Hot or Cold Shower for High Blood Pressure
Should You Take a Hot or Cold Shower for High Blood Pressure?
Understanding high blood pressure is the first step towards managing it effectively, so let’s get started!
It all begins with your heartbeat. Each time your heart contracts, it pumps blood into your arteries and creates pressure – this is known as blood pressure. It’s a vital process that ensures all your body's tissues and organs receive the oxygen and nutrients they need to function properly.
Blood pressure is usually measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and is given as two numbers, such as 120 over 80 (written as 120/80 mmHg). The first number is the systolic pressure, which indicates the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The second number is the diastolic pressure, which represents the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when the force of blood against your artery walls is consistently too high. This condition can lead to a variety of health complications, including heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease, to name a few. In most cases, high blood pressure does not cause noticeable symptoms, hence its moniker, the "silent killer" . While medication and lifestyle changes are often recommended to manage hypertension, there are some interesting impacts associated with exposure to temperature extremes, and you may have a tool for this in your own home. Spoiler, it’s your shower. Here’s how different shower temperatures can affect your blood pressure.
Heat Therapy Benefits: The Impact of a Hot Shower
Heat exposure from a hot shower, bath, or sauna session causes your blood vessels to expand - a process known as vasodilation. This results in increased blood flow and decreased blood pressure. A study published in the Journal of Physiology found that hot baths could help lower blood pressure .
However, there's a caveat here. While a hot shower can temporarily reduce blood pressure, it may not be suitable for individuals with uncontrolled or fluctuating hypertension. The rapid drop in blood pressure can lead to lightheadedness and the risk of fainting. So, if you're managing high blood pressure, it's wise to exercise caution with heat therapy.
Cold Therapy: Strengthening with Cold
Cold water exposure causes the opposite effect - vasoconstriction, or the narrowing of blood vessels, which temporarily raises blood pressure. A study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension noted that swimming in cold water significantly increased blood pressure, however levels typically drop back to baseline within 5 minutes .
However, regular exposure to cold water has been shown to improve cardiovascular circulation and adapt the body to handle these pressure changes better. Cold water therapy can increase the body's natural antioxidants and reduce inflammation, potentially benefiting overall heart health.
Cold Showers vs. Hot Showers: Finding the Balance
So, which is better for high blood pressure, hot or cold showers? The answer isn't one-size-fits-all. It largely depends on individual health conditions and overall cardiovascular health. For those with well-controlled blood pressure, alternating between hot and cold showers, known as contrast showers, may offer the benefits of both and help the body adapt to varying pressure conditions.
However, it's vital to remember that managing high blood pressure is a comprehensive process. It's not solely about the temperature of your shower. It's about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adhering to prescribed medications if recommended by your healthcare provider. These factors play a more substantial role in effectively managing high blood pressure.
Citing our sources:
- Moore, Jackie CRNP, MSN. Hypertension: Catching the Silent Killer. The Nurse Practitioner 30(10):p 16-35, October 2005.
- Cummings et al. Restoration of metabolic health by decreased consumption of branched-chain amino acids. The Journals of Physiology. December 2017.
- Guerrero-Romero, F., Rodríguez-Morán, M., Sandoval-Herrrera, F. et al. Prevalence of hypertension in indigenous inhabitants of traditional communities from the north of Mexico. J Hum Hypertens 14, 555–559 (2000).