The simple joy of ordinary hot water and how it can keep you and your loved ones healthy and happy this winter

If you’re in the northern hemisphere, winter is now very definitely here and it’s digging in.  On the plus side, the festive season is now getting into full swing too and it would be a shame to miss any of it by getting ill.  Even going into the New Year, when the party season comes to an end, winter still has its good points.  The good news is that you can do a lot to take care of your own body and mind (and those of your loved ones) without spending a fortune, just by making the most of plain, simple water.  Here are some tips.

Drink it

Water in general is good for you and in hot temperatures there’s a lot to be said for drinking cold water.  When temperatures fall, however, the benefits of warm water really start to make themselves felt.  In cold weather, it’s easy for the body to become sluggish, for example, for your circulation to drop (hence pins and needles when you’re waiting for a bus or train).  The warmth of the water helps to speed up the body’s system and keep you in good order.

As an added bonus, hot water can help with digestion, particularly the digestion of the sort of heavy meals we often eat in wintertime.  Basically, hot water is more effective than cold water at breaking down solid foods to make them easier for the body to process.

How to drink hot water healthily

If you can drink hot water on its own, then feel free to do so.  Personally, even though I know it’s good for me, I need something to liven it up (which is odd because I love plain cold water).  Caffeinated drinks and hot chocolate may be tasty, but really, it’s best to think of them as occasional treats rather than making them your go-to drinks.  Instead of regular tea or coffee, try one of these drinks instead.

Hot water with lemon and honey (to taste)

Lemon is known to have antibacterial properties and is great for getting rid of toxins.  It can, however, have quite a sharp taste, which isn’t for everyone, so sweeten it with honey, which also has antibacterial properties and is great for sore throats too.  You don’t need to squeeze fresh lemons (unless you want to), lemon juice out of a bottle is absolutely fine.

Green tea

The taste may take a little getting used to but it slashes caffeine and provides loads of health benefits.  You can add lemon, ginger and/or honey to make the taste more to your liking and boost the goodness.

Liquorice tea

Black liquorice is bitter but liquorice tea is naturally sweet and great for your digestion.  Frankly, I usually avoid fruit teas but even I like this.

Wash in it the right way

Now if you’re reading this thinking “I’ve been washing all my life, I know how to do it, thank you”, then fair enough, I can understand that, but you may never have given any thought to the practicalities of washing in winter, which is what I’m going to talk about.

By washing, I really mean bathing and showering, where you get fully undressed and immerse yourself in water.  I’m not going to go on about ways to make your bath or shower more fun, there are plenty of articles about that on the net already.  I’m going to talk about the bit which can put a downer on your whole bath or shower and can actually make you feel worse instead of better.  I’m talking about getting out of your nice warm bath or shower and facing the cold in the bathroom.
Before I go on to explain what you need to do to make the end of your bath or shower more pleasant, let’s go back to some high school science to understand why it can be such a miserable experience.

When you have a bath or shower you get wet.
When you get out of the bath or shower, the water on your body sucks up the heat from your body to turn into steam.

That’s actually the main reason you feel cold (assuming your bathroom is properly heated).

Here is the trick to getting around this.  When you are in your bath or shower, keep the water temperature on the lower side of comfortable.  You don’t need to freeze, just keep it towards the cooler end of what you find pleasant.  Just before you get out of your bath or shower, heat up the water so it is on the higher side of comfortable.  Again, don’t try to force this, just push up the temperature a little.  Then, when you get out of your bath or shower, your body temperature will be higher so you’ll be less impacted by the effect of the water on  your body turning into steam.  That’ll give you the few seconds you need to grab a towel (ideally a heated one) and start drying yourself, which will warm you up again.  For the record, while it might be tempting just to jump into a cosy bathrobe, it’s a bad idea because bathrobes will absorb and hold the water on you and you’ll be walking around in a wet robe.  Dry yourself off first, then get into a bathrobe if you want to.

NB: when you come out of a warm bath or shower, your skin’s pores will be open so this is the perfect time to put on moisturizer, which your skin needs desperately in winter.

Turn it into steam

Steam is basically water vapour and as such it can get into all the places water can’t, hence it can really give your body a deep clean from the inside out.  The health benefits of steam have been known, literally, for centuries (think Turkish baths and Finnish saunas) and they still apply today.  You could take a trip to a steam room or you can enjoy your steam at home.  If you’re considering upgrading your bathroom, you might even want to look at installing a steam generator, but if not, that’s fine, there are still other options.  You could invest in a facial steamer, which will not only cleanse your skin, but also get the steam into your sinuses and lungs, where it is arguably at its most effective, unblocking stuffy noses and soothing and cleansing irritated respiratory systems.  Alternatively, you could just boil a kettle and use it to fill a bowl of water, then hold your head over it for 5-10 minutes.  Ideally put a towel over your head and the bowl to make a little “tent”, which helps keep both the steam and the heat concentrated underneath your face.  Feel free to add essential oils if you like.  Rather than waiting until you’re under the weather to give yourself a steam treatment, I’d suggest you aim to use steam once a week to help your body along and try to reduce your chances of getting ill in the first place.

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