruff, dermatitis and psoriasis. It acts as an anti-inflammatory and stimulates circulation, promoting healing (8).
Improving Alertness And Concentration
Cold showers shock your senses and promote alertness. This may help with focus and concentration, especially at the beginning of the day.
Boosting Hair Health
Cold showers can reduce the size of hair follicles, making it easier for them to absorb moisture. This can help prevent split ends and make hair look and feel healthier (8).
How Often Should You Have A Cold Shower?
Ideally, you should only have a cold shower every few days or once a week. This will depend on your sensitivity to cold temperatures and your lifestyle.
The reason for this is that cold showers can put a stress on the body, which in turn triggers its stress response. This response can be beneficial in small doses, but if done too often it can lead to fatigue, decreased immunity and other health issues.
How Long Should A Cold Shower Be?
A cold shower should generally last no longer than 1-2 minutes. Start gradually, with 20-30 seconds of cold water and then gradually increase it (1).
The idea is to stay in the shower only until you’re shivering, and then get out. Don’t push yourself too hard – you’re not trying to acclimate your body to the cold temperature, but rather just giving it a mild shock.
Tips For Taking Cold Showers
Taking a cold shower may not be easy, but there are ways to make it more manageable:
Start Off Slowly
Begin by gradually reducing the temperature of your shower over a few weeks. You can start with warm showers, then gradually lower the temperature until you are comfortable enough to take a cold shower.
Extremely cold temperatures can be shocking and uncomfortable. Try to avoid turning the temperature too low, as this may cause you to lose focus and become agitated.
Take Short Showers
Start by taking short showers, around 1-2 minutes long. As you get used to cold temperatures, you can gradually increase the duration. In general, it is best to limit showers to a maximum of 3-5 minutes.
Try Contrast Showers
Contrast showers involve alternating between hot and cold temperatures. Start with a warm shower, then turn it cold for 30-60 seconds. Repeat this cycle 3-4 times before finishing with a cold shower. This helps you get used to the cold temperatures without shocking your body too much.
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The Bottom Line
Cold showers are often considered a tool for weight loss, as many believe that the shock of cold water can jumpstart your metabolism and burn more calories. However, the truth is a bit more complicated.
While cold showers may briefly increase your metabolism, studies have shown that the effect is likely negligible in terms of actual fat-burning. Additionally, the discomfort of a cold shower may cause stress, which can actually lead to an increase in cortisol levels and a decrease in fat burning.
That being said, cold showers have other benefits for overall health and wellness, such as improving circulation, reducing inflammation, and increasing alertness.
So while they may not be a magic solution to shedding pounds, they might still be worth including in your daily routine for their other potential benefits.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 6 cold shower benefits to consider (2023, uclahealth.org)
- Brown Fat (2022, clevelandclinic.org)
- Cold and Exercise: Therapeutic Tools to Activate Brown Adipose Tissue and Combat Obesity (2019, nih.gov)
- Cold for centuries: a brief history of cryotherapies to improve health, injury and post-exercise recovery (2022, nih.gov)
- Effect of Acute Cold Exposure on Energy Metabolism and Activity of Brown Adipose Tissue in Humans: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (2022, nih.gov)
- Health effects of voluntary exposure to cold water – a continuing subject of debate (2022, tandfonline.com)
- Stress and Obesity: Are There More Susceptible Individuals? (2018, nih.gov)
- The Effect of Cold Showering on Health and Work: A Randomized Controlled Trial (2016, nih.gov)