The Science and Use of Cold Exposure for Health and Performance (2023)

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Episode #66 of the Huberman Lab Podcast discussed the "Use of intentional exposure to cold for health and performance.” When done right, conscious exposure to cold can have positive effects on brain and body health. Below I describe some of these benefits and the best way to access them.


Never enter dangerous bodies of water. Also, never intentionally hyperventilate before or during immersion in cold water (or any water!). Start slow (warmer than cold) as cold shock is possible; As with weightlifting or any other form of exercise, you need to find the right temperature for you, but prioritize safety.

How cold?

This is the most common question I hear and makes sense to ask. However, that's really impossible to answer as some people tolerate cold better than others. The key is to aim for a temperature that evokes the thought, "It's too cold (!) and I want to go outside,BUTI can safely stay at home. For some people, this temperature can be 60°F, while for others it can be 45°F.

Here's the key: the colder the stimulus (water immersion, bath, etc.), the less time you'll need to expose yourself to the cold. One study showed a significant and sustained increase in dopamine when people stood neck-deep in cold (60°F) water with their heads out of the water for about an hour. Other studies describe a significant increase in epinephrine in just 20 seconds in very cold water (~40°F). The good news is that if you consciously expose yourself to the cold more often, you'll become more comfortable in the cold, and you'll be able to face cooler temperatures with more confidence, just like when you're exercising.

(Video) Using Deliberate Cold Exposure for Health and Performance | Huberman Lab Podcast #66

Ice bath, cold shower or cryo?

Most studies use ice baths or immersion in cold water up to the neck. These are the best, but cold showers can also work (and are more affordable for most). Cryo is very expensive and difficult to access and is not subject to many protocol variations, so it is not considered here.

To increase energy and concentration.

Deliberate exposure to cold causes a significant release ofAdrenalin(aka adrenaline) andNorepinephrine(also known as norepinephrine) in the brain and body. These neurochemicals alert us and can make us jittery and feel like we need to move or vocalize when exposed to cold. The cold causes your levels to remain elevated for some time, and its lasting effect after exposure is to increase your energy and focus levels, which can then be applied to other mental and/or physical activities.

Building resilience and grit

By forcing yourself to accept cold stress as a major self-directed challenge (i.e., a stressor), you exercise what is called “top-down control” over the deeper brain centers that regulate reflective states. This top-down control process involves the prefrontal cortex, an area of ​​the brain involved in planning and suppressing impulsivity. This "top-down" control is the basis that people refer to when they think about "resiliencemiGrainImportantly, it is a skill applied to situations outside of the intentionally cold environment, allowing you to cope better and maintain a calm and clear mind when faced with real-world stressors.In other words, conscious exposure to cold is a great mind exercise.

improving your mood

Although not true for all types of stress, exposure to cold leads to a prolonged release ofDopamine. Dopamine is a powerful molecule capable of elevating mood, focus, alertness, goal-directed behavior, etc. Even brief exposure to cold can result in a long-lasting surge in dopamine and sustained elevations in mood, energy, and focus. HearEpisode #39for more information on the role of dopamine in the body.

Brief exposure to cold.increases metabolismbecause the body needs to burn calories to increase core body temperature. Total calorie expenditure from exposure to cold is not as significant. However, converting white fat (which stores energy) into beige or brown fat (which are very metabolically active) can be beneficial for:

(Video) Deliberate Cold Exposure — How to Do it RIGHT with Dr. Andrew Huberman | The Proof Podcast EP 205

  1. Enabling people to be more comfortable in the cold (i.e., cold adaptation)
  2. Induce additional and more sustained increases in metabolism.

Apparently, calories taken in (expended) versus calories expelled (metabolized) or "CICO" determine whether you gain, lose, or maintain your weight. There is no escaping the laws of thermodynamics.

A solid foundational protocol backed by science

Consider intentional exposure to cold11 minutes a week TOTAL. NOT per session, but 2 to 4 sessions of 1 to 5 minutes each, spread over the week. The water temperature should also be hereuncomfortably coldstill safeto stay a few minutes. You can do more, but this should be the bare minimum to reap the benefits of cold exposure. You can also do very short, very cold exposures to release adrenaline, but the 11 minutes is based on a recent study that examined a variety of effects and is a good, solid reference protocol for continued use.

Huberman Lab's Walls of Count approach

No doubt during (or before) exposure to the cold you will find that your spirit is up to the challenge. Your mind will say, "I really don't want to do this" before you even step in, or "Get me out of here." You can think of these mental barriers as "walls." These walls are actually the effects of adrenaline rushes in your brain and body, which in this case triggers the ultimate adaptive response. Because if it were easy, there would be no incentive for your body to change (adapt). By maintaining top-down control of your reflex needs to get out of the cold environment, you have successfully broken down that wall. challenge yourselfcounting wallsand set a goal of walking "walls" (e.g., 3-5 walls) during the cold exposure round. You can also leave on time. As you wish. The benefit of the Walls approach is that it transfers more seamlessly to other scenarios, since most life stressors are not well suited to determining the time it takes for them to pass. It also increases your sense of mind-body connection when you do it this way.

Earthquakes and the Søeberg principle

ÖSoeberg's principlebased on intentional cold investigatorsPull. Susan Sobergen: In order to increase the metabolic effects of cold, it forces your body to heat up. Or "Beat the cold".

Giving your body the shivers can increase the metabolic surge of the common cold.Shakecause theRelease of succinate from musclesand even activates the thermogenesis of brown fat.

(Video) Neuroscientist: "Cold Showers increase Your Dopamine by 250%" | The Proper Way To Use Cold Exposure

Try this protocol to increase tremors during or immediately after exposure to cold:

Don't bend over or cross your arms when it's cold or after going outside. Also, don't dry yourself out. Allow your body to warm up and dry naturally. It is true that this is difficult. If I'm not intentionally exposing myself to the cold on a hot, sunny day, I'll admit that I'd rather take a hot shower and towel dry myself after exposure to the cold, but I'm definitely limiting the metabolic effect by doing so.

physical recovery

AMeta-Analyseof the effects of cold water immersion on recovery found that cold exposure can be avery effective recovery toolafter high-intensity exercise or resistance training. Cold water immersion for short intervals (<5 minutes) has been shown to have positive results for muscle strength, perceived recovery, and reduced muscle soreness (due in part to a reduction in circulating creatine kinase).

The problem is that cold water immersion (but not cold showers) can limit some gains in hypertrophy, strength, or endurance if done within 4 hours or more of a workout. It's best to wait 6-8 hours or more until post-workout, or do it before a workout unless your goal is simply recovery without adaptation (e.g. if you're in and not in competition mode try to improve, get stronger). . , etc.)

day or night?

After exposure to cold, your body warms up—yes, WARM UP—for reasons detailed inHuberman Lab Podcast with Dr. Craig Heller from Stanford. An increase in body temperature wakes us up, while a decrease in body temperature makes us sleepy. I therefore recommend consciously using the cold early in the day and not too close to bedtime. Sometimes it's better to do it late than never, but not if it's disrupting your sleep. If intentional cold is affecting your sleep, try it earlier in the day or not at all.

(Video) The Science Behind Cold Plunges, Explained in Four Minutes

Increase the resistance-enhancing effect of intentional exposure to cold

When you lie completely still in cold water, a layer of warmth wraps around your body and "insulates" you from the cold. To be most effective as a resilience training tool, flex your limbs while keeping your hands and feet in the water. This will break the layer of heat and you will feel the water (much) colder than if it were still. This is also a great way to increase the power of a cold stimulus without having to chill the water. This is similar to slowing down a weightlifter's movement to eliminate momentum, reduce it, and add more tension to the working muscles.

stay in contact

New episodes of the Huberman Lab Podcast are released every MondayYoutube,Podcasts from Apple,Spotifythat's allmajor podcast platforms. Subscribe to these channels. I'll post additional science and scientific toolsInstagram,bloodmiFacebook.

Thank you for your interest in science!


Disclaimer:The Huberman Lab Podcast is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing, or any other professional health service, including the provision of medical advice, and does not establish a doctor-patient relationship. Use of the information in this podcast or related materials is at the user's own risk. The content of this podcast is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not ignore or delay in seeking medical advice for any medical condition they may have and should seek the assistance of their healthcare professional in the event of such medical conditions.

(Video) Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman Explains Benefits of the Cold Plunge


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2. Cold-Water Immersion and Cryotherapy: Neuroendocrine and Fat Browning Effects
3. Cold Showers Impacts on Brain and Body - Andrew Huberman
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4. Dr. Craig Heller: Using Temperature for Performance, Brain & Body Health | Huberman Lab Podcast #40
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