After a long, hard workout, do you look forward to a hot shower or cold shower? While hot showers might be more enticing, cold showers are having a moment. Many athletes tout a chilly dip as a favorite recovery tool.
Luckily, it doesn’t matter whether you prefer hot or cold showers, because both have their benefits.
“You can’t go wrong here,” says John Fawkes, an NSCA-certified personal trainer. “Instead, you want to ask yourself what kinds of health boosts you’re aiming for, since hot and cold water deliver different benefits.”
Benefits of Hot Showers
1. Boost circulation
Heat can help increase blood flow by causing vasodilation — or widening — in blood vessels, according to Cody Braun, CPT, Assistant Manager of Fitness at Beachbody.
That’s especially beneficial when your muscles are sore.
“An increase in blood flow means that there is more oxygen and nutrients delivered to the muscles while simultaneously removing chemical waste from the muscles,” he says.
2. Help you sleep
Love a hot shower to help you sleep? It’s not just in your head. One study showed that taking a hot shower one to two hours before bedtime can help you get more shut-eye.
The reason: Hot showers increase your body temperature, but that temp drops after you get out.
“That drop in core body temperature can make you sleepy,” says Fawkes.
Benefits of Taking Cold Showers
1. Reduce inflammation
“Ice and even cold baths can be used to limit inflammation and soreness after grueling workouts,” says Braun.
This is because cold temperatures constrict blood flow, which limits inflammation and also lessens the sensation of pain.
One 2011 study found that cyclists who sat in a cold water bath for 10 minutes after a workout experienced less soreness. A 2016 study had similar results, with athletes who received cold water therapy reporting less soreness than those who didn’t.
2. Increase alertness
There’s a reason you feel more alert when you get a shock of cold water.
“Cold water tells our sympathetic nervous system, or our fight-or-flight system, to activate,” says Fawkes. “This releases adrenaline and can make you feel more awake, alert, and focused.”
Cold vs. Hot Showers: Which Is Better?
Both hot and cold showers provide benefits, but one type of shower doesn’t necessarily outweigh the other.
So which one is better? Your shower temperature (just like whether you choose bar soap or body wash) is really a matter of personal preference, as well as your personal goals.
“Take a look at what your specific health goals are, physical or mental,” says Fawkes. “That’ll guide you to the right type for you.”
If you can’t decide, try both: Take a long, steamy, hot shower and then finish with a blast of icy cold water to help you feel more alert and ready to take on your day.
(And take comfort in this if you always seem to the be last one in your house to get in the shower and the hot water runs out halfway through!)