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Cold Showers Burn Calories
"Hello! Do cold showers really burn calories? I've heard that drinking ice water burns calories and someone told me that cold showers burn calories too. Is that for real or is it a myth?"
- Victoria W.
Yes, you are correct cold showers DO burn calories. In order to maintain a core body temperature your body uses up energy by burning brown fat to keep your body warmer and ultimately boosts your metabolism. When burned brown fat, aka brown adipose tissue or BAT, boosts your metabolism and energy levels and you end up feeling more energetic. It then kick-starts burning other kinds of fat in your body in order to maintain energy levels.
For reference see the 2008 study: "Human Skeletal Muscle Mitochondrial Uncoupling Is Associated With Cold Induced Adaptive Thermogenesis" which explains how it works.
However a better question is how much calories is being used?
While we are at it, since fat is also a good insulator, what difference does body fat make on the amount of calories being burned?
Lastly, what is the best way to get the full benefits of cold showers?
Well lets answer these questions one at a time.
A shower at 60 F (16 C) burns 75 calories in 5 minutes*. Initially that doesn't seem like much, but lets put it another way: That is 900 calories in one hour!
* Based on the flow of an average shower head, approx. 5 gallons per minute. Modern low flow shower heads use roughly half of that.
However being in a cold shower like that for 60 minutes will likely give you pneumonia and could even kill you since pneumonia can be deadly if your immune system is weak. So my official advice is that you limit your cold showers to 25 minutes or less.
#2. What difference does body fat make?
Because fat is a good insulator it really depends on how much fat a person has. There hasn't been any research into this topic, but what is known is that people with large amounts of brown fat won't feel the cold or start shivering very easily. Their bodies will activate the brown fat more easily and burn it at a faster rate, which implies that they are actually burning more fat than the average person would.
A fit person has a body fat percentage of approx. 12.5% (11 to 14%). A professional athlete would have a body fat percentage of around 8.5% (7 to 10%). Body fat percentage of 25% or more is considered obese.
Knowing this we can hypothesize that an obese person likely burns twice as many calories than a fit person because they have twice as much brown fat, and thus would get more of a benefit from taking cold showers than a fit person.
You want to slowly adjust your body to the colder temperature. If you just hop straight into a freezing cold shower your natural desire will be to scream and get back out immediately.
Start with a warm comfortable shower and then turn the knob slightly to a colder temperature and wait for your body to adjust to the new temperature, wherein it doesn't feel so cold.
Then keep repeating this process until you reach a point where you start to shiver. Then back off the temperature a bit so the temperature is just above the point where you start to shiver.
If you buy and keep a thermometer in your shower try to aim for 60 F (16 C), this way you can try and accurately predict how many calories are being burned during your showers.
Also remember that since this kick-starts a fat burning metabolism boost that you will feel more "invigorated" and energetic after the cold shower, which means you will burn a lot more than the calories you burned in the shower. Thus a good time to go exercise is right after a cold shower.
For improved results you could try and take cold showers 3 times per day. Limit your cold showers to 25 minutes or less.
In theory, three 60 F showers per day at 25 minutes each can burn 1125 calories per day, plus kick-starting a calorie burn that will boost your metabolism dramatically.
In a week, assuming you have a healthy / balanced diet, you should burn 7,875 calories - just over 2 lbs of fat. Possibly more due to the metabolism boost.
However I should warn you that losing fat more than 2 lbs per week can cause loose skin, so I don't recommend doing the whole three cold showers at 25 minutes per day thing.
My recommendation would be two cold showers at 10 minutes each - 300 calories per day, or 2100 calories per week. Its just under two-thirds of a lb and it should sufficiently boost your metabolism so you can lose the remaining 1.33 lbs via exercise.
If you decide to experiment with weight loss via cold showers I recommend you err on the side of caution. I wouldn't want to start an epidemic of cold shower addicts.
OTHER BENEFITS OF COLD SHOWERS
#1. Boosts the Immune System - Increases white blood cells: monocytes and lymphocytes. While certain lymphocytes are instrumental in eliminating bacteria, viruses, and toxins; monocytes are indirectly responsible for the engulfing and consuming of pathogens and foreign materials.
#2. Improves Blood Circulation - Causes vasoconstriction, prevents hypertension, prevents hardening of the arteries, and prevents the appearance of varicose veins.
#3. Regulates Temperature - If you suffer from chronically cold hands and feet, or feel that you sweat an abnormal amount, try a cold shower.
#4. Alleviates Depression - Cold water has a stimulating effect on the brain's “blue spot”, the main source of noradrenaline for our bodies. Noradrenaline is a chemical that might be used to help alleviate depression.
#5. Boosts Lymphation Circulation
The lymphatic system is a system of tubing separate from our blood vessels that is responsible for carrying away waste from your cells as well as help fight pathogens (disease). Unlike blood vessels, the lymphatic system does not have blood, it has lymph, which carries away waste products and white blood cells which handle infection.
#6. Deeper Oxygen Intake
The stress of the cold water, vasoconstriction and the overall need for oxygen to respire and keep oneself warm opens up the lungs much like strenuous physical exercise does and results in a higher average intake of oxygen, which is good for your energy levels and overall health.
#7. Better Hair and Skin
Cold water can make our hair look shinier and our skin look healthier by tightening cuticles and pores, preventing them from getting clogged, thus reducing blemishes like acne. Cold water also contributes to detoxification which results in the squeezing of toxins and waste products out of the skin. This detoxification has a good effect on the skin which appears more clean and young. Additionally, the cold water closes the cuticle which makes the hair stronger and prevents dirt from easily accumulating within our scalp. Stronger hair, of course, prevents hair from easily falling out and it helps in slowing down overall hair loss.
#8. Higher Hormone Levels
Many different hormones are boosted by cold water, including testosterone levels, which increases muscle building. Also increases sperm count. Men who take cold showers will be more muscular and have higher sperm counts.
For fun I also tried researching "cold shower negatives". Apparently there aren't any negatives beyond sometimes shouting "Damn that's cold!" and the risk of pneumonia if you stay in there too long.
On the plus side if you ever get to bathe in a waterfalls you will be used to cold water and not that bothered by it.
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