Cold showers

Want to experience the benefits of hormesis very directly? Take a cold shower! And don’t just try it once, make it a habit and take cold showers daily.  I have been doing it daily for the past six months and am loving it!

As one form of hydrotherapy, the health benefits of cold water therapy are numerous.  Cold showers provide a gentle form of stress that leads to thermogenesis (internal generation of body heat), turning on the body’s adaptive repair systems to strengthen immunity, enhance pain and stress tolerance, and ward off depression, overcome chronic fatigue syndrome, stop hair loss, and stimulate anti-tumor responses.

Some people advocate starting with a warm shower, and switching over to cool or cold water only at the end of the shower. This is fine, particularly if you are afraid that a pure cold shower would just be too uncomfortable or intolerable.  But I prefer just jumping right in. When you start with cold water, you will experience the phenomenon of cold shock, an involuntary response characterized by a sudden rapid breathing and increased heart rate. This in itself is very beneficial. The extent of cold shock has been shown to decrease with habituation, and exposure to colder water (10C or 50F) appears to be more effective than just cool water (15 C or 59F) in promoting habituation. The habituation itself is what is most beneficial, both objectively and subjectively. There is an analogy here with high intensity resistance exercise and interval training, both of which elevate heart rate and lead to long term adaptations to stress, with improved cardiovascular capacity and athletic performance.

But cold showers provide a different and probably complementary type of habituation to that which results from exercise. A study of winter swimmers compared them with a control group in their physiological response to being immersed in cold water:  Both groups responded to cold water by thermogenesis (internal production of body heat), but the winter swimmers did so by raising their core temperature and did not shiver until much later than the controls, whereas the control subjects responded by shivering to increase their peripheral temperatures. The winter swimmers also tolerated much larger temperature differences and conserved their energy better. Other studies confirm that the benefits of habituation show up only after several weeks of cold showering. For example, adaptation to cold leads to increased output of the beneficial “short term stress” hormones adrenaline and thyroxine, leading to mobilization of fatty acids, and substantial fat loss over a 1-2 week period.

So regular cold showers, like high intensity exercise, and intermittent fasting, appear to provide similar, but not identical hormetic benefits.

But now I’d like to focus on the subjective experience of taking cold showers, something not commented on in many of the studies I’ve read. If you follow my approach and plunge right into a cold shower, you’ll get the initial “cold shock” mentioned above:  a quickened pace of breathing and a pumping heart.  Often I find myself involuntarily smiling or even laughing.  For waking up, this beats caffeine. I keep the water cold the whole time. It helps to brace yourself when entering by gritting your teeth and stiffening your muscles. Go in head first and alternate from back to front to make sure you are getting cold all over, including your hands and arms and any sensitive zones. After about a minute, you’ll find the cold water starts to become more tolerable, and after 2 or 3 minutes you’ll feel your body getting warm by its own efforts. This is thermogenesis. I make a point of staying in the shower until I’m no longer uncomfortable.  I found that at first my hands were the most sensitive part, and now they are no longer as sensitive, so they have habituated.

When I started taking cold showers, I measured the water temperature at around 60 F (16 C), but over time I have reduced this somewhat to 50-55 F (10-13C) as my body has adapted. (You can determine this by bringing into the shower a plastic cup and meat or candy thermometer and collecting some water once the temperature equilibrates).  Of course, depending on where you live and the season, there is a lower limit to how cold you can go, but in general you should be able to get at least as cold as 60F in most places. Also, my cold showers used to be very short, maybe 4 or 5 minutes, but now they last as long as my previous warm showers, perhaps 10 minutes.  I still take the occasional warm shower, perhaps once every week or so, but I prefer the cold ones.

I find that cold showers are great for the mood.  Not only are they physically invigorating, they make you feel alive, vital and ready to take on the day. They stimulate thinking early in the morning. I also believe that they have the effect of slightly raising blood glucose very quickly — by perhaps 10 mg/dl, and thereby have an appetite suppressing effect. Generally, this rise in blood glucose is relatively short in duration, but that’s good enough to prime the pump and get the day started.  This effect of cold showers works well with my practice of skipping breakfast most days and often fasting until dinner.

These effects are apparent with the first cold shower. If you continue the practice for several weeks, you’ll find the psychological benefits are even greater. First and foremost, cold showers appear to have improved my stress tolerance, by buffering emotional reactions. What I mean by this is that bad news, surprises, arguments, or events that would have previously caused a brief surge in adrenaline or an emotional flush, no longer have that effect, or at most have a very attenuated effect.  I think this is a consequence of becoming acclimated to the the adrenaline-producing effect of the cold shock.  A deeper explanation of why cold showers are effective in boosting mood, and why the psychological benefits of cold showers increase the longer and more frequently you take them is addressed in my recent post on the opponent-process theory of emotions.

As with any application of Hormetism, you can experiment with the intensity of cold, the duration, and the frequency of cold showers to improve your tolerance at a tolerable rate.  If you find that your heart is beating uncomfortably fast or you are going numb or experiencing pain of any sort, that’s a good reason to ease into the routine more slowly with water that is not so cold. Check with your doctor first if you have a heart condition, migraines, or pain.  But don’t sell yourself short and rush through a cold shower, because you may find that extending a few more minutes provides the greatest benefits in adapting your body to tolerate stress. Not just cold stress — but physical and emotional stress in general.

January 29, 2012 update:  If you want to take cold showers to the next level, check out this recent article on The Iceman.

February 17, 2014 update:  For details on the hormonal mechanisms of cold-induced thermogenesis and weight loss, see my post on What cold showers and exercise have in common.

July 21, 2014 update:   For hard evidence that cold showers improve stress tolerance by altering cardiac function and the parasympathetic nervous system, see my post on Track your HRV to boost adaptive reserves.


60 Comments

  1. ben

    For the last 40days i take cold showers every morning and night before sleep.

    I take 2mins hot shower then 3mins cold shower ,then warm shower ,

    then 5mins cold showers .

    Is this better ?

    or only cold shower 10mins for heath?

    Reply
    • Todd

      Ben,

      What you are describing is known as a “contrast shower”, by analogy with contrast baths that involve moving back and forth between hot and cold water immersion. Many people advocate this on the basis that alternating cold and hot helps circulation and helps “expel toxins” by cycling between vasoconstriction and vasodilation. There may indeed be some benefit to that. But the benefits from pure cold showers are different. I find that adaptation to the cold is stronger and more sustained if you avoid alternation with hot or warm water. And cold water adaptation has many of its own health benefits, as noted above.

      So there is no straightforward answer to your question “which is better”? I think the health benefits are different. My advice is to experiment yourself, and observe what works best for your immunity (fewer colds, etc.), your mood and energy level, and your metabolism. Don’t trust too much in what you read — always try it for yourself and observe!

      Todd

      Reply
      • ben

        Don’t trust too much in what you read — always try it for yourself and observe!

        Very good advice tks a lot .

        I ll tell more my result a month later : what i feel and how to do ?

        Reply
  2. Nathan

    Todd,
    thanks again for the excellent article and blog. Now that summer is in full swing and tap water has gotten considerably warmer, I am concerned that any adaptation I acquired during the winter months will be lost. Any suggestions as to how to maintain cold water adaptation? I have tried ice water dousing, which I find invigorating, but only lasts a few seconds, as I can only prepare a couple of gallons at a time in my refrigerator.
    Thanks,
    Nathan

    Reply
    • Todd

      Nathan,

      You can still foster cold adaptation and reap its rewards using water that is not ice cold, but merely cool. The key factor is not water temperature but the rate of heat transfer away from your skin. The more of your skin that is immersed, and the more rapidly the water around your body moves at the skin surface, the faster you will lose heat. Static water on your skin surface warms at the boundary layer, greatly slowing the temperature gradient that drives heat transfer. Turbulent water transfers heat much more rapidly.

      If you are using cold showers as your preferred mode of cold immersion, use a shower head with maximum flow and constant move around directly under the shower head to wet all the most sensitive parts of your body — especially hands, head, neck, shoulders and armpits. If you are using cold baths, avoid being too still in the water. You can actually get faster heat transfer by swimming or splashing about in a 65-70 degree pool, lake or river, than by soaking passively in a 50 degree tub. You can also use a tub or fill a large hot tub, cistern or barrel with water out of the hose and make a point of sloshing around actively. If you are rapidly moving your arms and legs, and letting the cool water get into your armpits and under your body, you’ll feel a lot cooler than if you sit in the tub as still as rock.

      So forget all the ice dousing and try increasing your degree of immersion and movement in the cool water. It’s mainly about heat transfer rate, not water temperature.

      Todd

      Reply
  3. Jerry202

    The best thing I ever did was start taking cold showers about a week and a half ago when I read about it. I used to take abnormally hot showers but never really thought about it until I read about the benefits of cold showers. I always thought hot showers were good for you if anything. My skin was dry, flaky, and not tone at all. I felt aching throughout my body for years and suffered from insomnia. That all went away when I started taking cold showers. I feel great, I feel better than I ever did in my life, except when maybe I was a little kid prior to torturing myself without knowing it. I highly recommend cold showers, they basically saved my life(not literally, I wasn’t suicidal,) but they did got my life on track. lol.

    Reply
  4. Steve L

    Thanks for all this. Upon discovering cold therapy on Mark Sisson’s site, I started taking cold showers a little over a month ago. After discovering your wonderful blog, shortly thereafter, I have become addicted. I don’t think I’ve missed a day. An added benefit–after nearly 40 4-H New York City summers (Hazy, Hot, Humid, Horrid)– we’re in the midst of our second heat wave of 2012, it’s been no problem. In the past I’d always dreaded summer here, a 3+ month condemnation to purgatory. I’m not a believer in miracles, but this is close. Thank you. Cheers, SL.

    Reply
  5. Reka

    I thought having heavy gasping was my extreme reaction, good to see that it’s normal in the beginning!

    Reply
  6. Hardcore

    For beginners taking cold showers.
    When you jump under that cold shower.
    Inhale strongly ,deeply through your nose.
    Exhale through mouth.This helps me against the first cold experience stress…
    Iv been taking cold showers for 6 months now. Great feeling!
    I take a warm shower once a week and end it with cold.

    Take cold showers less then 8 minutes. Keep them short.
    Off course not in out 😉 1 sec
    I also take them before i go to bed. Great experience.
    Jump under the sheets….warm up…and you will sleep like a baby!
    Greetz,

    Henk(netherlands)

    Reply
  7. Cris

    Todd, thanks for this great article! I’ve been taking cold showers for 3-4 days and I’m hooked. I feel absolutely amazing. I take 2-3 a day. I have a question for you since you’re knowledgeable about this:

    I start with hot or warm water, soap, shampoo and rinse and after I turn it to cold 100%, wash my legs, arms then entire body and shower with cold water for about 5 or 10 more minutes. Is jumping straight in the cold water better than this?

    Thanks a lot Todd,
    Cris

    Reply
  8. LaceyM

    Cant wait to try this!! Found your blog tonight after my boyfriend upset me when he wouldn’t give
    Me a “real kiss” before leaving for work because he didn’t want to get sick… I’m not sick?? But he’s afraid due to co workers being sick and getting it from their kids… I have a 7 yr old and I work in a highschool. So I remembered an accuaintance who studied Russian martial arts and swore and declore that his periodic winter time, outdoor, buckets of ice water over his entire body were the only thing that kept his two sons from getting him sick! Well now that I’ve read all these declarations .. I’m sending the link to him and I’m going to try it myself!! I have keratosis pilaris (a build up of keratin that shows on my arms and legs looking almost like acne) and have periodically returning symptoms of Lyme disease and I’m curious to see if this helps!!! Thanks for all the detailed info! I will definitely stop back and let you know how it works!!!

    Reply
  9. Nancy

    Todd,
    I started taking cold showers just recently partly because I missed swimming in cold water and partly because I learned that katheryn Hepburn was an absolute addict. She was also a regular ocean swimmer. I’m trying to lose some fat, love your site! I used to swim in Maine where water temps are really cold. I was wondering, ocean water also full of salt and other minerals, think they have good detox benefits? Thoughts?

    Reply
    • Todd

      Nancy,

      Good comments. I love Kathryn Hepburn! First and foremost as a talented actress. But my fondness for her only grew when a few years ago I learned that she swims in the cold ocean. We have a coffee table book, “The Private World of Kathryn Hepburn”, with great photographs of Kate. On page 39, there’s a photo of the actress taking a dip in the icy ocean, with the caption:

      Fenwick in mid-February. Kate emerges from her morning dip in Long Island Sound, tiptoeing across the ice and snow. The thermometer outside the kitchen door registers 5 degrees, and brother Dick reports the windchill is 20 degrees below zero. She has been making these swims since she was five. “Not everyone is lucky enough to understand how delicious it is to suffer,” she says. It is part of the old Yankee tradition handed down from her father. In warm weather she takes an ice-cold shower each morning.

      My sentiments exactly.

      As to the detox possibilities of salt water — I don’t know. One site suggests the answer is yes:

      http://www.livestrong.com/article/406804-what-health-benefits-do-you-get-by-swimming-in-ocean-sea-minerals/

      I’m not sure, however, what physical or chemical mechanism could explain the detoxification effect, if it in fact exists. I doubt that much of the salt or other minerals actually diffuses into the skin. A more likely scenario would be that the salt water acts osmotically to draw out water and other soluble toxins.

      Todd

      Reply
  10. Uselis

    Hey

    I read that taking warm shower before working out loosens up your muscle so its quite similar to warm up.Is there any benefits to take 4-8 minutes cold shower before work out?

    Reply
    • Todd

      The effects are completely different. A pre-workout warm up — either shower or physical activity — improves immediate blood flow to the muscles and extremities, improving physical performance. Cold showers or cold immersion activates longer term changes via hormesis. A cold shower right before a workout would probably be counterproductive and might even risk injury to stiffened muscles.

      Reply
  11. claudia rowe

    Interesting post. Funny though, I regularly see the Bondi Beach Iceberg winter swimmers (loonies) pacing up and down the pool in winter and they all look the tinsiest bit chubby in their budgie smugglers (read: Speedos).

    Although that could be more the celebratory chips, cereals and bread they scarf down post swim!

    Reply
  12. claudia rowe

    I started cold showers a week ago and, apart from terrifying the neighbours with blood curdling screams when I first jump in, it hasn’t been too bad. When I say, “Hasn’t been too bad” I mean I’m sure having teeth extracted via tractor pull would be slightly worse.

    I’m wondering if you’d have a view on this: My sister swears that she got rid of her little pot belly (the only part of her that had any fat at all) by cold showers and sitting at her desk with a ten kilo ice bag strapped to her abdomen for hours on end.

    Any thoughts on how this would work biologically? She swears no liposuction was involved (but then she also claims to be a natural blonde so pardon me whilst I go, “Pfffft”.

    Reply
    • Derp

      Biologically speaking, the human body seeks to maintain homeostasis (balance). The body stays at a temperature of around 98.5 degrees Fahrenheit to allow for the chemical reactions of osmosis, diffusion, and other cellular functions. By externally lowering the temperature, muscles and other organs attempt to counter by expending energy to stay warm to allow the reactions to continue unhindered. Fat is stored energy thus it is consumed first to maintain homeostasis.

      Reply
  13. Lily

    I started finishing off showering cold around 12 years ago..every time I shower..I read this in an article in a health magazine where they were doing this to the children of chernobyl to help boost their immune systems…I had tick typhus and ended up with rheumatoid arthritis and mainstream medicine informed me I would be on anti-inflammatory drugs for the rest of my life…so I decided to try the the finish off cold shower method…I found it took the pain away and within one month I was feeling alot better…and within 6 months I was totallly cured…I find in winter it is fantastic too as the warm shower warms you up and the the cold shower locks in the warmth by closing the pores…I swear by it and feel amazing and can not imagine ever showering without finishing off with refreshing cold water.
    click here

    Reply
    • Christian

      As a retired osteopath/acupuncturist I am sometimes asked to see someone with a difficult problem and yesterday was consulted by a 25 year old who has been diagnosed with RA and was wanting to find any confirmation or even indication that cold baths/swimming might be of use. As a cold water swimmer myself I have a belief in the beneficial effects but am very interested to hear of the experience of others. Many thanks.

      Reply
  14. Shauna

    Some might say that you are mad, but I think you are a genius

    Reply
  15. I’ve got an interesting experience. I started cold showers 4 days ago. And I also do Yoga in a very hot room. Not sure how the combination will go…but it should prove interesting. I feel the same benefits from hot yoga…it can be very difficult to stay in the room and do Yoga but it feels great for a long time afterwards. And then there is the cold shower, so my body is acclimating to both and it should prove entertaining. Today after my cold shower my body felt very chilly.

    Reply
  16. When taking hot and cold showers, make sure that the water does not contain chlorine, fluoride or other highly toxic chemicals commonly used in public water supplies. It is counter-productive to boost your circulation while at the same time take in a large dose of toxic chemicals from the water. If you cannot readily filter these chemicals out of the water before it comes into your home, install a shower head filter that is truly effective in this regard. We know of one sold at Home Depot for about $30 that uses replaceable carbon cartridges.

    Reply
  17. king of the monkey bars

    Ok, after reading many articles on this site, I find I’ve unconsciously been practicing hormesis most of my life. I always thought there was something strange about me by my enjoyment of hard, physical labor, which I still enjoy in my 60’s. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the stated benefits of cold showers and wonder about two things: will I die in the shower from the shock, and since I work a graveyard shift and shower in the morning before sleep, will it refresh me to the point that my day sleeping will be negatively impacted? Note: I’ve been on the graveyard shift for 15 years and am very adapted to it.

    Reply
    • Todd

      King,

      Well I don’t think you will die from cold showers, unless you have a weak heart. But I can assure you that cold showers will invigorate you, startle you and maybe even shock you. It will wake you up. So why not take the cold showers before starting work, rather than after work? If you need help getting to sleep, a warm shower, or warm bath, will actually work better.

      Todd

      Reply
  18. Rick

    Hi Todd!

    I’v been doing cold showers for (exactly) a week now. Definitely noticed some benefits: everything beneath my shoulders is feeling more relaxed, centered and controlled. My head also feels less heavy.

    In the radioshow from Gary Wilson you mentioned there are also psychological benefits coming from the increased amount of dopamine receptors. My question is: does it take some time (more than a week) for these receptors (those in the brain I mean) to bounce back?

    In other words: are the current benefits all I can have or is there still more coming up? When you started with cold showers, did you have all the benefits in just one week or did some of them just take a little longer?

    Thanks in advance!

    Gr. Rick

    Reply
    • Todd

      Rick,

      The benefits from cold showers — especially the psychological benefits — take weeks to months to fully develop. As a general rule, upregulation of G-coupled protein receptors (the class of receptors involved in dopamine uptake, glucose transport, and other brain and muscle functions) takes weeks. So be patient and — most importantly — be consistent. Strive to stay in the shower for a full 5 minutes and be sure to expose all your cold-sensitive parts — especially your head, neck, arms, hands and front side. And for maximum benefit, don’t take warm showers or baths, at least until you notice the psychological benefits.

      What are the psychological benefits? Improved moved and enhanced stress resistance — the ability to shrug off events and people that would have previously bothered you. You may not notice an immediate change. You might find the change happens a few weeks out, almost unnoticeably.

      I find that these psychological benefits are enhanced by intermittent fasting and regular exercise. Intermittent fasting is not starvation — it is really about confining your eating to one or two small windows of time every day, and avoiding snacks. Getting your insulin levels low, and your BDNF levels high, and allowing for ketosis and autophagy to kick in, will generate a sense of calm power and emotional resilience.

      Todd

      Reply
      • Rick

        Hi Todd,

        Thank you very much for your information. As a matter of fact, I’m “rebooting” since last december. (I found your website by visiting the one from Gary Wilson) After 2 uncomfortable months I started intense exercising at the gym, but I failed on gradualism. In a few weeks I was lifting about 25000 kgs every workout so that dopamine and the receptors would be upregulated. But I was a fool and got overtrained a few days after Easter and I’m still not feeling balanced. So I’m very glad that I found out about cold showers so that I now have two activities for upregulating receptors.

        Like I said, I’m already feeling physiological benefits like relaxed legs and stomach. (they used to be tense and restless) I also noticed I can overcome brain fog by using a cold shower, although I don’t feel the sustained feeling of a improved mood yet.

        A few questions:
        – I’m on weightlifting again (slowly building up of course) Is a cold shower after (intense) excercise to be preferred or is a warm shower better for some reason?
        – I’m already starting to tolerate the cold shock (1st time: minutes, today: 30 sec – 1 min) If I don’t really experience a cold shock anymore, do I still get the benefits? Or are they coming up precisely because the cold shock is getting smaller?
        – Any more tips for maximum effect of cold showers?

        It could be that I’m just impatient and that I’m not fully realizing that. The fact is: I need this to get stronger. I have the thought that, without (fully) developing G-coupled protein receptors, I will always be stuck in first gear in doing……. anything! Until last Easter, I was feeling the psychological benefits because of intense exercise. In those few weeks I was basically the person I truly want to be! So it’s real and possible to achieve!

        Gr. Rick

        Reply
        • Todd

          Rick,

          Your account of overtraining with your weight workouts is not uncommon. I think it’s probably somewhat harder to overdo it with cold showers — they tend to be self-limiting (at least for most people!).

          To answer your questions:
          1. I would recommend cold showers after intense workouts, because they help reduce inflammation that is associated with muscle damage. If you want to take some warm showers, I’d save those for other times of day, perhaps to help you relax or get to sleep.
          2. That’s great to hear you are adapting to the cold showers, and the cold shock is diminishing. That’s a good thing and a normal adaptive response – be happy! You don’t at all need cold shock to get the benefits of cold showers. I would focus on (a) extending your stay in the shower for a full 5 minutes; (b) deliberately exposing your most sensitive parts — even your head — until it’s no longer uncomfortable. If this all comes easy, then maybe you should seek out colder water, or consider a dip in a nearby lake or ocean beach if you live near one.
          3. Be patient. The benefits from cold showers may take 3-4 weeks to really kick in. Receptors in your brain (and nociceptors in your skin) take time to grow, just like your hair and fingernails. Just don’t do things to “prune” them back.

          Have you considered intermittent fasting — skipping snacks and spacing out your meals? That is another way to enhance receptor up regulation. As with all these methods, it is best approached gradually.

          In all the above, it’s important to be playful and keep it fun. Mix it up and experiment. Don’t punish yourself or be overzealous. Sing or dance in the shower — or at least smile about it. If you find a workout boring, change it up or find another way to exercise — like biking, hiking or even rock climbing (my favorite). If you go in for intermittent fasting, be sure to eat foods you really enjoy when you break the fast!

          Good luck,

          Todd

          Reply
      • john bocchetti

        Completely agree with the duration factor. I’ve been on the trail of cold showers ever since I had a cabin in the cascades. With four daughters hogging all the hot water, I adapted quickly in 1991. Fast forward, starting again in 2009 I have been consistently taking rather long cold showers. And true I actually feel this inner warmth, among all the other benefits you’ve described. So many benefits it’s truly amazing. Let’s continue to get this simple method out to all who enjoy blissful health and strength.

        Reply
  19. Uselis

    Hey,

    have some questions if you don’t mind asking:

    1. For awhile I was using cold showers consistently. Got into a groove for like couple months by doing it daily. I fel amazing effect first week or so but after that I barely noticed anything. Is it normal? Is it still beneficial even if I don’t noticing physically?

    2. I did it for 2 minutes, stoped and use my shampoo, then took another 2 minutes to wash away shampoo. You mentioned standing for straight 5 minutes. What difference it has to stay straight for such a time or it is same as mine example? Is there some time set point which you have to reach it in order to get most benefits from cold shower?

    3. Which IF window gave you best results in terms of overall feeling? I used to follow 16/8 for awhile but 20/4 made me feel a bit better. Also don’t you feel slugish after eating big size food? I probably don’t getting it right but when you fasting for longer period you kind of forced to eat your calories in couple meals which end up being massive.

    4. Any other tips for a energy and mood boosting besides sports, diet and cold showers? 🙂

    Thanks and great site you have, best of luck

    Reply
    • Todd

      Uselis (what a fun screen name)-

      My suggestion of 5 minutes straight showering is only a guideline to get folks to push past short exposures, to help them experience thermogenesis. It’s not a hard and fast rule, and I’m sure that taking a shampoo break in the middle is fine. This is really more of an art than a science. As long as you get the sensation of coldness, you will get the physical benefits of thermogenesis. If you want stronger psychological benefits, try going colder (if you have access to colder water) or longer. Or try taking a cold bath. If that’s not enough, throw some ice cubes in the bathtub. Or — as I just suggested in my reply to Rick – try swimming in a lake or the ocean.

      It’s good to experiment with the IF window, as you are doing. My preferred eating window is from about 4 or 5 pm until 8 pm – so 20/4 as you call it. I eat one daily meal about 5 days a week. On the other days, I’m flexible. I do find that big meals slow me down, but I don’t really eat big meals. I actually find that my IF dinners are not that big. I tend to eat mostly low carb and paleo, topped off with small deserts like a few squares of dark chocolate or berries and cream.

      Another mood booster for me: lunchtime walks. When I’m eating only dinners, I find that taking a brisk half hour walk when my co-workers are eating leaves me energetic for afternoon meetings — instead of the common post-lunch sluggishness.

      If you are adventurous, and want a real mood booster, try rock climbing! You can top-rope in an indoor climbing gym, and it’s quite safe. Gets the heart beating hard and leaves you with a real sense of accomplishment.

      Todd

      Reply
  20. Tim

    Todd,

    Would you consider doing a follow-up article on cold exposure and fat loss? The topic seems to be getting a lot of press recently. I am personally not sold on increased caloric expenditure due to thermogenesis as the reason for any fat loss benefit, which most of the advocates and writers point to. I’d imagine any mild increase in thermogensis would be akin to mild exercise which is usually negated by increased caloric intake.

    I would also think that for any meaningful long term fat loss to occur, cold exposure would have to improve the modulators of caloric intake to some degree (dopamine upregulation, insulin/leptin sensitivity?)

    Also, what do you think about adapting to progressively lower room temperatures vs shorter/more intense cold exposure like cold showers, etc?

    – Tim

    Reply
    • Todd

      Tim,

      This article on Cold Showers has been one of the most popular on this site (despite my wife’s predictions), as has the related article on Wim Hof (“The Iceman“), so I may have to consider you request.

      I agree with your statement that a mild increase in thermogenesis, without any further changes, will not have any lasting effect on body weight or fat mass. My view is that the hypothalamus is ultimately in control of body weight, just as your thermostat controls the temperature in your house. Opening all the doors and windows may temporarily make your house colder, but the thermostat will cause the furnace to kick in and re-establish the set point temperature. Likewise, trying to lose weight simply by eating less, exercising more, or shivering in the cold will not lead to permanent weight loss unless it affects the levels of insulin, leptin and brain receptors for those hormones and other neuropeptides such as dopamine. Upregulation of these receptors in muscle, liver and other peripheral tissues also helps in this regard. For more on that, see my posts “Obesity starts in the brain” and “Change your receptors, change your set point“.

      To change the set point requires repeated exposures to acute stresses over a sustained period of time. Chronic low level stress doesn’t help, and may hurt. The stresses that most effectively re-set the hypothalamus and enhance leptin and insulin sensitivity include intermittent fasting, high intensity exercise and perhaps also cold exposure. I say “perhaps” because, while I suspect that cold exposure has this effect, I don’t have enough direct evidence to say for sure at this point. There is some evidence that cold exposure results in the accumulation of brown fat (BAT) relative to white fat (WAT), and that brown fat is more metabolically active. But that’s not the same as showing that it changes the your set point. If you are aware of any evidence that bears on this issue, I’d love to see it.

      Good questions and comments — thanks for chiming in.

      Todd

      Reply
  21. Thank you for the good article.
    The most important aspect in my
    opinion is the activation of brown fat,
    though….

    Reply
  22. charles

    FOR PEOPLE WITH CHLORINE FILTERING SHOWER HEADS

    I really enjoyed the cold showers and I have been amazed at how great they make me feel (after the first 2 weeks of discomfort).

    Chlorine that purifies water is absolutely terrible for your health (http://chriskresser.com/is-your-daily-shower-making-you-sick). So it is important that people correctly use their chlorine filtering shower head if they have one.

    These shower heads are activated by hot water, so I suggest people run their showers for 30-60 seconds on hot before they get in, then turn the temperature down and get in. That way the filter is activated.

    Reply
  23. yates

    I read about cold showers and have been taking them now for 2 weeks with immediate effect on weight and mood. It feels as though I have exercised even though I spent only 5-6 minutes.

    I take pure, straight from tap, cold showers which are too painful to be able to take with my whole body but are fine if done in sections. I have a timer and am increasing the time daily slowly.

    I just wanted to caution people doing this to not put their head under for very long or I expect you will get the same headaches I have had later in the day. It makes sense that you would get the same sort of headache you can get from drinking too much cold drink, or eating ice cream. This is a known effect and its very uncomfortable.

    Reply
    • johnny bocchetti

      I was diagnosed with PTSD by the VA. I told them that the only remedy was long hikes and cold showers. I believe it’s the only thing that has caused survival instincts to take control of my mental malaise. Cold showers should be a religion, cause it “saves our soul.”

      Reply
  24. Random

    Is there a temperature at which you probably should not take a shower at? I’m the type of person to go out with shorts and a T-shirt when it’s below 15F. But a really cold shower leaves me shivering.

    Reply
    • Todd

      Random,

      There is no magic cutoff temperature. The metabolic benefits of cold exposure increase with colder temperatures, as discussed in this post:

      http://gettingstronger.org/2014/02/what-cold-showers-and-exercise-have-in-common/

      Some, like Wim Hof, have adapted themselves to swim in arctic water:

      http://gettingstronger.org/2012/01/the-iceman/

      The key here is adaptation: It’s dangerous and silly to expose yourself to water or air temperatures beyond your adaptive range. But I believe it’s possible for anyone to gradually and progressively lower the water temperature as one adapts. Try cool showers with water at any temperature below 80 F, then gradually try colder temperatures.

      (Why 80 F? See this link: http://bit.ly/1hx6mlW)

      You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can adapt!

      Todd

      Reply
  25. Christian

    Hi Todd,

    I decided to write here as you seem to have the most accurate knowledge about biolocigal procedures in the human body.
    I started taking cold showers a week ago. It is a really good experience, but more and more I start to see only the opposite effects; My body seems to adapt, but when I stick my head directly in the cold shower, I start to get a hard headache. After the cold shower I’ve got goose pimples and cold for like 10 minutes more. Also, what I hate the most, I’m not more awake afterwards. Over the next 2-3 hours I’m more sleepy and unconcentrated than before.
    Do you know why or have any solution against this?
    If it helps; I don’t always shower right after I wake up and they don’t last very long, maybe 2-3 minutes.

    Reply
  26. Kyle

    Hey Todd

    I’m pretty sure I have an overactive thyroid but I’m not diagnosed with it, not yet anyway. I went to the doctor many years ago about it as my BMI was in the red and I had all the symptoms. He didn’t even take blood, I was early 20’s at the time and he just told me that it was fine that I was slightly underweight and it would change. It hasn’t, so I’m probably gonna go back to the doctor as anxiety, face flushing, insomnia and still unable to gain weight is kind of annoying.

    Anyway, I’m wondering if this cold shower type therapy will actually help my body regulate heat better? As in, if I overheat, my body can actually cool me down quicker too, as it’s more efficient at controlling my temperature. One of the ways I will commonly overheat and flush is from going from cold to room temperature, so I’m thinking if my body can regulate cold better, it will be less likely to overheat too.

    Be good to hear your feedback

    Reply
    • Todd

      Kyle,

      You ask a good question, and I don’t know the answer. Cold shower therapy might work as you describe, but it is possible that what you need is precisely the opposite — a hot tub or sauna. On my Facebook site, I linked an article that describes the hermetic benefits of heat exposure to improve tolerance to heat and reduce the risk of overheating:

      https://www.facebook.com/gettingstrongerblog/posts/479596718808290

      Reply
  27. Milan

    Hello and thank you for this article.
    I am a 44 yo healthy male and I started doing cold showers every day three weeks ago with great success and immediate well-being effects. I first do a regular lukewarm shower and then turn to completely cold water. In my household, temperature of cold water is 18 C, so not quite a swim in a frozen lake. I started with 1 minute of cold water in the end and extended by minute every week.
    Last week, however, I began noticing that the feeling of energy and well-being waned off and did not appear anymore after cold showers. Instead, I began feeling down and drowsy afterwards, with hands and feet feeling cold for hours. Also my intolerance of outside cold seems to have increased. Although I have developed resistance to cold shower, it just doesn’t feel right anymore. What could be the reason for this sudden change? Thank you in advance for your opinions.

    Reply
    • Todd

      Milan,

      It’s hard to know for sure why cold showers were at first working for you, whereas now you are tired with cold hands and feet. The cold extremities and tiredness suggest that your thyroid function might be low. While I’m normally an advocate of eating less frequently, in your case you may need to eat more often and add more protein and fat to your diet. The one vitamin I would suggest is a B-complex. I’m guessing that you are not overweight, and that the extra energy may be welcome. Try also being active after your cold showers — even going for a walk is good for the circulation and promotes thermogenesis.

      Todd

      Reply
  28. nikhil

    Hi, I used to take cold showers a couple of years ago.

    But in the past two years, I have gone completely out of shape and health.

    Is there any chance, I might get a stroke during a cold shower in winter!

    I live alone, so i have to be careful about a heart stroke/attack.

    Reply
    • Todd

      Nikil,

      It may surprise you, but cold showers actually lower the heart rate and strengthen your heart. Don’t believe me? Measure your pulse before you get in the shower and again afterwards. Be sure to stay in for at least one minute — ideally 3-5 minutes. Do this for a week and you’ll find yourself getting stronger and fitter. Try it and report back what you find.

      Todd

      Reply
  29. Harry

    Got two lumbago attacks ,out of the blue within a period of 6 months – could this be because of cold showering?
    The other problem is recurring ear infections because of the cold water getting into the ear.

    Reply
    • Todd

      Harry,

      It’s very unlikely that cold showers could have touched off your lumbago (lower back pain). If anything, cold exposure should help.
      More likely causes of lumbago are: (1) weak back muscles that need strengthening; (2) sudden or unusual movements or overuse against a background of being too sedentary; (3) an insulinogenic diet; and/or (4) emotional factors that create anxiety.

      My thoughts on this topic are summarized in this post from last December:
      http://gettingstronger.org/2013/12/banish-back-pain-and-sore-muscles/

      Regarding ear infections, cold water would be no worse than warm water. Try using earplugs or a shower cap. A low insulinogenic diet (low carb, moderate protein, high fiber and fat, intermittent fasting) will also make you less prone to infections in general.

      Todd

      Reply
    • Mike

      Harry, interestingly enough, I have also had two severe sciatica attacks within the first two months of cold shower. But ever since, my occasional problems with back pain have gone completely.

      Reply
  30. Marcin

    Todd,

    I noticed two disturbing things while taking cold showers for a couple of months:
    1. My skin began to be less sensitive to touch (tested with my fiancee ;-)). I used to be very ticklish person, now it totally gone.
    2. I’m way more prone to getting sick while taking showers. Usually if I’m healthy nothin happens but when my body is more vulnerable I’m more prone to getting sick. Examples are:
    – Easily getting sick within one week after heavy drinking,
    – While fasting, I found that it it’s almost impossible for me to take cold showers, fast and not to get sick. Perhaps this was an adaptation period, after fasting for two months or so I feel much more resilient.

    As a result I decided to stop taking cold showers two months ago (so that I could start intermittent fasting)

    I’m interested in your feedback especially concerning your article on HRV, which I find very interesting.

    Reply
    • Todd

      Marcin,

      Cold showers, fasting and low carb sometimes have the effect of lowering your thyroid, specifically T3. This can make you feel colder, and perhaps may make your skin less sensitive as a result. Other than perhaps some discomfort, this is not really a problem. It’s like a car engine saving energy by adjusting the carburetor to run on a slower idle:

      http://paleohacks.com/questions/90657/is-lowered-t3-resulting-from-a-low-carb-diet-probl.html

      If any of this bothers you, I suggest a slight adjustment — take showers that are more lukewarm or shorter, or end the shower with 30 seconds of cold. Just find the balance that works for you.

      I must say I don’t understand how cold showers could cause you to “get sick”, if by that you mean more colds or flus. What I’ve found, and many others have found, is that cold showers make us LESS vulnerable to colds and flus. I think the problem could be other factors that are compromising your immunity or resilience. What I learned from my HRV experiments is that drinking alcohol really suppresses HRV, whereas cold showers boost HRV. You might consider cutting way back on alcohol…try stopping at one or two drinks, or limit drinking to 2 days a week. You might notice a difference.

      Great to hear you are trying intermittent fasting. Since cold showers, fasting and intense exercise are all hermetic stressors, be careful not to “stack” them, at least until you are adapted.

      As with all these things, start slowly and moderately, and build up gradually as you prove to yourself that you can handle them.

      Good luck,

      Todd

      Reply
      • Marcin

        Thanks for the tip about the reason of feeling cold! I was wondering about that since I felt cold when I started fasting. Nowadays it’s generally not a problem! Do you know why T3 lowers?

        About fasting… I also noticed:
        a) my sense of taste and preference in food changed(more towards vegetables, fruit, I started dislike meat for some reason)
        b) my sense of smell sharpened (it’s sometimes very annoying)

        As I said I think I think I started too big with fasting and cold showers. Right now I think I’m over adjustment period and perhaps it’s time to reintroduce cold showers.

        About alcohol, I was just making a point. I almost don’t drink, only socially every 4-5 months I might attend some party with heavy drinking.

        Reply
        • Todd

          Marcin,

          Regarding T3, read the paleohacks thread I linked below. But also listen to Rosedale himself. You can fast forward to the 14 minute mark in this great debate at last year’s Ancestral Health Symposium:

          This really explains how thyroid regulation works.

          Very interesting observations about the changes to your olfactory sensitivity. I can only speculate, but it may have to do with alterations to your zinc metabolism. Correcting a zinc deficiency sharpens your sense of taste, and lowering your insulin levels through fasting improve zinc adsorption. Just speculation.

          Reply
  31. Kunal

    Great article. I am going to start taking those cold showers. But is it a worse time to start..almost November and I am in US eastcoast? I am determined despite this circumstance but just wanted to ask if any weather type is great to start?

    Reply
    • Todd

      Kunal,

      You may find it hard to believe – but a cold winter is the BEST time to start! Some of the key benefits are: making your body run hotter, reducing your susceptibility to colds and flus, and fending off seasonal affective disorder (sometimes known as the winter blues). Plus the water comes out of the faucet colder, which enhances the benefits.

      Stick with it for a week of showers no shorter than 3 minutes. Write back and tell me what you think. Every week I hear from people who tell me this has changed their outlook and benefited their health.

      Todd

      Reply
  32. Sasa

    Hi,
    i started with cold showers three days ago. I am doing 30 day cold shower challenge. I must admit that it’s hard (very hard!), but the feeling right after shower is great. So, i will do it for 30 days and i am quite sure that i will keep doing it after. And i am also excited to see what are all the benefits it will bring 🙂

    Reply

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