Do Cold Showers Help You Lose Weight? (Backed by Research)

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Published by Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer
Last updated: December 7, 2023
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Being in the cold water was once a dare, but these days, people mimic that feeling by taking cold showers — and they do it to burn calories.

Word of this went around my clients, and many enquired if it could help them lose weight. Since I was skeptical and, more importantly, did not want them to do something dangerous, I spent a couple of weeks researching the matter.

My findings will answer whether a cold shower can help you burn fat like good supplements or a diet and workout routine.

Quick Summary

  • Cold showers can aid in fat burning, primarily by activating brown fat and increasing metabolism.
  • While beneficial, cold showers are not as effective in burning fat as regular exercise and a balanced diet.
  • A study by the National Institute of Health showed that activated brown fat can burn up to 500 calories a day to maintain body warmth.
  • In my opinion, incorporating cold showers into a fitness routine can be a refreshing and invigorating supplement to traditional weight loss methods.

Can Cold Showers Help Burn Fat?

A buff male taking a shower

From my own experience, I can say that cold showers do have an effect on fat burning. Although it's not a miracle solution, I noticed a slight difference in my energy levels and overall fitness when I incorporated cold showers into my routine.

The concept of icy showers burning fat comes from the idea that exposure to cold temperatures helps you lose weight and activate brown fat to increase body temperature.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), while it’s true your body burns more calories in cold exposure in an attempt to generate heat and keep your body warm, you don’t burn a significant amount [1].

When you get into icy water, your body temperature dips slightly.

As a response, your body burns calories to generate heat and get to a stable body temperature.

Brown Fat Activation Through Cold Exposure

There's a theory that a cold shower can burn brown fat (also called brown adipose tissue).

The idea is that “white” fat cells store calories for future use, whereas brown fat cells burn to generate body heat. So, unlike normal fat tissue, brown fat is metabolically active.

A 2011 study by NIH has shown that when activated by cold temperatures, two ounces of brown fat can burn 500 calories a day to keep your body warm [2].

Calorie Burning in Cold Conditions

While it's true that cold temperature triggers brown fat production to increase your metabolism, the effects, according to NIH, are not as intense as you think [3].

Cold exposure can have a counter-effect by increasing your appetite, making it easy to regain all your burned calories.

“Cold water therapy or cold water immersion can increase someone’s metabolic rate — the rate at which they burn calories — so in theory, if you’re exercising in cold water or exposed to it, you will burn more calories.”

- Dr. Caroline A. Andrew, Weight Management Specialist

Related: How Does The Body Burn Fat?

How Do Icy Showers Increase Weight Loss?

Icy showers may lose weight fast by increasing your body’s metabolism.

A ResearchGate study in 2000 found that cold immersion at 14 ºC increased metabolism by 350% [4]. And if your metabolism is high, whether you’re exercising or at rest, your body burns more calories.

But as we saw in a previously referred study, the number of calories burned is very low.

Are There Any Risks?

A person with a towel on his neck holding his head and clenching his teeth

In my journey with cold showers, I learned to be cautious. Initially, I felt a bit of a shock to my system, reminding me of the potential cardiovascular risks involved.

If you’re careful about when and how you take your cold showers, you can run into the following problems.

Hypothermia

While icy showers can leave you refreshed and rejuvenated, they can also be deadly. Lengthy ice showers can be especially dangerous because they can put you at risk for hypothermia.

Even a few minutes of exposure to icy water could make your body temperature dip.

According to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms include slowing down of reflexes, fatigue, and muscle weakness [5].

If your body temperature drops, it could also negatively affect your heart function.

Not for People With Heart Conditions

Because a sudden gush of icy water can shock your body, it's especially dangerous for people with heart disease.

This is because, according to NIH, the shock could trigger a heart attack or heart-rhythm irregularities [6].

Cold Shower Protocols for Optimal Benefits

To harness maximum health benefits from cold showers, start with short exposures and gradually increase.

  • Begin with 30 seconds, then extend up to 2-3 minutes.
  • Opt for a water temperature around 57-70°F (14-21°C).
  • Incorporate cold showers 2-3 times weekly, gradually progressing to daily if comfortable.
  • Start and end your shower with warm water to ease the transition.
  • Focus on deep breathing to manage the initial shock.
  • Embrace cold showers in the morning for an energy boost or post-exercise for muscle recovery.

Benefits From Taking Them

According to NIH, there are some benefits to taking icy showers [7].

Below are a few:

  • The sudden shock of an icy shower can increase blood flow, help you wake up, and be more alert.
  • Some clients reported that starting off their day with an icy shower helped them build mental strength.
  • Taking daily icy showers may support your immunity.
  • It can trigger brown fat growth, which burns calories.

What’s a Safer Fat-Burning Alternative?

A buff person lifting a dumbbell

Some safer yet natural fat-burning alternatives to icy showers are working out, going on a calorie deficit, and taking natural fat burner supplements.

Provided you’re working out and eating a healthy diet, taking natural fat-burning supplements would be a much safer alternative to icy showers.

Compared to the minimal effects a cold shower can have, fat burner pills do so much more.

They burn stored fat, prevent extra fat accumulation, and boost your energy levels so you can burn more calories while working out.

FAQs

Will Taking a Cold Shower Every Day Affect My Health?

Yes, taking a cold shower every day may affect your health. Extreme cold showers may be harmful if you’re not careful about factors like outside temperature, length of your showers, and any personal medical conditions.

Can Taking Longer and Colder Showers Burn More Fat?

Yes, taking longer and colder showers may burn more fat. However, it will only burn a very minimal amount of fat.

Is an Ice Bath More Effective Than a Cold Shower?

Yes, short ice baths may be more effective than cold showers. Studies found that 50–60 ºF (11–15 ºC) ice baths for 11–15 minutes are the most effective.

References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18335051/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21521287/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21490370/
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Petr-Sramek/publication/12565492
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/staysafe/hypothermia.html
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28833689/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5025014/pdf/pone.0161749.pdf
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About The Author

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer
Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health and is the owner of Taylor Made Fitness. Her philosophy centers on cutting through the hype and misinformation surrounding dietary supplements, focusing instead on practical, science-backed strategies for health and weight loss.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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