Lately, the popularity surrounding cold plunging has surged. More and more health enthusiasts are promoting the benefits of cold plunging – boasting about all the ways it has changed their mental and physical health. But, is there any scientific evidence to back up all the buzz around this trend? Well, there is research emerging that sheds light on cold plunging and the effect it can have on weight loss efforts. While it may initially seem unconventional as a weight loss strategy, this article will delve deep into the science behind cold plunging and how it can emerge as a potential ally in your weight loss journey.

What is Cold Plunging?

Cold plunging, often referred to as cold water therapy or cold exposure, involves immersing oneself in cold water or subjecting the body to cold temperatures. This quick but uncomfortable practice is used to help improve various aspects of health. Even though it has become a new trendy wellness ritual, the practice actually has roots that date back centuries. Ancient cultures, from the Greeks and Romans to the Japanese, recognized the therapeutic benefits of cold water immersion. 

Today, cold plunging takes various forms, with options ranging from ice baths to cold showers. Although this might seem like an unnecessary and harsh activity, there is a point to all of it. Benefits associated with cold plunging range from enhanced immunity and circulation to improved energy. 

How Cold Plunging Can Help with Weight Loss

Studies have shown a correlation between cold therapy and enhanced weight loss. Let’s take a look at the different ways this occurs.

Boosts Metabolism

Regular exposure to cold temperatures can provide a boost to your metabolism. When you’re exposed to cooler temperatures, your body has to work harder to regulate your core temperature. This effort requires more energy, leading to increased calorie burn. 

Another interesting finding is that cold plunging stimulates a fascinating transformation in your body fat composition2. It turns white fat, typically associated with storage and weight gain, into brown fat, which is more metabolically active. Brown fat cells burn calories to produce heat, thereby increasing your overall metabolism. Additionally, cold plunging elevates levels of norepinephrine, a hormone that aids in fat breakdown and utilization.

Enhances Exercise Recovery

Athletes have long used ice baths for recovery, and cold plunging works on the same principle. The cold helps reduce muscle soreness and inflammation after intense workouts, helping you recover faster4 and more effectively. Additionally, cold therapy enhances circulation, allowing for more efficient nutrient delivery to muscles. This combination of reduced inflammation and improved nutrient supply can aid in faster muscle repair, allowing you to bounce back from workouts with less downtime.

Improves Mental Health

The benefits of cold plunging also extend to mental well-being, which is critical for any weight loss effort. Chronic stress can halt any weight loss efforts, regardless if your diet and exercise routine are on point. 

Cold exposure triggers the release of endorphins3, often referred to as ‘feel-good’ hormones, leading to an immediate improvement in mood. These are the same hormones that the body releases after an intense workout. This enhanced emotional state can combat stress, a known contributor to weight gain.

Chronic stress pumps the body with cortisol, a hormone that can not only encourage fat storage1, particularly in the abdominal area, but also disrupt your metabolism and appetite regulation. Thus, by alleviating stress through cold plunging, you not only enhance your mental well-being but also remove a significant barrier to effective weight loss.

Practical Tips

If you’re ready to dip your toes into the world of cold plunging, let’s go over a few practical tips to get you started. First and foremost, you will want to approach cold exposure gradually. Start with shorter sessions at a milder temperature and gradually work your way up to more extended and colder plunges. 

It’s essential to listen to your body and never push yourself too far too fast. When taking a cold shower, consider starting with warm water and gradually lowering the temperature to ease into the experience. 

When doing a cold plunge, use a thermometer to monitor the water temperature and ensure it’s within a safe range. Starting with temperatures around 60 degrees Fahrenheit and decreasing the temperature by one degree each day is a good way to get accustomed. You typically don’t want to go below 40 degrees F and it’s not recommended to exceed 15 minutes. There are benefits to even just submerging yourself for 30-60 seconds!

Finally, consistency is key. Incorporate cold plunging into your routine, whether it’s after a workout or as a daily practice, to maximize its benefits for weight loss and overall health.

Key Takeaways

Cold plunging has been emerging as an unconventional way to assist in weight loss efforts. It does this by boosting metabolism, burning brown fat, and enhancing exercise recovery. Moreover, the mental benefits, including stress reduction and mood enhancement, address critical factors that often impede weight loss progress. 

If you’re considering cold plunging, it’s essential to start gradually. You should increase your exposure over time, listening to your body, and being mindful of both the temperature and duration.

  1. Epel, E. S., McEwen, B., Seeman, T., Matthews, K., Castellazzo, G., Brownell, K. D., Bell, J., & Ickovics, J. R. (2000). Stress and body shape: stress-induced cortisol secretion is consistently greater among women with central fat. Psychosomatic medicine, 62(5), 623–632.
  2. Ravussin, Y., Xiao, C., Gavrilova, O., & Reitman, M. L. (2014). Effect of intermittent cold exposure on brown fat activation, obesity, and energy homeostasis in mice. PloS one, 9(1), e85876.  
  3. Shevchuk N. A. (2008). Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression. Medical hypotheses, 70(5), 995–1001.
  4. Yeung, S. S., Ting, K. H., Hon, M., Fung, N. Y., Choi, M. M., Cheng, J. C., & Yeung, E. W. (2016). Effects of Cold Water Immersion on Muscle Oxygenation During Repeated Bouts of Fatiguing Exercise: A Randomized Controlled Study. Medicine, 95(1), e2455.