Personally, I love to take a shower to start the day. A nice, warm one where I can stay, half asleep, as I think about mostly nothing. But it turns out we all might need to rethink that part of the morning routine if we want to be a force to be reckoned with.

Your microbiome and your health

Margret Aldrich took a look at how a daily shower affects health in the June 2015 issue of Experience Life. She explained how each of us have a microbiome of around 100 trillion--yes, trillion, with a T--bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa. In fact, scientists believe the entire microbiome might weigh as much as five pounds.

Many of these organisms have a symbiotic relationship with us. Rather than causing trouble, they actually support the immune system and other functions, such as digestion. And as explained by The Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health at the University of Washington, experts believe that dysfunction in the microbiome might contribute to a host of autoimmune diseases, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Wrapped up with your microbiome is the layer of oil (sebum) naturally produced from your skin's sebaceous glands. This film holds in moisture and keeps your skin pliable, which reduces the risk of abrasion, cracks and cuts.

It's impossible to get rid of your microbiome completely when you shower. But stepping under the water every day affects the natural balance of the organisms that are present. Some of this is direct--they get washed down the drain. But some of it is indirect, too. For example, contrary to popular belief, your body produces sebum as a direct result of hormones. So washing more or less won't slow or speed up your sebum production. But if you strip the skin of oil every day, certain organisms have their food source greatly reduced. And if your skin is dry and cracks, you've created an easier path for bad organisms to enter.

In Aldrich's work, Robynne Chutkan, founder and gastroenterologist at the Digestive Center for Women, asserts that people in Western countries subscribe to ideals about hygiene that generally aren't good for the microbiome. She notes that people in underdeveloped countries, who are exposed to more organisms and who don't wash every day, have lower rates of atopic dermatitis and many autoimmune diseases. She believes that showering too often removes the protective capacity of the microbiome and the oil your sebaceous glands make.

The microbiome in the work context

Poor health has a direct influence on productivity and can hurt employers financially. According to 2015 data from the CDC Foundation, for example, productivity losses linked to absenteeism cost $225.8 billion in the United States alone. That translates to $1,685 per employee. A healthier microbiome could cut some of this expense while simultaneously upping the odds workers are at their physical and mental best for creativity. Keeping the faucet off could be one of the simplest ways individuals can reduce health problems and stay on the job.

But if you're not going to shower every day, how often should you grab your loofah?

Chutkan says every other day is plenty. In fact, some people might be able to get away with a shower just once a week. Different factors, such as what you're wearing, the temperature in your office, whether you opt to exercise or whether you're nervous all can affect your cleanliness. When you do wash, Chutkan asserts it's better to favor shorter, cooler showers. Mild soaps used only on dirty areas are best. For your no-shower days, just freshen up with a washcloth.

One no-no? Don't try to cover up odors with chemical-laden products like perfumes. Those can irritate the skin and disrupt your microbiome just like harsh soaps do.

Making better use of your time

Most people spend anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes in the shower, with the average shower time being 8.2 minutes. With that extra time, on your non-shower days, you could

  • Eat a better, more filling breakfast
  • Meditate
  • Pack yourself a lunch so you don't have to spend money at the cafeteria or a restaurant
  • Check the agenda for the day
  • Leave a few minutes earlier to avoid stressing out in traffic
  • Chat with your kids
  • Stretch out your body
  • Read a news or journal article
  • Clean up a bit or handle some minor clutter
  • Send an important email
  • Check in with a loved one with a quick call or text
  • Pay a bill
  • Feed your pet
  • Download an app that will save you even more time
  • Follow a few new people on social media
  • Listen to a podcast, Ted talk or your favorite motivational music
  • Clean out your wallet or purse
  • Unload or load the dishwasher
  • Get some fresh air and sunshine outside

The chance for better health, reduced expense and the opportunity to get more done in a time-crunched day? Yeah. This is me, signing up for that. Hopefully, you will, too.

Published on: Oct 23, 2017