This content has been reviewed and updated on July 31, 2023.
Although many people like to start or end their day with a hot shower, plenty of folks still prefer the sensation of cold water on their skin. There are benefits associated with exposing your body to hot as well as cold water, so why not enjoy the best of both worlds?
The practice of alternating between hot and cold water has gained traction as the contrast shower. It’s believed to improve body function in different ways. Is this approach right for you? Let’s find out.
What Is a Contrast Shower?
Also known as contrast hydrotherapy, this full-body cleanse begins like you’d start your usual 5- to 10-minute shower. Hop in and let the soothing hot water cascade over your skin. But your body won’t get a chance to adjust to the sensation, as you’ll only keep the water hot for a few minutes before switching to cold water for 15 seconds to a minute. Repeat the cycle a few more times, gradually raising the hot water temperature and lowering the temperature of the cold water each time. End with a cold burst.
Contrast Shower Benefits
Hot and cold temperatures positively affect the body, so contrast showers can benefit certain individuals.
A cold shower (which means the water temperature is lower than 70 degrees Fahrenheit) in the morning can alleviate brain fog and lift your spirits to start the day. That’s because the low temperatures cause electrical signals to travel to the brain to boost energy levels and increase focus. The brain also releases endorphins, which are hormones that promote happiness.
Exposure to cold temperatures can restrict blood vessels—but it also increases circulation because your body must work overtime to maintain its core temperature. Increased circulation helps reduce pain and swelling after a sports injury by increasing the oxygenated blood flow rate to the injured areas. Increased blood flow to the brain can also help you feel more alert and energized.
By incorporating a contrast shower into your morning routine, you might feel under the weather less often. The jolt of cold water prompts the release of leukocytes, white blood cells that protect the body from infection.
A hot shower causes blood vessels to widen (vasodilation), increasing blood flow and improving heart health. Exposure to hot temperatures can also ease muscle fatigue and joint stiffness. If you have trouble falling asleep, taking a hot shower before bed can help your body relax to improve sleep quality.
While exposure to hot water causes blood vessels to widen, exposure to frigid temperatures causes small blood vessels to become smaller (vasoconstriction). The rapid expansion and contraction of blood vessels causes a pulsating sensation that could provide the perception that your body is healing faster after an injury.
Why Water Quality Is Just as Important as Temperature
Water temperature can affect your skin and hair, but it isn’t the only thing you should think about before getting in the shower. The quality of the water can also affect your body. If your skin and scalp feel itchy after a cleanse or shampooing leaves hair limp and lifeless, the water quality could be to blame.
If you have hard water, dissolved minerals make it difficult for shampoos, conditioners, cleansing gels, and soap to lather and wash away thoroughly. The residue left behind is the cause of skin and hair changes. The chlorine present in water can also have a noticeable drying effect. Install a showerhead filter, as it’s a simple yet effective way to address these concerns.
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