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Hot vs cold showers

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

How do you like your shower? Freezing or hot spring?
How do you like your shower? Freezing or hot spring?

You’ve probably asked yourself the question. “Are cold showers good for you?”

If you have then I’ll bet you’ve been a little bit afraid to try one. Am I right?

Well, lots of health professionals say they are. But, what they very rarely say is that a cool shower can be just as beneficial as a cold one. In fact, in certain circumstances, a cool shower can be even better. And, is certainly far more pleasant.

Similarly, a warm or hot shower can promote other health benefits, but an extremely hot one can be dangerous.

In case you weren’t sure what is classed as hot or cold water, we’ll outline the temperatures here. The best temperature to have a hot shower is just above blood heat at about 100°F or 38°C. If you choose a temperature higher than this you risk damaging your skin.

A cold shower is anything below about 70°F or 21°C. How far below that temperature you go, is up to you and is what you can cope with.

So, what are the facts about cold vs hot showers? And, is it a good idea to use a varying water temperature for different purposes?

All we can do is present the facts and leave it up to you to decide whether you prefer a cold or hot shower.

Benefits of hot showers

One of the simplest differences between hot and cold showers is that soap doesn’t lather as well in cold water compared to hot. As the primary reason for having a shower or a bath is to get clean, it makes sense to use warm or slightly hotter water.

Apart from being a pleasant thing to do and a way to get yourself clean, warm and hot water also have certain benefits, some of which seem obvious, but others might surprise you. Let’s delve a bit deeper into this and see what they are.

Relieves stiff muscles

Now, this is an obvious one. If you have sore or stiff muscles from too much exercise or neck pain from having a rough night sleep, try having a hot shower. The water pounding against your skin will massage the muscles and the heat will promote blood circulation to the skin, encouraging healing of any small tears and strains in the surface muscles.

Relieving stress

A hot shower will relax your muscles and help to reduce tension. Perfect for rejuvenating after a hard day at the office. Or, if you had to lockdown during the global Covid-19 outbreak, you’ll know that working from home can be just as stressful as going into the workplace everyday. And, a hot shower will set you up for a relaxing evening at home.

Helps you sleep

Because the hot water relieves stress and relaxes muscles, it will also get your body and mind into a state ready for sleep. You don’t need to take sleeping pills, a warm or hot shower is probably one of the best cures for insomnia there is.

Relieves congestion

If you are suffering from a chesty cough or a blocked nose, steam from a hot shower is one of the best ways to relieve the symptoms. The warm moisture dilutes the mucus and makes it easier for the body to remove it.

Relieves migraines and headaches

Unless you have a medical issue, the commonest cause of pain associated with headaches and migraines is the constriction of blood vessels in the brain. The warmth from a hot shower dilates the blood vessels, increasing the blood flow to the neck and shoulder muscles, and the brain, thus reducing headaches.

By the way, remember that if you have continual headaches that don’t respond to these and other home remedies, speak to a doctor.

Cold shower benefits

Even though cold showers can be an unpleasant experience, they are very common in many countries and have been throughout history in various cultures. But, why is that? What fantastic benefits outweigh the unpleasantness of being immersed in cold water? If you look back at the start of this article you’ll find that a cold shower is regarded as any temperature below about 70°F or 21°C . If you research on the benefits of cold water immersion, you’ll find many weird and wacky philosophies that promote this as a way to cure just about any disease you can think of. But, is there any truth in it? Cold water probably can’t cure diseases otherwise it would be part of mainstream medicine. But, it’s common in hospitals to reduce a fever temperature using ice packs, and it may be a way to tone up your body for exercise and sport.

Many athletes, bodybuilders and celebrities use cryo-therapy, as it’s called, to improve their health and wellbeing. One particular method of cryo-therapy called the Wim Hof Method, uses cold or iced water immersion as its main feature. If you want to try this method as part of your regular exercise routine, the Wim Hof Method Academy has a website in which you’ll be able to sign up for the training under the watchful eye of its team of instructors. At the time of writing they’re offering a free mini class to teach you the rudiments of the method.

Wim Hof inventor of the Wim Hof method emerging from icy water
Wim Hof inventor of the Wim Hof method emerging from icy water

PHOTO CREDIT: djandyw.com via Flickr under this CreativeCommons license

So, what do cold showers actually do?

Whereas hot showers encourage blood flow near the skin, cold showers encourage better circulation deeper into the body around your organs. Increased blood flow around these will help them to operate more efficiently and increases the blood flow around the body in general.

Increased energy

Cold showers in the morning invigorate the body, leaving you gasping for air. This increases your oxygen intake and heart rate. Your brain wakes up quickly improving your awareness and energising your body ready for its daily routine.

Improves resilience

As we said earlier, cold showers are difficult to get into. You need a lot of courage to do so and it takes some time before your body becomes accustomed to the colder temperature. The cold water numbs your nervous system and reduces stress. Your increased courage and calmer outlook make you less likely to panic and over-react to circumstances in your daily life.

Boosts the immune system

The body increases its metabolism as a natural reaction to taking a cold shower. Your body reacts to the trauma and produces more blood and especially white blood cells as a way of fighting off the perceived attack. The raised number of white blood cells increases our ability to withstand disease and the increased core blood flow helps to regenerate damaged cells.

Skin rejuvenation

Overusing hot water removes the natural oils from the skin and reduces the effectiveness of the fatty layer just under the skin. We need these as they both help keep our skin moist and flexible and the fatty layer helps to protect our bodies from the cold. Fortunately, cold water doesn’t affect either of these features, resulting in a flexible and rejuvenated skin layer.

May help depression

When we immerse our body in cold water, the shock forces our nervous system to send a message to the brain that then releases hormones to reduce depression. Although medical problems must not be ignored and you must always seek the advice of a qualified doctor if you suffer from depression, a cold bath or shower may help your body cope with this problem. This in turn may reduce the amount of anti-depressant drugs you use. If you suffer from this illness, and want to see how effective a cold shower can be, speak to your doctor first.

Massage and hydrotherapy

Many massage therapy sessions use cold and hot water shower jets to stimulate different parts of our bodies to promote different effects. Most modern showerheads have settings to provide different spray patterns for varying purposes. Choose a showerhead with different types of spray patterns such as the StoneStream® EcoPower multifunction showerhead, and follow the instructions for use. This allows you to have your own massage and hydrotherapy sessions every day at a fraction of the cost. Combining the massage with essential oils mixed with almond oil will bring the benefits of basic aromatherapy techniques into your daily shower.

Shower with a friend

The best way to incorporate cold shower massage into your routine is to start with a normal hot shower and soap to wash any grime from your skin.

Gradually lower the water temperature for a few minutes until the temperature is cold enough to make you want to get out of the shower! Stay with it for a while until your body becomes used to the reduced temperature and you no longer feel the cold.

Choose a massage or pulsing showerhead pattern and move it across your body, working on the various muscles.

When you’ve had enough, turn off the water and rub your skin with the massage oil. Even better, ask your partner to do it for you.

The friction from the rub will stimulate your skin and get the blood flowing back to the surface.

Do this two or three times a week and you will start to feel renewed energy with more relaxed muscles.

Choose your showerhead

Many manufacturers design and produce showerheads with varying settings to produce different spray patterns. Some StoneStream® products such as the EcoPower Showerhead have three settings:

  • Rainfall.

  • Jetting.

  • Massage.

Each of these spray patterns provides a different sensation and has a different use. Try each one to get a feel for your favourite.

We hope you enjoy your shower massage, but even more, we hope this article has opened your eyes to the many applications and benefits for which you might use your shower. In particular, if you already use your shower for purely hot water washing, you now know that you may get real benefits from your cold shower too.

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