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Hot Showers vs. Cold Showers

There's nothing like stepping into a steaming cascade of warm water, especially on a chilly morning or after a tiring day. Hot showers have long been associated with relaxation, comfort, and numerous health benefits. Meanwhile, cold showers have been promoted to wake you up and speed muscle recovery.

At the end of a session with a new client, she asked me which I would recommend. Should she take a hot or cold shower? I couldn't give her a clear answer, so I started digging into the research. I found that the answer depends on your current health and goals.

Benefits of Hot Showers
(Water temperature over 80 degrees Fahrenheit and typically between 104-109 degrees.)

1. Muscle Relaxation: Hot showers work wonders for relieving muscle tension and stiffness. The warmth helps to increase blood circulation, caused by a natural widening of the blood vessels when exposed to high temperatures.

2. Stress Relief: The sensation of warm water cascading down your body can induce a sense of tranquility and reduce stress levels.

3. Improved Sleep: Taking a hot shower 1-2 hours before bed can facilitate better sleep. The rise in body temperature followed by a gradual drop after the shower can aid in inducing drowsiness, leading to a more restful night's sleep.

4. Clear Airways: The steam generated by hot showers can help to open up congested airways, providing relief from respiratory conditions such as colds, allergies, and sinusitis. The moist air can soothe irritated nasal passages and promote easier breathing.

Drawbacks of Hot Showers

1. Dry Skin: Prolonged exposure to hot water can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to dryness, itchiness, and potential irritation. To mitigate this, it's advisable to keep shower durations moderate and use moisturizers to replenish lost moisture.

2. Blood Pressure Concerns: Hot showers can cause a temporary decrease in blood pressure due to the dilation of blood vessels. For some people the blood pressure drops so low they passs out. Individuals with cardiovascular conditions should exercise caution and consult their healthcare provider before indulging in hot showers.

Benefits of Cold Showers
(Water temperature under 70 degrees Fahrenheit and typically between 50-60 degrees.)

1. Increased Alertness: Cold showers act as an instant wake-up call, stimulating the body's natural adrenaline response. Cold water's shock can help improve mental clarity, increase alertness, and jumpstart your day with a burst of energy.

2. Elevated Heart Rate: When hit with cold water, the circulatory system goes into overdrive, increasing heart rate by drawing blood away from extremities and keeping internal organs warm. This temporarily increases overall circulation.

3. Enhanced Mood and Resilience: Cold showers have been linked to increased endorphin release, uplifting mood and providing a natural, invigorating high. They can also help to build mental and physical resilience by training the body to adapt to discomfort and stress.

4. Skin and Hair Health: Cold water tightens the skin, making it appear firmer and more youthful. It can also help to seal the hair cuticles, reducing frizz and increasing shine.

What temperature is your shower?

Drawbacks of Cold Showers

1. Discomfort for Some: Cold showers can shock the system, and not everyone finds the sensation enjoyable. Some individuals may find it difficult to adjust to the initial coldness and may experience discomfort, especially during colder seasons.

2. Limited Relaxation Benefits: Unlike hot showers, which induce relaxation, cold showers are known for their stimulating properties. While this can benefit some, those seeking a calming and soothing experience may find cold showers less satisfying in terms of relaxation.

3. Circulatory Issues: Individuals with certain circulatory conditions, such as Raynaud's disease, may find cold showers make their symptoms worse. It's important to consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns regarding the impact of cold showers on your specific health condition.

And finally, an argument for lukewarm or tepid showers. If you're sweating a lot after a workout, avoid turning the heat up because it'll keep your skin warm and the sweat coming. Don't go the icy route either; your body will send warm blood to the skin, which will also keep you sweating. Instead, take a mild or tepid shower to stop perspiration the quickest.

Remember that most studies on water temperatures involve fully submerging those body parts in a bath for around 30 minutes. Since a shower tends to be much shorter than a bath, your choice should be on the immediate benefits and outcomes you're trying to achieve.

Reference Links:

The Effect of Cold Showering on Health and Work: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Geert A. Buijze, Inger N. Sierevelt, Bas C. J. M. van der Heijden, Marcel G. Dijkgraaf, and Monique H. W. Frings-Dresen, Jacobus van Wouwe
PLoS One, Published online 2016 Sep 15. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0161749

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Effects of cold-water immersion on physical performance between successive matches in high-performance junior male soccer players

Greg J Rowsell 1, Aaron J Coutts, Peter Reaburn, Stephen Hill-Haas
Journal of Sports Sciences, Published 2009 Apr;27(6):565-73. doi: 10.1080/02640410802603855.

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Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression

Nikolai A. Shevchuk
Medical Hypotheses, Received 10 April 2007, Accepted 18 April 2007, Available online 13 November 2007.

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Cold exposure: Human immune responses and intracellular cytokine expression

John Castellani, Ingrid Karen Maria Brenner, Shawn Rhind
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Published January 2003, 34(12):2013-20

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The effect of self-administered superficial local hot and cold application methods on pain, functional status and quality of life in primary knee osteoarthritis patients

Semra Aciksoz, Aygul Akyuz, Servet Tunay
Journal of Clinical Nursing, Published 2017 Dec;26(23-24):5179-5190. doi: 10.1111/jocn.14070. Epub 2017 Oct 10.

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Scientific Evidence-Based Effects of Hydrotherapy on Various Systems of the Body

A Mooventhan and L Nivethitha
North American Journal of Medical Sciences, Published 2014 May; 6(5): 199–209. doi: 10.4103/1947-2714.132935

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Head-out immersion in hot water increases serum BDNF in healthy males

Daisuke Kojima, Takeshi Nakamura, Motohiko Banno, Yasunori Umemoto, Tokio Kinoshita,Yuko Ishida & Fumihiro Tajima
International Journal of Hyperthermia, Received 25 Jun 2017, Accepted 15 Oct 2017, Published online: 20 Nov 2017

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Acute effects of warm footbath on arterial stiffness in healthy young and older women

Qingfeng Hu, Weili Zhu, Yili Zhu, Lu Zheng & Richard L. Hughson
European Journal of Applied Physiology, Published 21 July 2011

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Before-bedtime passive body heating by warm shower or bath to improve sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Shahab Haghayegh, Sepideh Khoshnevis, Michael H. Smolensky, Kenneth R. Diller, Richard J. Castriotta
Sleep Medicine Reviews, Received 23 September 2018, Revised 11 April 2019, Accepted 15 April 2019, Available online 19 April 2019, Version of Record 16 May 2019.

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