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What Happens to Your Body When You Take a Cold Shower, Says Science

If you're brave enough to try it, taking cold showers can change your life for the better.
FACT CHECKED BY William Mayle

Given the choice, 99 out of 100 people would choose an inviting warm shower over an ice-cold one. But like in so many other areas of life, there's something to be gained by jumping out of one's comfort zone. The truth is, a cold shower can induce a number of changes and positive reactions in the human body that are beneficial across your physical, cognitive, and mental health.

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Water is water. What does it matter if it's a few degrees cooler?" Well, when it comes to the human body, temperature is enormously important, and our bodies are constantly working to maintain it. So whenever someone does something to engage the body's temperature-regulation apparatus—such as stepping into a cold shower, bathtub, or pool—you're setting in motion all sorts of bodily reactions. Curious to know more? Read on for some of the amazing things that happen to your body when you take a cold shower. And to learn more about your amazing body, see here to read about What Happens to Your Body When You Have Sex, Says Science.

1

You'll procrastinate less.

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Putting things off we'd rather not do is a habit everyone would love to lose. Taking cold showers regularly can do just that. No one wants to take a cold shower, but the more routinely you bite the bullet and get it over with, the more you're training your body not to get hung up on those moments of hesitation. As time goes on, this habit will extend to other areas of life.

"Humans are wired to avoid pain, be it cold water, or doing your taxes," explains licensed psychotherapist Michael Ceely, LMFT. "Avoidance of pain can manifest in procrastination, one of the biggest barriers to getting stuff done. Cold showers can be an antidote to procrastination. Cold showers train your brain that an ostensibly painful task is not so bad, and, in fact, feels good afterward. Daily cold showers work by reducing the hesitancy response we experience when faced with difficult tasks." And for more ways to get more done every day, don't miss The Secret Trick for Beating Procrastination for Good, Say Psychologists.

2

You'll be more resistant to stress and depression.

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Many psychologists, such as Holly Schiff, Psy.D., even prescribe cold showers to their patients to help with conditions including anxiety, depression, and OCD. "Brief changes in body temperature like a cold swim have been theorized to help brain function," she explains. "Cold-water shock treatment exposes us to thermal stress, which activates beta-endorphin and noradrenaline in the brain." She explains that "beta-endorphins are 'feel-good' molecules that give a sense of well-being."

Cold water bathing, meanwhile, also "reduces the cortisol hormone," she says, which usually kicks into action when stress and anxiety take over. "Exposure to cold also activates the sympathetic nervous system, which increases the brain release of norepinephrine—an adrenal hormone that helps depressed people feel more 'up' naturally."

One study, published in the medical journal Medical Hypotheses, found that depressed patients experienced real benefits from short, twice-daily cold showers for several weeks at a time.

3

You'll get sick far less.

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Cold showers lead to higher numbers of white blood cells circulating throughout your body, which is never a bad thing. Those helpful little cells work hard 24/7 to protect you from disease and illness. This is likely due to the metabolic increase induced by exposure to cold water, which subsequently jumpstarts the immune system.

This research, recently published in the Harvard Business Review, reveals how individuals who regularly take a cold shower end up taking 29% fewer sick days in comparison to a control group.

4

You'll feel wide awake without coffee.

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Millions and millions of people need some caffeine to get going each day, but a cold shower can do the trick just as well and save you a trip to Starbucks. When all that icy water rains down on the body, it activates our natural "fight or flight" response. This all leads to a natural adrenaline rush and sense of alertness even the strongest brews may not provide. One research project even found cold showers are crucial in helping those who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome.

5

Your skin and hair will glow.

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Who doesn't want better hair and more radiant skin? A cold shower won't wash away and deprive your skin of the natural oils it needs like a hot shower will. Warm showers may feel great, but they can actually wreak havoc on our pores. Additionally, a cold shower can strengthen hair cuticles.

"Cold waters tighten your skin that gives a natural glow to the skin. When it comes to your hair, cold showers close and fortify your hair cuticles while adding more strength to them. Moreover, cold water also doesn't harm the natural barrier of your skin and hair," says Amber O'Brien, MD, of the Mango Clinic. And for more ways to live a healthier life starting now, don't miss The 10-Second Trick That Will Help You Lose Weight, Says Exercise Expert.

John Anderer
John Anderer is a writer who specializes in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Read more
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