I think we can all agree that one of the worst things to happen to us while showering is having the water unexpectedly shift from hot to cold without any notice whatsoever. But what if I told you some people, myself included, intentionally change the water from scalding hot to ice cold—on purpose. Yep! It’s a real thing, and it’s called a contrasting shower. Here’s everything you need to know about contrasting showers and the benefits of cold showers.
Cold vs hot showers
Cold showers may not be your favorite, but due to their benefits, you may want to start adding them to your daily routine. Dr. Gan Eng Cern, physician, Ear, Nose & Throat surgeon and Member of the Royal College of Surgeons at Edinburgh, United Kingdom says, “Both hot and cold showers benefit different aspects of the body in different ways. Contrasting showers eliminate the need to choose which health aspect you’d like to focus on. It’s the safe haven and common ground between the two where you don’t have to get limited benefits. Alternating from hot to cold showers lets you get both therapeutic benefits at once.”
You may be asking yourself, are there really benefits to taking cold showers There are, and they’re pretty neat. Dr. Cern explains, “Contrast showers increase blood flow and stabilize it at the same time, perfect for rebooting your systems. This boosts your immune system, improves testosterone levels, cuts the downtime for muscle recovery after intense physical activity and improves heart health.”
Dr. Cern continues, “The hot water has a push effect for blood circulation as it opens up your blood vessels and gets your blood flowing quickly through the body. Then when you switch to cold water, the cold temperature triggers a pull effect from the body, pulling the blood back toward your vital internal organs. This push and pull promote detoxification aids in healthy hormone levels.”
Benefits of cold showers
According to a 2014 study, cold showers were found to increase natural killer cells, which is a high marker of immune resilience in the human body. Although more research needs to be conducted, cold therapy, or frequent exposure to cold has been linked to a number of different benefits including:
- Better immune response
- Boosted concentration
- Higher energy levels
- Improved sleep
- Increased metabolism
- Reduced inflammation, swelling and overall muscle soreness
Michele Herrmann, Family Nurse Practitioner & Hormone Health Expert, further explains, “Contrasting showers helps to boost mitochondrial health. (The mitochondria are the powerhouse of your cells). Exposure to cold therapy causes mitochondrial biogenesis, which means that it increases the number of your mitochondria in your cells. This increases your body’s ability to produce energy.” More energy? Sign me up!
Taking a cold shower may be semi stressful, but short, small bursts of stress can have positive effects on the human body (sort of like what happens during intermittent fasting).
Tips for taking a contrasting shower
If you are less than enthused about taking a cold shower, you aren’t alone—but the good news is you don’t have to take a cold shower the entire time. After you wash up, simply turn the water temperature to cold. It doesn’t have to be as cold as it can go, but turn the nozzle as cold as you can stand it—just enough to trigger that shiver response. Count slowly to 30, and gradually work your way up to one or more minutes by increasing in 30 second increments every few days.
Dr. Cern is an advocate of contrasting showers and takes them himself. He recommends going through a cycle of alternating between hot and cold water temperatures 3-4 times per shower. Simply “start your shower on warm to hot for 2-3 minutes, then switch to cold as you can stand it for at least one minute. The key is to always end with a cold shower.”
Herrmann also suggests putting on some music.
“Finding your favorite pump up jams will also help fire you up while you brave the cold.”
Although more research still needs to be conducted on all the benefits of cold showers, plenty of people agree cold vs hot showers may have some serious takeaways, so if you are looking for a low-lift health and wellness practice to add to your daily routine, chill out (literally) and try contrasting showers.