Hot vs. Cold – The Benefits of Each

Hot vs. Cold - The Benefits of Each

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6 Benefits of Taking a Hot Shower

Lowers Body Tension

As the muscles become more relaxed overall body tension will lower as the joints, tendons and tissues begin to loosen up. In the absence of regular movement, stretching and active muscle-recovery, you will find that your muscles and tendons will tighten up horrifically; consider when you’ve been sitting in one position for a prolonged period of time – waiting for an appointment, taking an exam, or watching a super-long movie at the cinema, or sitting at a desk job all day long, for example – and then you suddenly get up and just feel super tight and tense… Doing something like yoga, partaking in exercise, and stretching regularly helps wonders, but a hot shower to boot can really pay dividends in helping to keep body tension to a minimum.

Relaxes the Muscles

I know that most of us are either morning shower-takers or night-time shower-takers… And I also know that some people just don’t take a shower after their workout – I’ve heard reasons ranging from, ‘I’ll just shower tonight’ to ‘I can’t be bothered’, or ‘The shower facilities at my gym are gross – no way I’m stepping foot in there!’, and other excuses that make taking a shower after a workout just seem like a supposed hassle. However, I implore you to reconsider… The warmth of a hot shower will quickly help open up the circulatory system and get blood flowing around the body. This enhanced blood-flow will in turn help to ease pain, reduce inflammation and stimulate the healing processes. All of this is essential if you work out regularly!

Alleviates Migraines

One of the main issues with migraines is the restricted blood-flow to the brain. Standing under a [relatively*] hot shower and allowing the water to run down the back of your head and neck can expand the blood vessels in the cervical spine, and permit improved circulation that will alleviate the effects of a migraine. *Make sure the shower water isn’t TOO hot or this might actually worsen things as your muscles and tendons seize from the heat-shock, which will create more tension, thus restricting blood-flow further. So, be sure not to crank up the heat too much!

Eases Anxiety

There’s no denying that the warmth of a hot shower (but not TOO hot) has a soothing effect that almost just seems to let your troubles melt away… Well, as with almost every *feeling* we have, it all stems from a chemical response induced by the brain. In this case, it is thought that a hot shower can stimulate the production of oxytocin – also known as the “love hormone”; what better way to calm the effects of anxiety than with your body’s very own hypothalamic-pituitary response that serves as something of a medicinal aid? So, go ahead and let the “love” wash away any anxiety you may harbour – you’ll feel so much better for it.

Acts as a Nasal Decongestant

Imagine that mucus and phlegm in your nose and throat are like glue – they just stick around (literally), and block your airways. Well, much like glue, if you simply apply a little warmth, you can loosen them up, thus enabling the clearing of your airways. Now that you’ve decongested, you should be able to also take in more air into the lungs, allowing for improved breathing, and greater circulation as a result. Bonus Tip: eucalyptus oil can further enhance the decongestant effects of a hot shower, plus it smells awesome!

Opens Pores and Removes Toxins from the Skin

Allowing your pores to get all clogged up can lead to blemishes and unhealthy skin due to a gradual build-up of toxins. The steam from a hot shower will help to open up the pores, which will release these impurities, and let the skin become clean and clear of all the muck. Additional Bonus Tip: Let the water run cold over your body for a couple of minutes before you step out of the shower…

 

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6 Benefits of Taking a Cold Shower

Tightens the Skin

After taking a hot shower and allowing the pores to become unblocked, and for all the grime to get out from under the skin, you’ll want to have a cold shower in order to effectively *close* the pores again! Think of your pores as “windows” – when it gets hot, you’ll want to open them up; but when it is cold you most definitely want them shut. So, hot water will induce the former, while cold water causes the latter. Why is this important? Well, I can tell you from personal experience here – unfortunately – that having a hot shower, staying hot, then whacking all your clothes on and going about your day is more likely to lead to profusely perspiring later on! By taking that hot shower and opening up the “grime-release” and not “shutting it off”, you’re setting yourself up for a very sweaty hour or two afterwards as your body attempts to regulate its temperature back to normal again. Rinsing off with some cold water is the best preventative measure as it is like an “auto-close” feature for the pores!

Stimulates Anti-Depression Hormones

A brief cold shower could be just what you need to perk up your mood! It is purported to stimulate the locus coeruleus – a part of the brain that produces noradrenaline, which is a hormone that could help mitigate the effects of depression through the activation of your body’s natural “fight or flight” stimulus.

Increases Alertness

The effects that are induced here are rather simple, though perhaps less obvious. Basically, what you’ll no doubt find when you turn the shower to cold is that your body’s initial response is one of quick, deep, almost panicky breaths – it can be hard to breathe at first, and you may find that your chest feels a little restricted (that’s simply because your muscles have tightened up in a bid to move blood to your organs). This is all perfectly normal, and your body will normalize within a couple of minutes. However, now you have more blood being pumped around to “re-heat”, and your brain is firing off signals to the body in order to regulate its response. All of this leads to an increase in alertness; off the bat, it may sound awful… and I’m not gonna lie – when you start “experimenting” with cold showers (if you’re not already an advocate anyway), then it is actually f*cking horrendous! But – much like how it can seem gruelling to go for a workout some days – the effect afterwards makes it worthwhile! Like how you get the endorphin-rush after your workout, that feeling of being ready for anything after a cold shower just primes you for the day ahead!

Reduces Hair Loss

While a hot is great at cleansing the skin, getting rid of embedded impurities, and clearing out toxins, it can also be a detriment if you take too long before switching to the cold water. See, while it’s all good and well to unclog the dirt and oil that can accumulate in the skin, you can clear out too much [of the skin’s natural oils], which can in turn, dry your skin out. Dry skin is like “infertile soil” – it is far from optimal for hair growth; hair likes the natural oils produced by the body as they help nourish it. Therefore, a cold shower will help to ensure that we don’t completely drain all the “good stuff” too, and will help keep hair happy! Because hair is like a labour union – if it doesn’t like the conditions that it is forced to endure day in, day out, then you’re almost guaranteed to see a mass exodus! I myself almost found this one out too late…

Provides a Mini Boost to Your Metabolism

This effect is admittedly rather minor, but nonetheless, worth a mention! Essentially what happens with a cold shower is that it induces shivering – the body’s automatic response when its core temperature has dropped too low, and so, it is trying to warm up again. In order for this to happen, the body requires energy, therefore, you’ll be burning off some extra calories while your body tries to upregulate and return its core temperature back to normal. The effects are short-lived, but hey, why not? Right?

Stimulates Immune System

The cold can often promote the production of white blood cells within the body, which means adding proverbial “troops” to the frontlines of your body’s defence system. White blood cells are like the Marines of your body’s immune system, and one of their roles is to ward off viruses and infections. In a way, a cold shower is almost a way of tricking the body into thinking that “winter is coming” (sorry – couldn’t help but throw in at least one G.O.T. quote!), and so, it ramps up the defences in anticipation of becoming besieged.

 

Annnd there ya go – a dozen reasons to start taking both hot AND cold showers! My favourite way to do this is simple; I liken it to the classic 1872 Heinzmann “Boiling Frog” experiment… only… in reverse. Basically, if you go ahead and step into a nice hot shower, you’ll get all the relaxing and cleansing benefits that we’ve covered in as little as five minutes. But then you’ll want to gradually turn down the temperature little by little. I tend to go from hot to very warm to warm-ish to cool to kinda cold to fairly chilly to pretty darn freezing… I’ll spend about a minute acclimating to each cooler temperature before reducing it again, then – once I’m at the level of coldness that I can just barely tolerate – I’ll keep it there for 2-3mins. And voilà – less than fifteen minutes total, and you get all the benefits you’ve just read about in ONE sitting!

Guys and gals, as always, I hope you have enjoyed this post! I wanted to do something a little different to my previous posts, so hopefully you liked seeing the format get changed up. If you’re getting value from these blog articles and feel like someone you know could benefit from these “nuggets of wisdom” then feel free to share the love!

 

Yours in Training

 

Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer and Specialist in Diabetes & Obesity

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