Taking cold showers has become an increasingly popular health trend in recent years. Proponents claim that exposing yourself to cold water each morning can provide a long list of benefits. But are cold showers actually good for you if done every day? Let’s take a look at what the research says.
What are the proposed benefits of cold showers?
Here are some of the most commonly touted health benefits of taking cold showers regularly:
- Improved circulation – Cold water causes blood vessels to constrict, which improves circulation when you get out of the shower.
- Increased alertness – The cold water helps wake you up in the morning by stimulating the nervous system.
- Reduced stress – Cold showers are thought to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase noradrenaline production, helping reduce stress.
- Boosted immunity – Regular cold shower exposure may enhance immunity by activating immune cells.
- Improved hair and skin – The cold temp can help make hair appear shinier and reduce skin irritation.
- Increased willpower – Dealing with the initial discomfort of cold showers builds mental strength and self-discipline.
- Enhanced weight loss – Cold exposure causes the body to burn more calories to keep warm.
- Improved mood – Release of dopamine and endorphins during and after cold showers can boost mood.
What does the research say?
While the proposed benefits of cold showers sound impressive, what does the scientific research actually show?
Several studies have shown that cold water immersion causes constriction of blood vessels, which does temporarily increase circulation. However, research has not confirmed long-term circulatory benefits from regular cold showering.
There is some evidence that cold water stimulation activates areas of the brain involved in alertness. But whether an everyday cold shower truly makes you more awake and focused remains unclear.
Data on cold showers and stress reduction is mixed. A few studies found lower cortisol and boosted mood after cold water immersion, but other studies found no effects. More research is still needed.
Some research indicates that brief cold exposure activates certain immune cells. However, it’s uncertain whether this actually translates to enhanced immunity and fewer sick days.
Hair and skin
There is anecdotal evidence that cold water can improve hair and skin appearance by closing pores and boosting circulation. But controlled studies are lacking.
Anecdotal reports indicate that tolerating daily cold showers can bolster mental toughness and willpower. But scientific studies have not substantiated this benefit.
Your body does burn more calories (up to 80-100 per day) when adjusting to colder temperatures. However, research has not confirmed meaningful weight loss from cold showers alone.
Several studies have found both dopamine and endorphin level increases after cold water immersion. This suggests a mood boosting effect that could help depression. But more research is warranted.
Potential risks and downsides
While the potential upsides of cold showers seem impressive, there are also some possible downsides and risks to consider:
- Hypothermia risk – Elderly or very young people may have more trouble regulating body temperature.
- Cardiac stress – The shock of cold water raises heart rate and blood pressure.
- Raynaud’s attacks – Cold showers can trigger attacks in those prone to Raynaud’s syndrome.
- Bronchospasms – Cold air/water can induce coughing and choking in those prone to respiratory reactions.
- Mood disruption – Some people report feeling anxious, stressed, or “jittery” after cold showers.
- Skin irritation – Hot to cold fluctuations can aggravate certain skin conditions like eczema.
- Low pressure – Cold showers may cause a small, temporary drop in blood pressure upon exiting.
- Overuse injuries – Transitioning too fast into cold showers could potentially lead to pulls or strains.
Who should avoid cold showers?
Cold showers are generally not recommended for the following groups:
- Young children
- Elderly individuals
- People with heart conditions
- Those with Raynaud’s syndrome
- People prone to bronchospasms or asthma symptoms
- Individuals with sensitivities to cold temperatures
Pregnant women may also want to avoid over-chilling. People with these conditions should consult their doctor before attempting daily cold showers.
How to start taking cold showers
If you’re healthy and want to try incorporating cold showers into your daily routine, here are some tips to get started:
- Start slow – Begin with a warm shower, then dial down the temperature gradually over several weeks.
- Focus on deep breathing – Deep belly breathing can help your body adjust to the cold.
- Limit time – Aim for 30-90 seconds of cold water, building up slowly over time.
- End with cold – For maximum effect, end your shower with at least 30 seconds of pure cold.
- Control method – Use a timer or music to gauge your cold water intervals.
- Lock in benefits – Follow up your shower with exercise to lock in metabolic benefits.
- Stay safe – Stop immediately if you feel chest tightness or pain.
Ideal water temperature for cold showers
To garner potential benefits from cold showering, experts generally recommend water temperatures between 50-68°F (10-20°C). The ideal temperature falls within this range depending on individual factors like body composition and environmental conditions.
As a rough guide, shoot for the following cold water temps:
- Beginners: Start with 60-65°F (15-18°C)
- Intermediate: Work down to 58-63°F (14-17°C)
- Advanced: 50-55°F (10-13°C) is ideal for cold water benefits
Should you take cold showers everyday?
Research into the health impacts of cold showering daily is still emerging. However, based on the available evidence, here are some general guidelines on frequency:
- Beginners: Start with 2-3 cold showers per week and see how your body responds.
- Intermediate: Build up to 5-6 brisk cold showers weekly if well tolerated.
- Advanced: Daily cold showers are likely safe if you’ve built up gradually and have no medical conditions.
- Reduce frequency if any concerning symptoms arise.
Listen to your body’s response. Not everyone may be suited for daily cold exposure. Experts suggest limiting to 2-3 cold showers weekly if you notice issues like constant shivering, mood changes, sleep disruption, or skin irritation.
The bottom line
Here are the key takeaways on whether daily cold showers are advisable:
- Some proposed benefits like boosted mood and immunity remain unproven.
- Sudden cold exposure could pose risks for those with certain medical conditions.
- Beginners should start gradually with 2-3 cold showers per week.
- The ideal water temperature range for benefits is 50-68°F (10-20°C).
- Listen to your body’s response and reduce frequency if you experience concerning symptoms.
- Building up to daily brisk cold showers is likely safe and advantageous for most healthy adults.
While more research is still needed, incorporating regular cold showers appears to be generally safe and potentially beneficial if done properly. Just be sure to check with your doctor before diving in head first, especially if you have any medical concerns.