The debate of which type of shower is more beneficial for you has been going on for decades, even longer, but as of recently more and more people stray away from their daily hot showers and give cold water a try. Whether you are hot showers vs cold showers type of person, you need to understand that each of those has their own benefits and risks and they affect your body in fundamentally different ways. In this article, I will walk you through some of the most important aspects of each of the two kinds of showers and will try to answer some of the trending questions in this ongoing debate.
Let’s start first with the cold showers and see how they affect your body and what their benefits and risks are…
Purely from an evolutionary standpoint, cold showers are the far older and more traditional approach to washing your body. If you are new to them, they won’t be the most comfortable thing in the beginning but as your body adapts over time, they will slowly become a vital part of your everyday routine and will enhance your cold-resistance, endurance, and other vital bodily functions. It is important to know that jumping straight into the icy-cold bathtub or shower isn’t the best way to introduce yourself to them and if you want to get into cold-water submersion it is always a good idea to have someone with you to make sure everything goes smoothly, no matter how experienced you are.
There are four major benefits that cold showers give you. They are all associated with either your cardiovascular system or your endocrine system by affecting the small blood vessels and various hormone releases.
- Circulatory improvements – When the cold water hits your body, the first thing that happens is that your small blood vessels right beneath the skin shrink in order to relocate the blood from your extremities to your core (chest). This relocation is done in order to keep the blood where it is most needed – heart, lungs, and brain. That process of shrinking the muscle wall of your blood vessels is actually known to benefit the vessels themselves making them more flexible and resistant to physical stress over time. That same effect from the cold shower increases oxygen intake in your tissues which then increases the circulation back. That back and forth between our body’s first and second responses creates a higher demand from your heart slightly raising your heart rate and breathing depth. These effects bring us to the second important benefit you experience…
- A decrease in fatigue – You don’t really have to take my word for it. Just wake up one morning and splash some icy cold water on your face. This, while on a much smaller scale, will show you how cold water increases your body’s metabolism and, in turn, wakes you up faster. Some researchers even compare the cold water effect to drinking coffee, as it also makes our bodies release stress hormones like adrenaline and norepinephrine. These hormones are our body’s natural response to the physical stress that the cold water is. By releasing them, you immediately become more alert and awake. Caffeine has the same effect, although it takes a different path in order to release those same hormones.
- Improved mental health – Cold showers also help us maintain healthy levels of serotonin and also helps us reduce the spikes of cortisol which is another chronic stress hormone. Cold by itself (be it from water or just the air around you) also makes our bodies send more electrical impulses to the brain, resulting in a stimulating effect that is known to help people tackle depression, according to a study.
- Weight loss – There are two types of fat in our bodies – white and brown. White fat is used to store fats and help us keep a healthy level of heat insulation. Brown fat is high on energy and is easier and more accessible to our bodies in times of high energetic needs. When taking a cold shower, our bodies start burning calories and activate the brown-fat metabolic pathways which use that type of fat for the sudden energy demands. Not only will that reduce your fat tissue levels but it will also give you a sudden jolt of energy that is great to start your day with.
As a whole, the main theory behind cold showers is that you expose your body to extreme physical stress in order to let it learn how to handle chronic one. Chronic stress is everything that makes us anxious, nervous, worried, or neurotic during our busy everyday lives. By taking cold showers every morning you reduce the stress your job and life cause to your body since you train your body to become more and more accustomed to it and with time, these stress hormones get released less and less, resulting in a better overall mental health. Your cardiovascular system is also getting a slight workout every time your body goes under the icy water. Still, there are certain risks to this depending on the circumstances, so let’s talk about that now…
Cold showers always hold the risk of cooling you down a bit too much. If you temperature drops below 90 degrees, you can experience a sudden drop in your blood pressure, irregularities in your heartbeat, decreased breathing rate, and even lethargy.
There are also a few more issues that can vary a lot from person to person. For starters, the pure shock of the cold water can shut down your body, which is why when you’re showing you need to take things slowly at first. Dip your leg, then your arm, and then jump in for the full-body experience. With full water immersion, though, things have to be taken a bit more seriously. Avoid doing it on your own, and even if you do, make sure you don’t just submerse yourself into the bathtub but rather take a slower approach just like with the shower.
Other more subjective risks, or rather – disadvantages, can be solely based on the excitement or fear of trying it out. Some people report anxiety or trouble sleeping, knowing that they will have to wake up and add an ice-cold shower to their already daunting to-do list. Some people also show no health improvements or any difference in their energy levels. It is important to mention that, while humans are more or less identical anatomically-wise, they have quite polarizing character differences which can make them more prone to changes (or less so…). This is why it is important to start slow and not just rush yourself in. That way, you will let your body adapt and you will have higher chances of growing to like cold showers and enjoying their benefits.
How to get started
A good trick that I learned when I started my cold-water routine years ago was to set a certain time period in which I want to fully embrace the cold. For me, that was a full month, meaning I had around 30 days to get used to the cold water every morning.
Another thing you can use to your advantage is gradually letting your body get familiar with colder and colder waters. The first few days I just had the water at a lukewarm temperature but at the end of every shower, I just did a quick 5-10 second ice-cold session just to get used to the slight shock you get.
As time went on, I started increasing those seconds until I reached a few minutes. I was still starting my shower with warmer water, though, which was the final hurdle I had to go against. At around the 20th day, I did my first fully cold shower from start to finish which lasted around 3-5 minutes. can’t be sure as time really moves slower when you are struggling to take a breath. Actually, on that note, one good indicator of how well your body handles the sudden stress is by focusing on your breathing. Once your breathing frequency normalizes and you start breathing in without any issues, that’s the time when your body gets used to the cold. It still takes me around 30 seconds to get to that place but the cold is far less pronounced feelings-wise now than it was before.
While I did it this way, this doesn’t mean you have to. Some people prefer jumping straight into deep waters by taking a solely cold shower from day 1. Others prefer taking a hot shower before going cold. Experiment with this and notice how your body reacts to different scenarios.
The short-term effects were noticeable to me almost immediately after the very first shower I took. I felt revitalized, full of energy, and surprisingly alert for 7 am in the morning. I didn’t drink coffee that day and had a good mood all the way to my bed later that night.
The long-term effects are still felt even years after I first started doing this, and that is common among all people taking regular cold showers. Chronic stress levels from work and other life-related issues are greatly numbed and energy levels are consistently high, even without coffee. In fact, coffee turned from an everyday necessity to an occasional beverage whenever I felt I needed a little bit of extra motivation.
My body’s fat percentage also normalized greatly and there are far fewer fluctuations from summer to winter now. Fat loss is also relevantly easier than before even with me having more culinary freedoms.
Who doesn’t like a good long hot shower, right? That feeling of warmth and comfort when the water is going over your body, allowing you to reflect on your dreams, ideas, or even your favourite song. That brief little moment in time where you are alone with your thoughts under the hugging comfort of the hot water. These showers offer as many benefits as the cold ones, even though in a slightly different way but have actual real documented risks contrary to the cold water showers. Let’s get into that now…
There is a huge number of benefits linked to taking hot showers. Here are some of the most important ones:
- Helps with falling asleep – Hot water relaxes our muscles and prepares our body to fall asleep better. these showers also relax us mentally, further allowing us to enter deeper sleep stages faster.
- Lowered blood sugar – Recent studies showed that a long hot bath is the same as talking a short walk calories-wise. The blood sugar response was similar on both occasions as well.
- Lowered blood pressure – Hot showers have been shown to reduce blood pressure. Still, they increase your heart rate at first so make sure your doctor approves of it, especially if you have an ongoing cardiovascular issue.
- Reduced muscle tension – If you ask any athlete what is his favourite part of his recovery period, the hot shower will most likely be the first response. While cold baths are great for muscle recovery, warm baths relax the muscles and joints and help relieve tension.
- Skin benefits – Have you ever wondered why hot water showers make you feel cleaner than cold ones? Well, the short reply is that hot water has better cleaning properties and sticks to surfaces better than the cold one. Hot water also opens up the pores in our skin and washes the dirt and toxins stuck in there. It also moisturizes our skin better and prevents dry skin or skin cracks over time.
- Circulatory benefits – Similar to the cold shower, the hot water improves blood circulation and metabolism in your tissues. The warmth opens up all the smallest vessels and blood reaches every little part of your body in a more efficient way. That is one of the reasons why your skin is redder after a hot shower. That is thanks to the small blood vessels opened right beneath the skin. The same logic can be used when using hot showers for treating headaches. Most of those headaches are caused by strictures in your brain’s blood vessels which is overturned by the hot water effect.
- Mental benefits – While researches still aren’t 100% sure why hot showers make us feel good and reflect on our lives, there is no doubt that this is something that everybody experiences. The warm water reduces anxiety and calms us down, which allows us to wonder anywhere we want in our mind, making us more content and happy.
Saunas and steam rooms have similar effects on our bodies as the hot showers. But how are they different from one another? Click here to read more on the subject! Now, let’s go through some of the risks you have to keep in mind when taking long and hot baths.
The main risks of a hot shower are – heat stroke, dehydration, or a high heart rate. Heat strokes are actually quite often as people tend to forget the time when they are under the hot water. The body quickly overheats and, with no viable means of cooling down under the water stream, it starts to overheat. The first symptoms are dizziness and headache which often get contributed to something else. In other words, a lot of people get mild head strokes without realizing it. Still, this isn’t healthy, so you need to either keep an eye on the time or just give your body windows in which it can cool down. This is yet another reason why alternating between hot and cold water is so good for you.
Dehydration is another risk that people easily overlook. When our bodies het up we start sweating more. But since you are surrounded by water it is hard to notice when you’re sweating profusely. This is even more pronounced when you lay for a while in a bathtub which heats us up even more. Drinking a glass of water after a long hot shower is a good way to counter this effect.
The increased heart rate usually isn’t an issue for people in good health but is extremely risky for people with cardiovascular issues. This is why you need to consult your physician if you want to start taking hot showers on a regular basis for him to clear you of any underlying heart conditions that might worsen.
Another way to increase your body’s core temperature is via a sauna suit. You can check some of my favourite models for this year by going to my full Buyer’s Guide on the topic!
Contrast Showers – A Good Alternative?
Alternating between cold and hot water in the span of a single shower has been proven to greatly reduce the number of sick days a person takes from its job and also improves the overall productivity and quality of life according to the participants in the test. The effects of the cold water were even directly compared to exercising, so if you ever needed an excuse to skip the gym, this seems like a good one.
Still, going from hot to cold and then back to hot water also eliminates some of the risks that are linked to only taking one type of shower or the other. For instance, the cold part of your shower will cool your body down after you’ve heated it up with the hot water. That same hot water will also help you clean your skin better and help maintain a good level of moisture in it, while the cold will increase blood vessel durability. All these effects are logical but the most logical benefit of going through hot and cold water during your showers is the fact that you will be able to do it. Cold showers are definitely tough in the beginning and helping yourself with warm water in-between “rounds” will definitely help you tackle that initial stress.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you get used to the cold water?
Getting used to the cold water is considered a myth for some people mainly because they never get used to it. Cold water will always feel, well… cold. But learning to appreciate and like the sensation might numb some of its effects on your skin. In my opinion, there is definitely some adjustment process going on in your nervous system but even after years of taking them, they still feel cold and it still takes me a few moments to get a grip over my body’s breathing.
Does the cold shower have to be 100% cold water?
The short answer is no. Many experts think that alternating between warm and cold water has a better effect on your issues driving more oxygen and nutrients to them, which promotes detoxification and reduces the lactate concentration in your blood. That, on its own, promotes muscle recovery. This is why “Contrast showers” are gaining popularity as of late.
Knowing the various benefits and risks of overdoing each of them will help you pick a side in the hot showers vs cold showers debate. Choosing to do either one of them isn’t necessarily a decision that completely eliminates the usage of the other type. The smart thing to do is to know how and when to alternate between hot and cold showers. Different temperatures have different effects on our bodies and knowing these effects can allow you to take advantage depending on what you need. A good rule of thumb would be to take cold showers earlier in the morning and hot showers after workouts or before you go to bed.