If someone is told to take a cold shower in a TV show or movie, 99 percent of the time it’s because that someone is too horny and needs to (literally) chill out. Whether that’s actually true hasn’t been confirmed — turns out most scientists have better things to do than study penis cooling — but what is true is that there are a lot of real benefits to subjecting yourself to a cold shower… if, of course, you can bear it.
The first good reason to take a cold shower is that it wakes you up. We’re not talking about your morning cup of coffee here; it really wakes you up. Getting under a spray of icy 40-degree water releases norepinephrine, a.k.a. noradrenalin, into your nervous system. Norepinephrine helps your brain wake up and increases your focus, which is why blasting yourself with cold water eradicates your sleepiness and makes you so hyper-alert.
A chilly shower affects your body as well, of course. It’s a real shock to the system — the circulatory system, specifically. “Being cold is very jarring to the body, because your body reacts to try to warm you back up to [your normal body] temperature,” explains Dr. Anthony Rossi, a dermatologist and surgeon at Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center.
The cold causes the blood vessels near the surface of your skin to tighten up, which effectively insulates you to slow down heat loss, but has a great many other effects. “The [blood vessel] vasoconstriction shunts blood basically to where you need it, back to the heart,” says Rossi. “The heart rate increases to pump more blood through the lungs to oxygenate it, and send the oxygenated blood out to warm your body back up.”
Vasoconstriction has benefits beyond merely preventing you from freezing to death, though. Since the cold constricts those surface blood vessels, it reduces pain, swelling and inflammation, which is why people put cold packs on aches and sprains. For the same reason, this is also an extremely effective cooldown technique after exercise, which is why some athletes take an ice bath after a performance.
There could be even more mental benefits to cold showers. Some research indicates that subjecting your body to cold water can help depression and lessen anxiety, so even if the prospect of taking a cold shower stresses or bums you out, well, it might actually help you feel better.
Even though a hot shower can feel oh so good, then, it’s worth considering keeping things chill the next time you’re due for a scrub. Yeah, you’ll probably hate every second of it, but your body and mind might also thank you for it afterward.