Cold exposure is unpleasant, but used properly, cold exposure is an extremely powerful tool for improving health, exercise capacity and fat burning.
Cold causes an increase in the metabolism to produce heat to try to counteract the effects of cold, resulting in increased calorie/fat burning. However, exposure to cold has a much deeper biological and hormonal impact on the body.
Cold therapy (CT) has been proven to increase adiponectin levels. Adiponectin is a hormone that stimulates fatty acid oxidation in muscle cells by activating AMP-activated protein kinase. Or in simple terms: cold increases adiponectin, adiponectin burns fat.
CT also lowers blood sugar by burning glucose as heat, and increases the absorption of glucose into the muscles, speeding up recovery times. Clearing excess blood glucose in the muscles helps prevent blood sugar from being converted to fat by the liver. This means that a cold shower after a carbohydrate-rich meal can prevent many of the drawbacks of high sugar intake!
CT also activates the conversion of normal body fat (known as white adipose tissue or WAT) into brown adipose tissue (BAT – also known as brown fat). BAT is very different from typical fat because it contains many energy-producing mitochondria (hence the brownish color) and uses body fat (usually from the abdomen and back) as a fuel source.
Cold and noradrenaline
Norepinepherine (NE for short) is an excitatory neurotransmitter that is one of the main drivers of fat burning. NE is the main initiator of the flight or fight response of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).
The flight or fight response is something we’ve all experienced when we’re really scared, like almost getting into a serious car accident. If you remember such an experience, you will remember that you often tremble after the danger has passed.
Shaking occurs because when you sense a threat, the brain pushes out high levels of NE. High levels of NE stimulate a cascade of effects, including:
increased heart rate
Increased oxygen consumption
Closing off the digestive tract while pushing more blood to the muscles for action
Increased pupil dilation
Increased mental focus
Decreased perceived exertion, pain and inflammation.
Release of fatty acids and glucose from storage to fuel high levels of muscle activity.
High levels of NE also stimulate the adrenal glands to secrete epinephrine (EP). EP is also known as adrenaline. NE and EP are chemically nearly identical with NE being a neurotransmitter and EP a hormonal version.
This strong SNS response prepares you for action!
Even a brief exposure to extreme cold (20 seconds at 40°F, 4.4°C) causes a 200-300% boost in norepinephrine that lasts for an hour† As mentioned above, increased NE also stimulates the release of EP. You’ll experience a noticeable boost in wakefulness, focus, attention and mood, along with improved oxygen delivery, blood circulation, antioxidant function, mitochondrial biogenesis, and reduced perceived exertion, pain and inflammation.
Cold and sleeping
While exposure to cold initially triggers a strong sympathetic nervous response (like what happens during intense exercise), the body later rebalances and your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) response increases in response to this stimulus.
Your PNS is basically your rest/sleep/repair mode. Thus, the increased PNS response to cold exposure after the acute SNS response aids in sleep quality.
Takeaway – Cold showers can be an effective tool to improve exercise performance and fat burning. For those looking to lower body fat, do 5-10 minute sessions in the morning, dry off, then warm up and exercise – you’ll feel like a rocket ship!
To learn more about all the positive effects of using cold exposure for positive health and fitness benefits, check out this great podcast and article on the subject: https://www.foundmyfitness.com/episodes/cold-stress-hormesis
This post Can Cold Showers Improve Exercise Performance and Fat Burning? was original published at “http://workoutanytime.blogspot.com/2022/04/can-cold-showers-improve-exercise.html”