Are there any health benefits to a cold shower?
This article covers some of the scientific evidence supporting the benefits of cold showers for a variety of physical and mental benefits.
We also provide some tips for getting started with cold showers, and we discuss some of the things to be aware of when making the switch.
The following are some of the potential benefits of taking cold showers.
Benefits of a cold water shower can include increased heart rate and elevated respiratory rate.
Taking a cold shower can make a person feel more alert, largely due to its effects on the body.
According to a meta-analysis of existing cold water immersion research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, cold showers have many physiological effects on the body.
- increased heart rate
- higher blood pressure
- elevated respiratory rate
Cold water also increases the body's metabolism because it has to work harder to maintain a stable temperature. However, because the typical duration of a cold shower is only around 5–10 minutes, a person should not rely on its metabolism-boosting effects as a weight loss technique.
That said, cold showers do create a sense of invigoration and alertness, which may prompt a person to be more physically active.
Stronger immune system
A study in the journal PLoS One found that people who take cold showers are 29% less likely to call in sick for work or school.
The study enrolled 3,018 people who took a hot shower then used applications of cold water for 30–90 seconds based on their research group. One research group took warm showers as usual and did not use cold water at all.
Although those who took cold showers were less likely to call in sick for work, they did not report fewer sick days. The researchers concluded that cold showers might make a person's illness feel less severe, allowing them to continue with their daily activities.
They did not find a difference between the people who took a cold shower for 30, 60, or 90 seconds. This led them to conclude that cold water triggers the body's immune system regardless of duration.
Some researchers theorize that cold showers can have mood boosting benefits.
An older article in the journal Medical Hypotheses suggests that because cold showers activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the availability of neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and endorphins, people may be less likely to experience depressive symptoms after a cold shower.
However, it is important to note that people should not replace their prescribed depression treatment with cold showers.
Quicker cooling after sports activities
Cold water immersion therapy (submerging the body in ice or a cold bath) is a common practice in many athletic activities.
Physical therapists that specialize in sports have suggested that the cold temperatures can quickly relieve heat exertion and reduce inflammation. A study in the Journal of Athletic Training found that taking a cold shower can relieve exertional hyperthermia, compared with no treatment at all.
However, the researchers did note that cold showers were not as effective as immersion therapy for the relief of exercise induced high body temperatures.
Improved physical recovery
A meta-analysis of 23 peer reviewed articles in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that cold water immersion and contrast water therapy (first using hot water, then cold) can help enhance recovery and reduce feelings of fatigue.
This research could help athletes use cold water techniques to reduce feelings of fatigue related to their physical performance.
According to an article in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences, applications of cold water can have local anesthetic-like effects for pain relief.
Exposure to cold water can cause the blood vessels to constrict, which can help reduce any swelling and edema that causes pain. Cold water can also slow the speed at which nerve signals conduct impulses.
This can reduce the rate at which nerves transmit pain signals to the brain, which can lower a person's perception of pain.
Tips to start
A person can gain positive effects from a brief cold shower.
A lot of the research into the benefits of cold showers suggests that the water does not necessarily need to be cold for the entire duration of the shower for the person to experience positive effects.
A person can start by taking a warm shower and then switching the water to cold for a brief time. This could be anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
Some people prefer to take just a brief cold shower of around 5–10 minutes. This may also be a practical approach to cold water therapy.
Several studies cite a target cold temperature of about 68°F (20°C), according to an article in the journal Medical Hypotheses.
However, most of the time, a person's own perceptions of cold water are enough to make changing the temperature effective.
Things to be aware of
A person should not use cold showers as a replacement for other prescribed medical therapies, especially those that doctors prescribe to treat depression.
However, people can try cold water therapy to enhance the effects of other treatment methods.
Some people should exercise caution when taking cold showers. This includes people with weaker immune systems and those with serious heart conditions, such as congestive heart failure. This is because the sudden changes to body temperature and heart rate may overwhelm the body.
If a person is not sure if a cold shower could benefit them, they should ask their doctor.
People have used cold water therapies for centuries as a treatment to invigorate and enhance their overall well-being.
Some scientific studies support the beneficial effects of cold showers on mental and physical health.
Even brief bursts of cold water can be worth incorporating into a regular shower routine.