Adam James.

The Benefits of Cold Water Exposure

Immersing yourself in cold water has some distinct health benefits, as a growing number of health influencers, celebrities, athletes, and trainers will happily confirm.

But is there any science behind cold water therapy? What exactly are the benefits? And what’s the best and safest way to immerse yourself in cold water?

In this article, I’ll try to answer these questions and dig into the research that’s been done on cold water immersion.

What is cold water therapy?

Cold water therapy is the practice of using water that’s around 59°F (15°C) to treat health conditions or stimulate health benefits. It’s also known as cold hydrotherapy.

The practice has been around for a couple of millennia.  In fact, until 100 years ago when we developed modern plumbing, cold water baths and showers were the only option.  The morning hot shower is a very new technology from an evolutionary perspective. 

There are several modern adaptations of cold water therapy which include ice baths, cold showers, outdoor swims, and cold water immersion therapy sessions.

What are the benefits?

Cold water therapy can improve circulation, deepen your sleep, spike your energy levels, and reduce inflammation in your body.

While anecdotal evidence backs up those benefits, not much research has been done to support these specific claims.

Cold water therapy does, however, have some benefits that are proven by science. Let’s take a closer look at what these benefits are.

Decreased muscle soreness

Although researchers are debating the details, studies indicate that athletes who soak in cold water for short periods after exercise have less muscle soreness later on.

A small study conducted in 2011 found that cyclists who completed intense training sessions had decreased soreness after they were immersed in cold water for 10 minutes.

A 2016 study involving 20 participants showed the same thing.  Athletes who soaked in a pool of cold water (12°C to 15°C) reported less muscle soreness than those who had no hydrotherapy after exercising.

According to medical experts, the reason cold water helps with pain is that it causes your blood vessels to constrict. This reduces blood flow to the area — for example, an injury you’re applying ice to — which helps reduce swelling and inflammation.

One note: If you’re using cold water to help with muscle recovery, you may want to combine it with strategies like stretching or active recovery.

Helps Fight symptoms of depression

Cold water is not a cure for any mental health condition. But certain case studies suggest that cold open water swimming has helped alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety in some people.

One such case study involves a woman who had experienced anxiety and depression since age 17. At 24 years old, she began a trial program of weekly open water swimming.

Over time, her symptoms decreased so significantly that she was able to stop taking medication to treat them. A year later, her doctors found that regular swimming still kept her depression symptoms at bay.

In another study, researchers found that a program of short, twice-daily cold showers decreased depressive symptoms. It’s important to note, however, that none of the participants in this study had been diagnosed with depression.

boosts your immune system

There’s some evidence that cold water therapy can stimulate your body’s immune system. This would theoretically improve your ability to fight illness.

In one Dutch study, researchers tested whether people could voluntarily influence their own immune response by practicing meditation, deep breathing, and cold water immersion techniques. The results were positive.

When study participants were exposed to a bacterial infection, the group that used these techniques had fewer symptoms. Their bodies produced more anti-inflammatory chemicals and fewer pro-inflammatory cytokines in response to the infection.

It’s important to note that, in this case, researchers felt the breathing techniques were more influential than the cold water immersion. But they credited cold water with building up a kind of resistance to stress over time.

Other studies have suggested that daily exposure to cold water could, over a period of weeks or months, boost antitumor immunity.

How to use cold water therapy

If you want to test the benefits of cold water therapy for yourself, you can try it out in several different ways. Here are some suggestions:

  • Take warm-to-cold showers. Start with warm water and, after a few minutes, gradually drop the temperature.
  • Skip the warmup and go straight to a cold shower. This may be especially helpful if you’ve just finished working out.
  • Immerse yourself in an ice bath: Add ice to water until the temperature is between 10°C and 15°C, and stay submerged for only 10 to 15 minutes. One small 2017 study, however, suggested that ice baths may not be as beneficial as experts had previously believed.
  • Consider a short swim in colder waters. Be sure to follow the safety tips below


White fat is the fat we associate with conditions such as obesity and heart disease, but we are all born with brown fat. Researchers have found that brown fat plays an important role in adult health. Healthy levels of brown fat also indicate that white fat will be at a healthy level. And brown fat is activated by exposure to cold temperature.

People that are obese can’t simply start taking cold showers to lose weight without changing other lifestyle habits.  But taking a cold shower 2 or 3 times per week may contribute to increased metabolism. It may help fight obesity over time. The research about how exactly cold showers help people lose weight is unclear. Still, it does show that cold water can even out certain hormone levels and heal the gastrointestinal system. These effects may add to the cold shower’s ability to lead to weight loss.


Cold water therapy is a great part of a holistic plan to improve your health.  I currently have at least 3 cold showers for at least 2 minutes each time.  The first few times it’s really difficult!  It’s gets easier though and I feel fantastic afterwards.



I'm a musician, a podcaster, a blogger & I work in marketing. I live in Australia and have two dogs named Ned & Sasha.


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