…well, OK, maybe “ruining” is too strong a word. The temperature of the water you use isn’t going to affect your next job interview, or give you any more luck in relationships. That’s not what I mean (although, as I explain later, those things could be helped by what I’m about to tell you…).
First, a disclaimer. Let me stress that I’m not a doctor- I’m just a guy giving my opinion based on my own, personal experience and things I’ve learnt. Please don’t take my advice over that of a doctor. I always suggest that you should do your own further research if you are interested.
Now that’s out the way, let me explain what I’m talking about.
How hot Water can actually be harmful
Let’s be a bit more specific now- I’m not against you using hot water in your tea or coffee, and I’m certainly not against you using it when shaving or cooking! No, but I am specifically talking about something that you probably do every single day, using hot or warm water: showering.
You shower every day, right? At least, I hope you do! Either every day, or every other day- depending on your preference. Now, if you’re like the majority of people, when you shower you’re using hot water (steam, bubbles etc…). Am I right?
That is where you just may be missing out. You see, when your body is exposed to hot water, the pores on your skin open up to allow heat to escape. The heat of the water also makes the natural oil on your skin softer (just like anything else that is exposed to heat can get softer). The combination of softer skin oil and soap leads to this layer of oil being washed away every time you shower.
Surely this is good? Well, while it is true that this process will remove dirt and excess grease- i.e. the whole point of a shower in the first place- you shouldn’t forget that it’s this natural oil in our skin that keeps it feeling soft and hydrated. Therefore, if you remove this layer every day, you may actually be causing your skin to dry out. I’m going to guess that you don’t want dry, itchy skin, am I right? I’m also going to guess that you don’t particularly want greasy, oily skin! The trick is- of course- to find a balance, but stripping the oils every day can only upset this balance.
If that isn’t enough, the other effect of the heat- opening your pores- can cause your body to absorb some of the chemicals and soap. Pores are like tiny, little holes through your skin. Usually they allow the natural oil and sweat to come out, but they also let other things in. All those chemicals in the shower gel may be good at cleaning your skin…on the outside…but I’m not too sure they’ll do any good on the inside!
So what’s the solution? Yup, you’ve guessed it…
The Health Benefits of Cold Showers
Not only could hot showers possibly be bad for you, there is also evidence to suggest that cold showers are actually good for you! They key is to find a cold temperature that you can just about put up with. Many people decide to try this method by starting out with warm water and then gradually reducing the temperature over the course of the shower. For me, I just turn it on cold right away- each to his or her own preference.
Actually, I tell a lie. I used to use lukewarm water to start off with and then turned the temperature down as I went (this method is especially good in winter when the temperature outside is in minus figures and there is no heating). Now I’m used to it, though, it’s easier to just go straight in cold because my shower is one of those ones that is just attached to the taps.
Healthier Skin and Hair
So, if hot water causes your pores to open (i.e. relax), cold water does just the opposite- it closes them. This action has it’s own benefits as it can literally squeeze toxins and waste products out of your skin, leaving you feeling (and looking) refreshed. The same process can also make your hair look shinier because it closes down the cuticles on your hair shaft.
This process also aids in the circulation of something called lymph, which is something that carries waste produces through the “lymphatic system”. The lymphatic system is a part of your immune system, I believe, only lymph isn’t pumped around your body like blood is. In order to get lymph to circulate (and at the same time taking the toxins out of your system), it relies more on muscle contractions. If you’ve ever been under cold water you’ll realise that one of the first things to happen is that your muscles contract! This, then, is perfect for getting those toxins out of your body!
In fact, your whole body feels the effect of this, and your blood vessels will also do something called “vasoconstriction”. Pretty much what it says on the tin- they constrict, or “tighten”. This process allows the blood to circulate at a higher pressure.
I know, high blood pressure is a bad thing, right? Well, yes…but in this case you’re actually exercising the muscles that control this process, which will lead to better circulation overall. Anyway, the process is only in effect while you’re in the cold. As soon as you step out of the water, your vessels will dilate again and your blood pressure could even be lower than in was before the shower. I have tested this myself, and I have noticed that my blood pressure is lower after I shower. I’m not saying the same effects hold for everyone, though.
I would also point out that the increase in blood pressure initially might be bad news if you currently suffer from high blood pressure. Pushing it up further will only increase your chances of heart attack or stroke. So use with caution!
Helps regulate Temperature
Of course, forcing your body to have to deal with (moderately) extreme cold will test out it’s ability to regulate your internal temperature. Remember me saying earlier how I had become more used to the cold water over time? Well, that’s actually because the systems your body uses to stabilise your internal temperature become improved over time when showering in cold water.
It’s something to do with the type of fat we have stored. You see, your body will burn fat to produce heat. There are two types of fat cells- white fat, and brown fat. Those aren’t random names- they actually are those colours! Sometimes white fat is called “yellow fat”, but it’s the same stuff. As is my understanding, when your body wants to increase it’s temperature, you start to burn the brown fat, from the brown fat cells. This is really a good thing, because once the brown cells have run out of their own fat supply, they turn to the white fat cells and use the fat there instead. This whole process is strengthened and made more efficient when your body is regularly exposed to cold water, or cold air.
Oh, and talking about burning fat, that’s another advantage of cold showers…
The speed of your metabolism is the speed at which your body is burning calories. When you take regular, cold showers you increase the amount of brown fat cells, blood pressure, and body temperature. These three things will speed up your metabolism and make it more efficient- which is great if you’re trying to lose weight. An increased metabolism means you’ll be burning more calories than before, and it also means increased repair and growth of muscles- meaning you’ll be fitter overall.
What’s the first thing you do when stepping under cold water? That’s right- a sharp intake of breath! In fact, you’ll need to breathe more deeply in order to combat the stress of the cold. Having cold showers can therefore, increase your lung capacity and enable you to take in more oxygen. Higher levels of oxygen are great for things such as: not feeling tired and having a lot of energy throughout the day.
I’m not quite sure why, but apparently cold showers just before bedtime can help you to sleep better. I’ve heard that it’s recommended to insomniacs to help them wind down at the end of the day. Could be worth a try if you struggle to get to sleep?
The Secret of the Hormesis Hypothesis
Now lets look at some of the reasons why this is all going on. There is something called the hormesis hypothesis, which says that if you’re exposed to low levels of something stressful, it can have very positive results. The hypothesis is controversial, but it does make some sense- look at things like: alcohol (which is bad in high doses, but is apparently good for your heart in moderation), or exercise (where too much is a bad thing, but the right amount is very beneficial for your whole body). Again, it must come down to moderation.
Cold showers are also thought to stimulate the immune system- probably due to the stress you’re under. People who regularly take cold showers have been shown to be at less risk of cancer, cold and flu, varicose veins…and- believe it or not- depression.
Yup, if you suffer from depression, a cold shower might be just what the doctor ordered! It has been shown that cold showers activate the brain’s “blue spot”- which is responsible for mood. From my own experience, I do feel very refreshed and happier just after taking a cold shower. Again, try it out yourself to find out if it works for you.
There is one huge benefit that I’ve found from taking cold showers, though, and it can be summed up in three words…
Fortes Fortuna Adiuvat
OK, they happen to be Latin words…but those are still three words! The phrase “fortes fortuna adiuvat” means something like “fortune favours the brave”, and I think it really applies here. One of the main benefits I’ve experienced from cold showers is that it forces you to be brave. By starting the day with an act of courage, you set yourself up for the rest of the day with the mindset that you can really overcome more if you just put your mind to it.
Think about it: how many things in life are you holding back from because you are afraid of the negative consequences? Some things in life are just like a cold shower- the first time (or the first few seconds) is the worst part. After you’re through the worst of it, you can truly appreciate and understand the benefits that you would have missed out on otherwise. You may decide that cold showers are not for you, but I encourage you to at least give it a try, just because acts of courage, such as this, can help us to grow and develop as people.
That’s my experience, anyway. I’ve found myself becoming generally braver and more confident since taking colder showers. This is what could help you with that job interview, as I was saying earlier!
So, what do you think? Are you going to give this a try, or have you already been doing this for years without realising the benefits? What’s your story? Seen any improvements, or negative consequences? Let’s hear your thoughts!