Can you burn calories with cryotherapy?

What is cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy, also known as cold therapy, is a treatment where the body is exposed to extremely cold temperatures for short periods of time. This is done by standing in a cryotherapy chamber or booth that fills with a cold vapor or liquid nitrogen to rapidly lower the skin surface temperature. A typical cryotherapy session lasts 2-4 minutes and exposes the body to temperatures ranging from -200°F to -250°F (-129°C to -157°C).

The extreme cold triggers the body’s natural response to preserve core temperature by constricting blood vessels and increasing metabolic activity. This causes a rush of blood and endorphins after the treatment ends, which is believed to have many benefits like temporary pain relief, reduced inflammation, and improved circulation. Cryotherapy is used by athletes for muscle recovery and by people with certain medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. But can it also help burn calories?

Does cryotherapy burn calories?

Yes, cryotherapy can burn some calories, but likely not very many. Here’s why:

Increased metabolic rate

When exposed to extreme cold during cryotherapy, the body works hard to warm itself back up by shivering and increasing metabolic activity. This requires energy expenditure and burns calories. However, research shows the increase in metabolic rate is relatively small (an extra 2-5% per session) and short-lived. The body quickly returns to its baseline once the cold exposure ends. So cryotherapy yields only a minor bump in calories burned compared to more intense exercise.

Cold-shock response

There is also a phenomenon called cold-shock response where short bouts of extreme cold exposure stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and causes a release of noradrenaline. This can boost resting metabolism for up to 48 hours after cryotherapy. However, the size of this increase in calories burned is still considered fairly minimal.

Brown fat activation

Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is a special type of fat that generates heat to help the body regulate temperature in cold conditions. Some proponents claim cryotherapy can activate brown fat and turn more white fat in the body to brown fat over time. This would theoretically allow someone to burn more calories throughout the day. However, current research on brown fat activation with cold exposure has been mixed and short term. For now, the impact of cryotherapy itself on brown fat activity and metabolism remains unclear.

Muscle shivering

Shivering is the body’s natural way to warm itself by contracting muscles rapidly. This muscle activity certainly burns some extra calories. But keep in mind that the periods of actual cold exposure during cryotherapy are very brief, usually 2-5 minutes max. The magnitude and duration of shivering is not long enough to add up to substantial calorie burn, compared to longer bouts of exercise.

Afterburn effect?

Some sources claim cryotherapy can boost your metabolism for hours after a session through a fat-burning afterburn effect. However, there is no strong research yet to support significant “afterburn” of calories from cryotherapy alone. This is an area needing more study. For now, any afterburn impact appears small.

Calorie burn estimates

Researchers have aimed to measure cryotherapy’s effects on energy expenditure and estimate the calorie burn:

– One study showed a 3-minute cryotherapy session (-256°F) burned an average of 80 calories.

– Another study found a 4-minute session (-292°F) increased metabolism by about 5%, burning an extra 45 calories.

– Yet another small study measured an 80 calorie burn after 5 minutes in a -166°F chamber.

– So most estimates suggest between 45-100 calories can be burned during a typical 2 to 5-minute cryotherapy appointment.

– This is equivalent to the calories burned during a 1-mile walk. Not insignificant, but not hugely substantial either in the context of daily calorie needs.

Factors that influence cryotherapy calorie burn

Several factors likely influence how many calories are burned during and after cryotherapy:

Duration of exposure – Longer sessions lead to more calorie burn as the body works harder to warm itself. But most sessions last 5 minutes or less due to safety.

Extremely cold temperatures – Colder temperatures should increase metabolic activity and calorie burn more than less frigid temps.

Individual characteristics – Variables like existing muscle mass, fat levels, age, and gender may impact individual calorie burn response.

Consistency – Repeated cryotherapy exposures may boost metabolism better long-term versus infrequent sessions.

Other activities – Doing other calorie-burning activities shortly before or after cryotherapy may increase effects.

So while more research is still needed, it appears factors like colder, longer sessions and individual characteristics like higher muscle mass might enable more calories to be burned during cryotherapy appointments.

Cryotherapy vs. other cold therapies

Cryotherapy using an extreme cold chamber is not the only way to expose the body to cold for health and calorie burn benefits. Here’s how cryotherapy stacks up against other cold therapy techniques:

Cold Therapy Method Temperature Duration Calorie Burn Potential
Cryotherapy chamber -200°F to -250°F 2-5 minutes Low
Ice baths 50-59°F 10-20 minutes Moderate
Cold showers 50-68°F 5-15+ minutes Low to moderate
Cold compresses 36-60°F 20+ minutes Very low

Ice baths, where the body is immersed in frigid water for 10-20 minutes, seem to have greater potential to burn calories than cryotherapy sessions. The longer exposure time allows more muscle shivering and metabolic action. But tolerating such cold water for that long can be extremely uncomfortable. Cryotherapy then allows for briefer cold exposure at lower temperatures that is still uncomfortable but more bearable. Ultimately, both cryotherapy and ice baths tend to burn modest amounts of energy.

Should you try cryotherapy for weight loss?

Cryotherapy sessions can definitely support calorie burning, but likely only burn up to about 100 calories per session. The metabolic boost also fades quickly once sessions end. So cryotherapy is not a replacement for regular moderate-to-high intensity exercise or reducing calorie intake for meaningful weight loss and fat burning.

However, cryotherapy could provide some marginal calorie burn benefits when combined with a healthy lifestyle:

– After intense workouts to accelerate recovery

– Alongside strength training sessions to support muscle

– Following HIIT or cardio exercise to prolong fat burning

– Before meals to boost metabolism slightly

– In a series of sessions (10-20) for potential cumulative effects

But results will vary significantly for each individual. Overall, cryotherapy is not a shortcut for weight loss on its own. Consistent diet and exercise is key for substantial fat loss. Cryotherapy offers more benefits like temporary pain relief, supporting exercise performance, reducing inflammation, and improving circulation. Any calorie burn is just a nice added perk.

Other cryotherapy benefits

While not a magic bullet for fat loss, cryotherapy does offer numerous other evidence-based benefits:

Faster post-workout recovery

The cold reduces inflammation and soreness after strenuous workouts or competitive events. This allows athletes to recover and train harder more frequently.

Injury treatment

Cryotherapy helps treat sports injuries and musculoskeletal pain by temporarily numbing sore areas and reducing swelling. It can be used alongside physical therapy.

Arthritis relief

Research shows cryotherapy can relieve pain and stiffness from inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Reduced nerve pain

Cold therapy is thought to “turn down” overactive nerves that cause chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia. Cryotherapy offers temporary numbness and pain relief.

Healthier skin

Brief cold exposure constricts blood vessels and then flushes fresh oxygenated blood through the skin afterwards. This may help reduce signs of aging like fine lines and sun spots.

Mood boost

The cold triggers release of feel-good endorphins. Cryotherapy may also regulate the stress hormone cortisol and have antidepressant effects for some people.

Better sleep

Studies show exposure to colder temperatures at night can help boost melatonin levels and improve sleep quality. Cryotherapy may help reset the circadian rhythm.

Increased willpower

There is some research that cold exposure can strengthen mental willpower and self-discipline through adapting to physical discomfort. This may support health behavior change.

Is cryotherapy safe?

Cryotherapy is generally safe for most healthy adults when appropriate precautions are taken:

– Wear gloves, socks, slippers, facial mask and ear protection to avoid risk of frostbite. Never touch the chamber walls directly.

– Avoid going longer than 5 minutes per session. Session length should be gradually increased from 1-2 minutes at first.

– Listen to your body. Discontinue use if you feel any worrisome symptoms like severe pain, dizziness, breathing issues, or numbness.

– Stay hydrated before and after. Cryotherapy can dry out nasal passages.

– Avoid alcohol before sessions which can amplify blood pressure changes.

– Discuss with your doctor first if you have serious health conditions, especially related to the heart, lungs or circulation. Avoid cryotherapy if you are pregnant.

– Use common sense. Don’t jump into the most extreme temperatures right away. Build up tolerance gradually.

With proper precautions, cryotherapy can be used safely for a variety of health and wellness goals. Be sure to receive clear guidance from certified providers. And consider your primary motivation since other proven treatments may offer better targeted benefits, like icing injuries or exercising for weight loss. But the refreshing jolt of cryotherapy can complement a healthy lifestyle when used smartly.


Cryotherapy can burn some extra calories thanks to the body cranking up metabolic activity to combat the extreme cold. However, research suggests the calorie burn is fairly minimal, in the range of 45-100 calories per typical 2-5 minute session. While every bit helps, this is a small fraction of most people’s daily calorie expenditure. So cryotherapy is likely not an effective weight loss strategy by itself. Lasting fat loss requires consistent diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes. Nevertheless, cryotherapy may offer some marginal calorie burn benefits when paired strategically with exercise, healthy eating habits, and lifestyle optimization. Beyond a slight uptick in energy output, cryotherapy also provides other advantages like accelerating muscle recovery, reducing pain and stiffness, boosting circulation, improving mood, and regulating sleep patterns. When applied judiciously and safely, cryotherapy can be a helpful wellness tool that may also provide mild calorie burn advantages. But more research is still needed on precise metabolic impacts over the long-term.

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