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Everyone has a preference: hot or cold. Some like to bathe with scalding hot water while others fancy ice-cold showers. It is hard to explain personal preferences, but it turns out that there are pros and cons to both options—each has its own therapeutic effects and maybe more useful at certain times. Here's a quick comparison:

  1. Benefits of a cold water bath
  2. Benefits of taking a bath with warm water
  3. Disadvantages of a cold bath
  4. When to avoid taking a bath with hot water
  5. Takeaways

Some of the pros of a cold bath are:

  • Wake you up in the morning: The cold water springs you awake in the morning. If you are feeling groggy or slow, a cold bath may just be what you need to kickstart the day.
  • Increase blood circulation: Cold water constricts the blood vessels in the extremities. To maintain your body temperature, more blood is rushed closer to your skin. Further, your breathing rate will go up as well. This will also help to wake you up and make you feel more alert.
  • Ease post-workout soreness: You will often feel sore after an arduous workout. A cold shower or bath will help with this discomfort as it has a way of defusing the tension in your muscles.
  • Help with itchy skin: Cold showers are known to relieve itchy, irritated skin. The cold water has a slight numbing effect which is soothing in these cases.

We instinctively crave a warm bath when we have any muscle pain or when we are feeling exceptionally tired. Here are some of the benefits of bathing with warm water:

  • Provide relief from flu-like symptoms: One of the biggest advantages of hot baths is that they relieve symptoms of viral infections (especially, flu) such as runny noses, sneezing and a heavy head. The steam from the water helps clear mucus from the nose and clear excess snot. You might have a heavy head because of blocked mucus membranes, so relieving this will help that as well. 
  • Open up pores: After a long day, your skin tends to accumulate dust and dead skin cells which need to be cleared. Bathing with hot water opens pores on the skin that hold onto these particles, giving you a deep cleanse. 
  • Calm generalized muscle soreness: There’s nothing like a nice, long hot bath after a gruelling day. The hot water feels like a massage that slowly loosens the knots and tension in the muscles, leaving you calm and feeling rested.

Cold showers have their disadvantages as well, and may therefore not always be suitable: 

  • Cold showers are not a good idea if you are already feeling uncomfortably cold or have fever as it may strain your body unnecessarily. 
  • If you have cardiovascular issues, your doctor may recommend that you not take excessively hot or cold showers as this can cause fluctuations in blood pressure.

Warm water can help you get a deep cleanse feeling, but there are certain times when you should avoid hot-water showers:

  • Hot showers can have a drying effect on the skin, as they can damage the keratin (protein) cells located on the outer surface. You may notice that you have scaly, flaky skin after a hot bath—especially if it is during the colder months. Make sure you moisturise after taking a hot bath.
  • Avoid excessively hot water baths if you are suffering from conditions like eczema since this can worsen it.

Ultimately, bathing with hot or cold water is a personal preference and depends on your mood. Remember that if you have flu-like symptoms, a hot water bath can have a soothing effect, and if your surroundings are already uncomfortably cold, avoid cold baths. Don’t go overboard either way—it is always better to bathe in water that is neither freezing cold or piping hot.

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References

  1. Ono et al. Effect of water bath temperature on physiological parameters and subjective sensation in older people. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2017 Nov;17(11):2164-2170. PMID: 28421715
  2. Roswell GJ et al. Effects of cold-water immersion on physical performance between successive matches in high-performance junior male soccer players. J Sports Sci. 2009 Apr;27(6):565-73. PMID: 19308790.
  3. Sramek P et al. Human physiological responses to immersion into water of different temperatures. Lancet. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2000 Mar;81(5):436-42. PMID: 10751106
  4. Jiyeon An, et al. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Apr; 16(7): 1280. PMID: 30974799
  5. Aciksoz S, et al. J Clin Nurs. 2017 Dec;26(23-24):5179-5190. PMID: 28880416
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