Holy crap, it’s cold outside! Some temperatures around the U.S. are so low right now, they could convince a polar bear to hide indoors — there’s a reason some animals just say “screw it” and hibernate through winter, after all. But while it might force you indoors and freeze your eyeballs, the cold has some surprise benefits, too.
It Literally Freezes Your Butt Off
The cold boosts your body’s production of brown fat — which burns calories by using them to produce heat — according to researchers at UC Berkeley. This results in better metabolic balance (meaning that healthy nutrients are entering your body quicker than they’re leaving it), lower blood sugar levels and less of the bad kinds of fat, like that inner-tube around your grandpapa’s gut. Researchers found that when mice had boosted levels of the protein that produces brown fat, they gained 30 percent less weight than the control mice, even when both groups were fed a high-fat diet. So if you’re looking for a quick way to burn off all that holiday ham, just go outside and make a snow angel.
It Puts a Smile on Your Face
A cold shower jolts the happy place in your brain, according to a 2008 study performed by molecular biologist Nikolai Shevchuk. “The mechanism that can probably explain the immediate mood-lifting effect of immersion in cold water or a cold shower is probably the stimulation of the dopaminergic transmission in the mesocorticolimbic and nigrostriatal pathway,” Shevchuk said in a 2008 podcast with Neuroscene. To put that in layman’s terms, hopping in a cold shower releases a combo platter of hormones and endorphins — including an antidepressant called noradrenalin — that’ll help you keep your chin held high.
It Soothes Your Sore Muscles
You already know that putting ice on a sore shoulder reduces pain and inflammation: It works by numbing your nerve endings and narrowing the blood vessels, which prevents fluid from rushing in and swelling up the affected area. What may be a surprise, however, is that this concept works on a much grander scale — that is, cold temperatures can reduce pain and inflammation all over. A recent study found that runners who were exposed to temperatures as low as -166 degrees Fahrenheit in a full-body cryotherapy chamber recovered faster than those who were given other forms of therapy, or simply told to rest. Two minutes in a really cold room beats an hour on the chiropractor’s table any day… we think?
It Strengthens your Relationships
It’s reasonable to think you spend less time socializing during the winter, since the cold weather often keeps us from going outdoors to see pals. But according to a 2012 study, we tend to reach out more often to our closest friends and family on the phone during the coldest of months of the year, and end up chatting with them for longer than usual. Say hello to your grandma for us!