If stepping into the shower only to find that all of the hot water has been used is frustrating, you might change your mind once you discover the potential upsides to a cold shower after a workout. Frigid showers can help speed up recovery and benefit your skin, too. Skeptical? We were too, so we spoke to dermatologist Dr. Jeannette Graf and physical therapist Shawn Kato to fill us in on six advantages of taking cold showers post-workout.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Jeannette Graf is a board-certified dermatologist and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.
- Shawn Kato is a Physical Therapist with Hudson Physical Therapy in Jersey City, NJ, where he specializes in athletic physical therapy.
Has a Tightening Effect on the Skin
After a heart-pumping workout session, take advantage of the increased blood flow with a cold shower. “Cold water can help tighten and constrict blood flow, which can help the appearance of dull skin,” says Graf.
Another bonus of this constricting action: “Not only does it tighten the skin but also constricts hair cuticles which can help strengthen the follicles,” says Graf. So, you can improve the appearance of your skin while strengthening your hair at the same time.
Helps Re-Hydrate Skin After Sweating
After moisture loss from sweat, a cold shower can boost your skin’s natural moisture barrier much better than hot water can. “Hot water dries the sebum layer of the skin, which provides moisture and protection to the body and hair. Taking cold showers will not dry out this layer of skin; therefore, the skin will maintain its natural hydration,” explains Graf.
If showering in cold water is daunting, merely finishing with a frigid spritz can do the trick. “After taking a quick lukewarm shower to clean the skin, a cold spray from the shower can constrict the blood vessels preventing moisture loss from the skin after sweating,” recommends Graf.
Stimulates the Nervous System
After an endorphin-boosting workout, use a cold shower to stimulate your nervous system further. When activated post-workout by a cold shower, your sympathetic nervous system sends hormonal signals through the body.
Cold showers “stimulate the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system by inducing a hormetic stress response which will contribute to enhanced mood and better psychological function,” says Kato.
Improves Post-Workout Recovery
“Cold showers are best for recovering after a workout,” says Sandra Gail Frayna, Physical Therapist at Hudson PT. “The cold constricts blood vessels, meaning all blood will go to the middle of the body,” she says.
Another method for taking advantage of cold post-workout showers is to alternate temperature. “When you contrast from hot to cold water, it gives you the benefit of also opening your blood vessels, which will allow better blood flow,” explains Frayna.
Kato adds that cold showers can “improve recovery rate capabilities due to increased glutathione levels, which further aids recovery from workouts.
Can Increase Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a vital aspect of any health regimen; bringing awareness to your body, how it feels post-workout, and what muscles you’ve worked might help you notice any minor issues before they get worse. Mindfulness may also enable you to relax, increasing your ability to handle stress and return to a relaxed state after an intense workout. Cold showers offer the perfect antidote to distractions. A post-workout cold shower “provides us with an active meditation experience giving us a chance to be 100% focused on our body,” says Kato.
Strengthens Immune System
While working out is known to increase your body’s defense system, some claim over-exercising can suppress your immune response, paving the way for illness. While it’s essential to rest and recover if you’ve overdone it with your training, a cold shower could offer some protection. Some research published in 2020 suggests that cold water can increase immune responses. “Scientific studies have shown that taking a cold shower can increase the number of white blood cells in your body which are responsible for a healthy and strong immune system,” says Graf. So, to double down on the immune-boosting effects of exercise or protect yourself from the suppressing effects of overtraining, try a cold shower after your next workout.
Tips For Taking Cold Showers
A cold shower is much more appealing when it comes with perks like better recovery and brighter skin. However, it might take some time to adjust. Graf recommends working yourself up to it. “If you don’t often take cold showers, I would recommend easing into it since the cooler temperatures can be a shock to the skin and immune system,” she says.
Follow her recommendations for building yourself up to longer and colder showers: “I would start with lukewarm water and continue to turn the nozzle towards cool as you adjust to the temperature.” And the good news is, you don’t have to spend too long under the cold water. “The cooler (or cold) part at the end of the shower can be anywhere from 5 seconds if that is all you can tolerate to a maximum of 20-30 seconds if tolerable,” says Graf.
And a warning—don’t try to go from hot to cold straight away if you’ve just worked out and your heart rate is elevated. “It is important to gradually ease into the cold shower by starting with lukewarm water and just a few seconds of cold since the extreme temperature difference can affect internal blood pressure and cause fainting,” warns Graff.
Simpson RJ, Campbell JP, Gleeson M, et al. Can Exercise Affect Immune Function to Increase Susceptibility to Infection? Exerc Immunol Rev. 2020;26:8-22.
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