Are cold showers as effective as ice baths?

cryotherapy using ice baths

If you’ve ever heard of cryotherapy, you may have experimented yourself at home with a cold shower. This process is where you expose either part or all of your body to low-temperature water to seek the number of benefits that it can deliver. 

Whether you’re looking to support your recovery post-workout or want to improve your sleep, cold exposure in an ice bath operates quite differently from cold exposure in a shower. To achieve the best possible results from cryotherapy, ice baths outperform the benefits of a cold shower. Discover the differences and decide whether you’re ready to take the plunge. 

Physical Differences 

There are key differences between cold showers and ice baths in terms of temperature, immersion and duration which lead to varying results and benefits.



In order to achieve any benefits from cold therapy, you’ll need water that’s somewhere between 15℃ to a very chilly 0℃, building to cooler temperatures as you can handle more resilience. Starting out with a warmer temperature to begin with, and gradually cooling it down as you gain more resilience. One of the key factors in achieving the best possible results from cryotherapy is maintaining a measured, steady temperature. 

Ice baths outperform cold showers on two fronts in this regard. Firstly, in an ice bath, you are able to set the specific temperature you require, ensuring accuracy and giving you more control over your cold therapy session. 

Secondly, tap water from the shower may be cold but will never be close to freezing, and it’s also incredibly difficult to measure for a precise cold plunge experience. It’s typically around 15℃ at its coldest, which is the warmest temperature you’d need to achieve any of the benefits from cold therapy. 


To get the full benefits of cryotherapy, you need to have your body or affected area in the cold for a set period of time with plenty of water around you. Cold showers are more of a challenge to isolate any given part of your body and don’t lend themselves well to gaining full immersion. 

Along with the temperature consistency, ice baths allow for full body cover and immersion, which cold showers cannot. Additionally, there may be times when you only want to submerge certain parts of your body, which ice baths enable you to do more easily. 


Breath work during cold therapy is an incredibly important factor in gaining the most from your time in your shower or ice bath. While you’ll often notice a sharp intake of breath when you switch the shower to cold, the difference in the discipline required for maintaining controlled breath in an ice bath. 

As you fully submerge, your body will instinctively make you breathe more shallowly and quickly. The practice of slow breathing in an ice bath takes mental fortitude, especially when you’re in a much lower temperature. You’ll want to stay in an ice bath for up to 10 minutes over time, so breathing steadily is an important practice to have. 


Through the differences in temperature control, immersion and breathing, ice baths offer a wider spectrum of benefits, along with more effective results than simply taking a cold shower. From reinvigorating your metabolism and stimulating your vagus nerve to lowering cortisol and improving sleep, ice baths prove to be more effective than cold showers across the board. 


While a single ice bath or cold shower alone won’t transform your body overnight, repeated cold water exposure can increase your metabolism and support fat loss. Consistent cold exposure promotes the production and activation of brown fat, which is different in function to regular fat stores. Brown fat’s job in your body is to process glucose and fats from your diet, making your metabolism more efficient over time.


In order to effectively gain this level of cold exposure, you’ll need to be in a cold environment for around 10 minutes at a time. The maximum temperature for full efficacy for a metabolism boost is around 10℃, which is colder than you’d be able to achieve in a standard shower. By utilising an ice bath or ice bath chiller, you can set the temperature you want, know that it’ll stay consistent throughout the duration of your bath and give you more comprehensive benefits. 

Vagus nerve

Cold exposure can stimulate the function of your vagus nerve, which is one of the main parts of your parasympathetic nervous system. This system, along with the vagus nerve, is an important aspect of your body’s ability to regulate a number of key functions. From mood and heart rate to digestion and immune function, the functionality of this part of your body is key. 

While the vagus nerve typically operates independently to external influences, you can trigger its function through the use of an ice bath. When you’re exposed to cold water, your parasympathetic nervous system, which is located in the base of your brain and along your spine, is triggered into activation. In the cold, this causes an increase in heart rate and the lowering of blood pressure. In turn, it also helps to reduce inflammation in the body, which is one of the many reasons that ice baths are beneficial for muscle tension and pain. 


Along with the physical benefits of cold exposure, there are a number of physiological benefits when you’re exposed to the cold in an ice bath. Cold exposure activates your sympathetic nervous system. This system has numerous receptors in your skin that, when exposed to cold, trigger a response in your brain. 

This response is called eustress, a short and quickly resolved form of stress that actually helps to lower cortisol levels and triggers the release of endorphins. These are the same hormones that you get from exercise and they help to induce that feel-good mood after you’re done with your ice bath. 


Sleep is a crucial part of everyday health. When your cortisol levels are elevated, this can make it harder to drift off. When you’re tired, this also increases the stress hormone levels in your body. It’s a cycle of cortisol that can be broken by incorporating an ice bath into your routine. 

Whether you use an ice bath first thing in the morning as an invigorating when you wake up or after your workout in the afternoon, you’ll still reap the sleep-supporting benefits.  


When you’re in a cold environment like an ice bath for an extended period of time, when you get out, your blood flow and heart rate will increase. This is to help warm your body back up and get blood back into your extremities. With this rush of blood, you’re also stimulating the cells in your body that fight infection, specifically your leukocytes. 

Overall, the benefits of a cold shower are outweighed by upgrading to an ice bath. Ice baths are an incredible investment in your well-being in the long term. With both mental and physical benefits, Kiva Wellness has the perfect option for your home. If you have questions regarding which ice bath is best for you, you can contact us any time for a personal recommendation.