Contrast hydrotherapy (also known as water therapy or hot-cold therapy) is an incredible health tool you can use to recover from stress, illness, and injury. It’s also a really easy practice to do at home!
What is Contrast Hydrotherapy?
Contrast hydrotherapy is the practice of using alternating hot and cold water to activate anti-stress, anti-inflammation, and healing systems in the body. Typically, hot and cold baths or hot and cold showers are used to achieve this effect (read on for more details about methods and timing).
How Contrast Water Therapy Works
Alternating hot and cold water causes rapid physiological changes in your body. (For instance, hot water causes your blood capillaries to expand, while cold water causes them to contract.) By alternating between two extremes, you stimulate the body’s adaptive responses.
Adaptability – both physically and mentally – is a crucial part of living a healthy, vibrant life. Contrast water therapy literally forces your system to adapt to shifts in temperature, which helps your body learn to adapt to other stresses and become more resilient. By teaching yourself to adapt to a small, manageable stressor, you train your body and mind to handle stress on a larger scale.
Contrast Hydrotherapy Benefits
Because contrast water therapy impacts the entire body, it can provide some impressive health benefits:
The first change most people notice when they start hot-cold water therapy is a huge increase in energy and vitality. It stimulates feel-good hormones and endorphins, so you naturally feel more positive and energized. It’s an invigorating practice!
Reduce Inflammation and Speed Recovery
Sore from a good workout? Somehow threw out your back while sneezing? Contrast hydrotherapy is a great way to soothe muscles by decreasing lactic acid and stimulating blood flow to speed recovery. It also reduces swelling and inflammation, which can help reduce pain and improve health on multiple levels.
Stimulate the Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve is an integral part of your nervous system. When activated, the vagus nerve switches your body to parasympathetic mode – a restful, healing state (as opposed to the stress-activated fight-or-flight mode). This not only provides physical health benefits, but also helps reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
Contrast Water Therapy: Bath or Shower?
The easiest way to do contrast hydrotherapy at home is in the bath or shower. Both methods work, and each has pros and cons to consider.
Contrast Bath Therapy
Contrast bath therapy is a great way to fully expose your body to temperature changes because you’re completely submerged in water. The problem is that it might be more difficult for many people to do at home since you would quickly need to move from one tub to another. This might work better if you have two bathrooms you easily can move between (make sure to have lots of towels on hand!), or a nearby hot tub or pool that can serve as a second location.
Here’s how to do contrast bath therapy:
- Submerge your body in a tub of hot water (95-110 degrees F) for about 3 minutes.
- Then submerge your body in cold water (50-60 degrees F) for about 1 minute.
- Repeat for 15-20 minutes (about 4-5 times).
If this feels too intense, you can definitely do shorter intervals or cut the process to under 10 minutes until you get used to it. Most people find the process gets easier once they’ve done it several times.
Contrast Shower Therapy
Contrast shower therapy is less immersive than using a bath, but it’s also much easier for most people to do on a regular basis. Here’s what a typical round of contrast shower therapy looks like:
- Turn up the water as hot as you comfortably can. Stay for 2-3 minutes.
- Then, turn the water as cold as it goes. Stay for 15-30 seconds.
- Repeat 3-4 times, always ending on cold.
The Quick Contrast Shower Therapy Session
If you’re short on time and still want to reap some of the benefits of contrast shower therapy, try a quick session instead:
- For the last 2-3 minutes of your shower, use the hottest temperature that’s comfortable for you.
- Then, for the final 30 seconds, go as cold as possible.
Love this idea? I’d Love to Hear from You!
I’m excited about the benefits of contrast hydrotherapy. If you’ve tried it or if you have any questions, leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!