Cold shower vs hot shower
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Cold shower vs Hot shower

Taking cold shower vs. hot shower has been an ongoing debate for a long time. It is time to settle it in this insightful read. Hydrotherapy or water therapy has been used globally by individuals for centuries. Different benefits have been accrued to the different temperatures of water used.

Benefits of cold showers

Taking cold showers may not be a pleasant experience; however, there are certain health benefits attached to cold showers, and they include:

  1. To calm itchy body: According to Friedman Adam, MD, a cold shower can help you to overcome the urge to stretch if you have a skin condition that makes you itch.
  2. Circulation improvement: One of the top reasons experts recommend cold showers for increased circulation. During a cold shower, as cold water touches the external limbs and the body, the blood vessels on the skin’s surface can constrict. It causes the diversion of blood flow from the skin’s surface. To maintain an ideal body temperature, it will cause the circulation of blood at a faster rate in the deeper tissues. There is an improvement in circulation in the deeper tissues because blood vessels found in the deeper body tissues will dilate as the blood travels away from the skin.
  3. To help wake one up in the morning: A bit of shock is experienced when one takes a cold shower. This shock will cause an increase in the intake of oxygen, heart rate, and level of alertness. 
  4. Gives a healthy glow to your hair and skin: Scientific research concerning the effect of a cold shower on hair and skin is limited. Dr. Jacqueline Schaffer, MD, a wellness expert, believes that a healthier skin glow is observed when cold showers are taken because the blood flow is constricted and tightened. 

The sebum layer, which provides protection for the skin and hair and is a naturally lubricated barrier, doesn’t dry out when the cold shower is used rather than hot water. Hair may more likely be healthier and stronger due to the effects of cold showers on it.

5. Cortisol level reduction: In response to stress, the body releases cortisol hormone. It is also known as the “fight or flight” hormone. The level of cortisol hormone drops when immersed in a cold water bath, according to researchers. Stress levels may be reduced when the cortisol level in the blood decreases.

6. Weight loss booster: Brown fat, a kind of fat cells that, according to Gerrit Keferstein, MD, are mainly situated around the shoulder and neck area, can generate heat by burning fat. Exposure to cold situations like a cold shower can cause this to happen.

7. Reduction of muscle soreness and fatigue after an intense workout: For a long time, professionals, after a game or race, will soothe their sore muscles using ice baths. A cold shower after an intense workout will help relax the muscle and repair the muscles. Cold water is said to have regenerative properties. In a study conducted in 2009 where one group was exposed to tepid water immersion and another to cold water immersion to study the effect of cold water immersion on physical performance among athletes, it was observed that there was no difference in the physical performance of the two groups. However, the teachers observed a significantly lower perception of muscle soreness and weakness among those immersed in cold water.

Benefits of a hot shower

One may be tempted to take a hot shower to ease the stress of the day, especially when having trouble sleeping. According to Keferstein, the parasympathetic nervous system, which makes one tired, is activated during a hot shower.

1. Cardiovascular health improvement: arterial stiffness occurs due to less flexibility of the arteries within the body. In a study conducted in 2012 to see the effect of warm water immersion on arterial stiffness, it was observed that those who had their feet and lower leg submerged in warm water for 30 minutes showed reduced arterial stiffness while those who didn’t report anything. 

A hydrotherapy review done in 2014 showed that in people with chronic heart failure, it was observed that warm water improved their blood flow. This is because when exposed to high temperatures, the blood vessels widen naturally.

2. Cold and respiratory symptoms relief: the use of a hot shower as a natural remedy to relieve symptoms of cold and cough has been in existence for a long time. The heat from the steam and water can help to loosen the phlegm, opening of the airways, and help to clear the nasal passage

3. Improved sleep: The National Heart, Lung, And Blood Institute recommends, as a way of sleep improvement, to take a hot shower before bed. This improvement in quality of sleep after a hot shower is due to the ability of the body to relax after the shower and, thereafter, a fall in temperature

4. It helps with blemishes: Taking a hot shower will help the skin’s pores to open, allowing one to clean out the dirt and oil that is trapped. 

5. Good for muscle relaxation: Hot water can help relieve the body’s tension and soothe muscle fatigue. 

Demerits of cold and hot showers

  • Even though taking a cold shower does have its benefits, it will not be good to take it when ill because of the harshness of the cold temperature on the immune system at that time. It won’t be a good idea to have a cold shower when you are cold since one won’t get warmed up by it. 
  • Hot water can cause the keratin cells located on the epidermis, that is, the outer layer of the skin, to be damaged, according to Schaffer. This disruption of the cells will cause the skin to be dried, thereby preventing the cell from locking moisture in. Hot showers can also worsen certain skin conditions like eczema. According to Friedman, the use of a hot shower can cause itching. This is because mast cells that contain histamine will release their content when the body is exposed to heat, thereby causing your body to itch. It can also cause an increase in blood pressure hence worsening cardiovascular disease. There is the risk of burns and heat stroke when exposed to too hot a bath.

Which is better, a hot shower or a cold shower? 

The use of hot and cold showers has benefits attached to them. How does one manage this?

  • Keferstein is an age-old technique called a contrast shower developed by Dr. Sebastian Kneipp. In this technique, you alternate between a cold and hot shower for one minute each for three to five cycles. In this case, you stand in a cold shower for a minute, alternate to the hot shower for another minute, then repeat the cycle (the temperature of both showers should be what you can tolerate). In techniques, he believes that the constriction of the blood vessel by cold water will cause the blood to go to the middle of the body, and the blood will come rushing out as a result of the dilation of the blood vessel caused by the hot water. This will cause blood to be pumped completely through the organs and the muscle helping with detoxification and regeneration.
  • Another technique proposed by Friedman is using a moisturizer to dampen skin after a bath with tolerable lukewarm water.
benefits of cold shower and hot shower
Picture courtesy: Pinterest

How do cold showers or hot showers affect the body and sleep?

  • A study conducted in 2002 observed that the sympathetic nervous system is activated on exposure to cold, which will cause the body to release cortisol and norepinephrine hormones. Throughout the day, the body releases cortisol in a predictable pattern, with the level at its lowest at midnight and peaking at about 9 am. Studies have observed that poorer sleep has been associated with increased cortisol. The observation could suggest that a cold bath at night may not be beneficial however could be useful for one who intends to stay alert during the day.
  • Those who took a hot shower for at least 10 mins, one or two hours before sleep, had their quality of sleep improved more than those who didn’t, according to a systematic review that was done in 2019. A researcher found that in the study conducted for over a thousand adults aged 72 years who had a hot shower before bedtime, the participants fell asleep faster than those who did not have a hot shower. In another study done that year, the blood pressure of older patients dropped for those who had a warm bath 11 to 15 minutes before sleeping.

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