Christina Carreau BA, ND
Hydrotherapy is the use of water (hot, cold, steam, or ice) to relieve discomfort and promote physical well-being. If you have ever been to a spa then you have probably already dabbled in hydrotherapy between the hot tubs, cold plunges, saunas and steam rooms. One very accessible hydrotherapy treatment that you can access from your home is contrast showers.
Cycling between hot and cold water during a shower increases circulation of both blood and lymphatic fluid thereby enhancing nutrient delivery, immune function and detoxification. The goal of contrast showers is to force your tissues to adapt to sudden changes in temperature and in doing so it results in a gentle workout for your cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and lymphatic systems as well as for your internal organs. The hot water causes your vessels to dilate, thereby increasing circulation to your skin and peripheral tissues; whereas the cold water causes vasoconstriction and redirects circulation internally to organs. This accordion-like process of manipulating circulation is a wonderful support for overall health!
- At the end of your regular shower routine (after you have washed your hair and body), slowly increase the temperature of the water to your tolerance level. Expose your entire body to this hotter water including the top of your head and your face.
- Now turn the water temperature down to the coldest tolerable setting again exposing your entire body to the cold water. (This can be challenging initially so you may wish to limit it to 10 seconds at first – but it gets easier with time and eventually becomes quite invigorating).
- Next turn the water back to hot again exposing your whole body to the water and supporting vasodilation and then back to cold again, hot again and cold again. You want to do a minimum of 3 cycles and the ratio of hot to cold should be 3:1 (so 1 minute hot followed by 20 seconds cold or 30 seconds hot followed by 10 seconds of cold, etc.)
- Always begin with hot and end with cold – the greater the contrast the greater the benefit, so don’t be afraid to crank that faucet up and down.
Try this the next time you shower. Not only will you reap all of the health benefits outlined above, but you will also feel instantly energized and invigorated.