Showering is a great way to unwind and a highly pleasant experience, but primarily we think of it as an opportunity to maintain our hygiene and ensure that we smell socially acceptable and are free from germs and bacteria that could otherwise cause disease. However believe it or not baths have many more benefits than this and can also trigger a range of important hormonal and chemical changes in our body and help to promote overall good health.
However the type of shower will affect the specific advantages that you get from them. And there are several ways that you can get more or less benefit from a shower depending on what else you do while you are in there, what products you use, and believe it or not – the temperature that you wash in.
This is the aspect of showering that may surprise you – that the temperature can affect precisely what a shower does for your body. Both hot showers and cold showers trigger a range of different reactions in the body and it will depend on subjective preference which you find to be most beneficial.
Taking a cold shower is something that many proponents of alternative health treatments recommend. The reason for this is that a cold shower is what we would be used to in the wild as there were no such things as baths in the traditional sense. Back then a shower would mean standing under a waterfall or some other natural source of water and that would be cold. More likely we would have taken baths by washing in the sea and in rivers as a byproduct of hunting for fish or crossing bodies of water that were in our path. Thus it follows that we would have evolved to benefit from cold water and that this would be the more healthy approach to showering and washing in general.
While this idea is speculative at best, interestingly there are actually some findings and theories to support this. One reason that showering in cold water could be good for you is that it can force your body to have to compete with a lot of external stress from the cold. This then forces your immune system and your circulatory system to fight to keep you warm and disease free. This then is almost like training, and hardens your body against future extreme temperature and shock. This then means that the rest of the time when you are in ordinary circumstances you will be less likely to suffer from shock, stroke, hypothermia and other problems – some individuals have even managed to train themselves to be able to submerge themselves in sub zero temperatures that would potentially be lethal for other individuals. The principle here is the same as weight lifting – you put your body through difficult situations to make it more efficient and powerful so that it finds the challenges it normally has to deal with less difficult. At the same time, this also improves your circulation which helps you to regulate your temperature the rest of the time and improves your complexion.
At the same time as strengthening your immune system though, taking a cold shower can also strengthen you mentally, and this is something used by many athletes in order to help themselves become mentally more hardy. It is a demonstration of willing yourself to go through an unpleasant experience and demonstrate mind of matter. Famously, this was the technique used by Hugh Jackman to get into shape for X-Men: Wolverine as it gave him the ‘feral’ mindset and helped him to push himself past his usual mental barriers to perform more repetitions on his exercises.
Meanwhile though, showering hot also has multiple positive effects on your body. For one this helps your complexion in a different way in that it forces your pores to open. At the same time, just the steam can also help to cause you to sweat which is a good way to detox as it sweats unwanted substances out of your body. This all means that showering in hot water can give you most of the benefits of showering in a steam room – and if you have a walk in shower then you can even create a steam room effect by turning the shower as hot as it would go but not actually standing under the water yourself. This will also help you to clear your sinuses and by breathing in the hot air this will help unblock your nose, your throat and elsewhere. Hot water is also disinfectant and while you shouldn’t be washing under boiling water (this will burn you) it can still help to kill off bacteria and make you cleaner overall. It can also help to relax your muscles, particularly if you have it on a firm setting.
Even more beneficial for the body however is the fact that a hot shower stimulates the body to release certain hormones including growth hormone. Growth hormone is the hormone in the body that causes you to rebuild damaged cells and make other repairs around the body. That results in your wounds healing more quickly, in your muscle being built more rapidly, and if you are under the age of around 25 and your growth plates haven’t closed it can result in your growing more. All of this also takes energy and so more growth hormone often results in the more rapid loss of fat. For these reasons many bodybuilders will supplement with growth hormone in order to build more lean muscle, and doctors will also prescribe it for children who seem to be growing abnormally slowly. Growth hormone is illegal to take without a prescription directly (in most countries and states) but it can be produced more by the body if you have hot showers and practice other behaviour such as sprinting and working out.
Depending on the results you are looking for then, a hot or cold shower will be more effective. However it is best not to try and get the ‘best of both’ by doing both in one go, as this extreme change in temperature can prove too much of a shock for the body. At the same time, any one with heart conditions, or who is pregnant, should avoid showering in extreme temperatures at all. It is also believed by some that bathing in extreme temperatures can be bad for the male sperm count – however as your genitals are not actually submerged in the shower they will not be as badly exposed to the extreme temperature. Perhaps the best way to get the best of both worlds then is to occasionally try each, or even to have a cold shower in the mornings when you will need to be mentally alert, and a hot one before bed as growth hormone is most effective when you are sleeping (this is when the body naturally produces the most).
Of course what an also affect how good a shower is for you and precisely what benefits it affords you is what products you use. Here there are many things to choose from – scrubs, washes, shampoos and conditioners and these can provide you with a large range of different benefits including glossier hair, softer skin, and more colour. You should avoid using soaps on your face to maintain a good complexion (these can dry out the skin, which often reacts by producing more oil to counteract the effects), and should instead use something intended for keeping your skin healthy such as a facial scrub. As you skin and nails will be soft at this point, being in the shower will provide you with a good opportunity to perform other grooming tasks too, such as shaving or cutting your nails.