The unbearable spate of heat and humidity lately has led me to take cold showers daily.
Yet, the water is so warm that I have to add a few ice cubes into the tub to emerge completely refreshed.
Even my dog, who normally runs in the opposite direction when it’s time for a bath, doesn’t protest when my mother throws water over her to cool her off. She sits there obediently and takes the splashing.
If you’re a hot water lover, like most urbanites I know, then a hot shower in this weather could possibly make you lethargic, edgy and perhaps, a few pounds heavier.
Did you know that cold water showers can actually burn more fat and stimulate weight loss?
Essentially, we all have two kinds of fat – white and brown.
White fat is accumulated when we consume more calories than our body needs to function. When we don’t burn the calories for energy, the white fat piles up in unwanted places and unless we exercise to eliminate them, the areas look unsightly.
Brown fat is the good fat. Also called brown adipose tissue, Mayo Clinic says it’s a special type of body fat that is turned on (activated) when you get cold. Brown fat produces heat to help maintain your body temperature in cold conditions.
Brown fat tissue in the body can also burn enormous amounts of energy to generate heat, and studies in humans and animals have suggested that increasing the amount of healthy brown fat could help weight management and reduce symptoms of diabetes.
Cold showers or exposure to extreme cold weather can promote brown fat activity.
While the thought of taking a cold morning shower can be horrifying, the first touch of cold water shocks your body into breathing harder, forcing you to increase your overall oxygen intake, which increases your circulation and heart rate to keep warm.
This boosts your metabolism and burns a little bit more calories in the process. The end result gives you an energising “wake-up call” to start the day.
In other words, when it is cold, your body burns more calories in an attempt to generate body heat and maintain a healthy core temperature. As your body temperature dips slightly, you enter a phase called “nonshivering thermogenesis”, which is basically a cold-induced increase in heat production that’s not associated with the muscle activity of shivering. During this period, you further increase your calorie burn.
When I was a kid, my parents used to pour a glass of cold water on my face to wake me up during the weekends! And if I was in a hot shower for too long, they’d turn off the heater, which would force me to hurry out.
Call it tough love, but in hindsight, the cold showers did energise me much faster.
Hot or cold shower post-workout?
A common question people ask is whether you should take a hot or cold water shower after exercising?
When your body is hot, your naturally want to cool it down. Cold water lowers the temperature of the damaged tissue’s (if any) and constricts the blood vessels.
A key assumption about the benefits of cold water immersion is that it reduces inflammation in skeletal muscle and even numbs the nerve endings to bring immediate relief to any pain.
In 2012 Cochrane, a British charity formed to organise medical research findings, conducted 17 trials involving 366 subjects who either rested or immersed themselves in cold water after resistance training, cycling or running, researchers. It found that cold water baths were much more effective in relieving sore muscles one to four days after exercise.
The study mostly involved water temperature of 10°C to 15°C, in which participants stayed for about 24 minutes. Some of the trials involved colder temperatures and “contrast immersion”, which alternated between cold and warm water.
According to the study, contrast immersion didn’t show significant benefits but some experts believe that alternating hot and cold water helps drive oxygen and nutrients to your internal organs, while encouraging detoxification.
Cold showers have also been shown to relieve depression symptoms due to the intense impact on the cold receptors in the skin, which send an electrical impulses from the peripheral nerve endings to the brain.
This then produces an antidepressive effect, boosts moods, and immediately perks one up. One 2008 study found that cold hydrotherapy has an analgesic effect, and does not appear to have noticeable side effects or cause dependence.
If you’re feeling really tired and need a pick-me-up, opt for a cold shower.
As for hot water showers post-workout, there is nothing wrong with it, especially if you have worked out in an air-conditioned environment.
Bathing in hot or warm water stimulates the blood flow to the skin and helps in soothing muscles. When the blood flow increases to the muscles, the lactic accumulation disperses out, reducing the post-workout soreness and fatigue.
As long as it’s soreness, hot showers will work but if you suffer from an injury or damaged tissue, then you’re better off jumping into a cold shower.
Hot water might make you relax but cold water will actually start healing the damaged tissue.
Remember, too many hot showers and baths can leave your skin dry and itchy, or cause rashes. Cooler or lukewarm showers even just a few times a week can keep skin hydrated and help hair stay strong and shiny.
So, unless you’re unwell, have certain medical conditions such as respiratory ailments or are in extremely cold climate, try taking a cold shower and observe its effects.
You won’t lose weight overnight but you may see a small difference over time.
Best of all, you’ll be energised and hopefully, much more cheerful to face the day.