Hot Vs. Cold Showers: Which Is Better For Your Bones And Your Health?
When it comes to health, decisions aren’t always simple. Given a choice between behaviors (as we are lucky to usually have!), you must weigh the potential results of each option and decide which one will help you meet your goals. There can be a surprising array of outcomes from even the smallest choice, and today we’re going to look at the pros and cons of one we typically make every day: taking a shower.
Is a piping hot shower better for your bones and your health? Or is a cold shower going to assist your body in new bone formation? Today we’ll look at both possibilities and the research examining the effects of both extremes. Put on your shower caps and let’s dive in.
Some Like It Hot
What constitutes a “hot” shower? Anything from around 96 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit qualifies, and it only takes 5 to 10 minutes to reap the benefits of the soothing heat. Don’t stay in too long though, or your skin can dry out.
If you experience muscular or joint pain, hot water can ease those aches by stimulating blood flow and loosening up muscles, tendons and tissues. Finding relaxing, drug free ways to ease physical discomfort will make it easier to stay active without fearing the results. And maintaining physical activity, ideally in a scheduled exercise program, is essential to bone health, along with general wellbeing and longevity.
Plus, not using pharmaceuticals for physical relief takes the burden of removing those acidifying drugs off your body’s filtration system. That allows your liver to function at optimal levels and your kidneys to better maintain a healthy pH, keeping valuable bone-building minerals where your bones need them.
Another physical symptom that hot showers can alleviate is stiffness. Whether you wake up without your full range of motion, or find that the end of the day leaves you struggling to kneel down and tie your shoe, a well-timed hot shower can get things moving again. This is an especially useful trick for helping to get warmed up before exercising.
Relief From Toxins
There’s more than one way for toxins to enter our body, and an often overlooked route is through our skin. We come in contact with an incredible amount of different substances everyday, some intentionally and others unintentionally. Our skin is surprisingly porous, allowing for the transit of molecules in and out of our bodies.
A steamy shower opens the pores on your skin, making it easier to clean them out and for toxins and impurities to be washed away. A cold water rinse afterwards will cause your pores to contract again, helping to keep out the next batch of unwanted micro-materials!
Similarly, if your sinuses are clogged, a steamy shower can do wonders to break up phlegm and relieve congestion. Professional singers regularly fight vocal fatigue or the effects of a cold by inhaling steamy air to help keep their passages clear and moisturized.
The Science Of A Relaxing Shower
You may have observed that a hot shower can change your mood. This isn’t just the above-listed benefits kicking in. The warmth of the shower actually increases your oxytocin levels, which has the effect of reducing levels of stress hormones like cortisol, while lowering blood pressure. This was shown by a study that looked at the effects and causes of oxytocin release in male and female rats.1
As Savers know, high cortisol levels cause damage to bones. Any measure that can be taken to de-stress and keep those levels in check helps to preserve bone, and hot showers are an easy and effective way to do that. Once you are more relaxed, you may find that you can get to sleep more easily, and sleep more soundly, which is important for supporting healthy bone formation. Curiously, some people find that ending a shower by turning it cold helps them to cool down and prepare for slumber.
A Cold Shower Has Lots To Offer Too!
You might think that because hot showers offer so many benefits, cold showers must be detrimental to your health, but that’s not so. In fact, a chilly rinse can trigger a number of beneficial physical changes.
A study published in the Behavioral and Brain Functions journal recommends the use of repeated cold stress for reducing fatigue in people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). One of the reasons this might work is explained as follows:
“Exposure to cold increases metabolic rate and transiently activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis as evidenced by a temporary increase in the plasma levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone, beta-endorphin and a modest increase in cortisol. The increased opioid tone and high metabolic rate could diminish fatigue by reducing muscle pain and accelerating recovery of fatigued muscle, respectively.”2
The shock of cold water in a shower was the author’s suggestion for triggering this response. While an accelerated recovery of fatigued muscle and a reduction in muscle pain is certainly valuable for those suffering from chronic fatigue, it’s also useful for anyone with an active lifestyle. A cold shower can be like a little recharge, boosting your body’s recovery.
While cortisol at high levels for extended periods is detrimental to your health, the modest and short-term increase described above is a natural and healthy reaction to a shock. That’s what cortisol is for, and as we’ll see below, repeated bracing experiences can prepare your body to recover more rapidly from them, and ultimately, help you manage stress hormones more efficiently.
Hydrotherapy – The Water Works
Technically, using a physical interaction with water for its health benefits can be called hydrotherapy. It’s a form of holistic self-care that you’ve been using your whole life! Any time you’ve thought you’d feel better after a refreshing shower, you were longing for the soothing effects of hydrotherapy.
In fact, there are many medical professionals who recommend hot or cold baths or showers as a part of addressing anxiety and depression.
Cold water is thought to be especially useful in this regard because lowering the temperature of the brain and body can relieve inflammation, reduce pain, and activate the sympathetic nervous system, which increases norepinephrine levels. Along with the release of beta-endorphins, this cold-response quite literally changes your brain chemistry to help you feel more positive. Researchers have suggested regular cold showers as a treatment for depression, and the best part it that, unlike prescription drugs, this has no side effects and doesn’t cause dependence.3
You’ve probably had the experience of a sudden cold burst of water. The jolt of energy it causes can certainly wake you up and sharpen your senses. This experience, when repeated regularly, has been scientifically shown to build up a tolerance to physical shock, including oxidative stress.4 That’s a valuable resistance, since oxidation is detrimental to bone formation.
And there’s more evidence-backed information to support this. Research conducted on people who swim regularly in the winter shows that the repeated oxidative stress of the icy dips resulted in improved antioxidative adaptation.5
What Works For You Is What Matters
Everyone is different, and everyone reacts differently to new stimuli. If you decide to see what the effects of hot or cold showers can do for you, try them out gradually. Listen to your body and don’t torture yourself trying to regulate the temperature.
Try this: begin your shower at a comfortable temperature, and then try bumping it a little one way or the other. This simple method allows you to ease yourself into an unfamiliar temperature. You only need a short time in the water for it to have an impact on your body. As little as two or three minutes in a really cold shower will do, and just a few minutes longer in a hot shower is just right.
In fact, overdoing it might undo the benefits you’re seeking. So as with most things, moderation is key.
If the idea of hydrotherapy once seemed new agey or far fetched to you, hopefully after you read this, you’ll recognize it as something as simple as taking a shower to feel better. There are a great many ways you can easily shift your lifestyle to help bolster your health, including the health of your bones.
The Save Our Bones Program is the compendium of the Save Institute’s knowledge about naturally reversing bone loss and and the evidence-backed protocols in which this very important process can be achieved. Have a look to find out the many other ways that you can start building stronger, younger bones without ever taking drugs, to live a fuller and more active life!
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1Uvnäs-Moberg K. “Oxytocin linked antistress effects–the relaxation and growth response.“ Acta Physiol Scand Suppl. 1997;640:38-42. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9401603
2Shevchuk NA. “Possible use of repeated cold stress for reducing fatigue in chronic fatigue syndrome: a hypothesis.“ Behav Brain Funct. 2007 Oct 24;3:55. Web: https://behavioralandbrainfunctions.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1744-9081-3-55
3Shevchuk NA. “Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression.“ Med Hypotheses. 2008;70(5):995-1001. Epub 2007 Nov 13. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17993252
4Werner G. Siems. Frederik J.G.M. van Kuijk. Ralph Maass.Rainer Brenke. “Uric acid and glutathione levels during short-term whole body cold exposure.” Free Radical Biology and Medicine. Volume 16, Issue 3, March 1994, Pages 299-305Web: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0891584994900302
5Siems WG, Brenke R, Sommerburg O, Grune T. “Improved antioxidative protection in winter swimmers.” QJM. 1999 Apr;92(4):193-8. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10396606?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DiscoveryPanel.Pubmed_Discovery_RA&linkpos=1&log$=relatedarticles&logdbfrom=pubmed