The benefits of cold water immersion
My notes from a talk by Andrew Huberman
A letter to my friends
I found this video yesterday recently, after some friends and I made a chance late winter encounter down by the river.
We'd just emerged from over five mins immersion in 9°C water (yes I had a thermometer). Jack and his daughters were excited to be taking a dip, but he took a moment to talk about and recommend Andrew Huberman, a US based neuroscientist and tenured associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
“He offers the most clear and scientific explanation of why it works” Jack said, and “one only has to do 11 mins total per week, to gain the benefits.” That got me! I’ve been doing at least that much, even in the latter weeks of winter. No wonder I’m feeling so good!
In this video, Andrew Huberman offers an incredibly well structured presentation, of the benefits of deliberate cold exposure. In the first minute he opens with a concise summary of the range of benefits to physical and mental health and performance. He goes on to explains this is because of the way cold impacts on every aspect of our nervous system, and in fact every organ and system of our body.
This is a wise and grounded in science explanation for non-scientists.
Here are my time stamped notes from this two hour video.
Note: adrenaline and noradrenaline are also referred to as epinephrine and norepinephrine (these terms are interchangeable).
00:15:37 Circadian Rhythm & Body Temperature
~ 2 hrs before waking is it at it’s lowest
Temp increases from there, till a late afternoon peak
It decreases all the way into sleep, which supports deep sleep
Understanding this helps us know when to access cold exposure and for what benefits.
00:18:41 How to quickly decrease core body temperature, glabrous skin
The thermostat for this is in the head. If a body overheats, cool only appropriate areas: upper half of face, and palms of hands and feet
00:25:26 Introduction to benefits of cold exposure
Cold immersion protocols are designed to improve mental performance.
Defined as resilience, grittyness, and the ability to move through challenges, or regulate your mind and internal state, under conditions of stress.
Stress defined as when adrenaline and noradrenaline molecules are present, and co work to increase agitation, focus, and desire to move.
Often co released with the molecule dopamine, which relates to motivation, reward and pursuit.
00:29:02 Physical effects of cold exposure
Converting white fats (blubber) to brown fats - the latter is the furnace used to regulate core body temperature [29:55] to reduce inflammation post exercise
00:30:11 How cold should it be?
Depends on your level of cold tolerance, core metabolism, and a whole bunch of other factors. Does it call forth a : “Whoa! I’d really like to get out, but I can stay in safely.”
00:34:53 Cold showers vs. cold water immersion
Deep water immersion best (4x better than #3)
Then cold shower
Then outside (dry) with minimal clothing
00:38:27 Protocols for Cold Exposure
Cold increases noradrenaline (neurotransmitter) and adrenaline (hormone), in a similar way that stress does.
Cold can be used to build up resilience deliberately, by releasing these.
Through deliberate stressing, we can learn to maintain calm while our body is in a state of stress (not just cold stress).
Pick a water temp that is uncomfortable (immersion or shower), for a certain duration of time and then get out. I’m currently doing 5 minutes consistently.
Record it, log it and increase it, like doing reps in weight training.
The point is to get to the point your body is flooded with noradrenaline (norepinephrine) and adrenaline (epinephrine).
Set the number of walls you’re going to traverse, before you start
I don’t want to do this (1)
Once in the water, you may feel like, oh this OK (for a while), but then the next wall
I want to get out and go and warm up (2)
Stay in a little longer (even just 10 secs longer) and you have traversed wall 2
Rinse and repeat
Until you have counted the designated number.
Vary the number of walls you are going to cross from day to day based on life factors and temperature. [50:40] This is how we build resilience and ability to remain calm in stressor situations - which life throws at us often unexpectedly, and for unknown durations of time.
00:50:57 Optimal mindset(s) and practices
during cold exposure - and the mental benefits
Calm yourself - double inhale by nose and exhale by mouth, increase volume of breath,
Lean into the challenge (grind it out)
Engage in cognitive challenges - to teach your prefrontal cortex how to stay engaged when you have high levels of stress
00:55:26 Using movement during cold exposure to increase chill
Movement will chill more, by breaking up the thermal layer that surrounds the body. This is more relevant in still water like an ice bath.
00:57:51 Optimal frequency of cold exposure
At least 11 mins total per week, divided into 2-4 sessions, if you need a number to keep you consistent.
If it’s too easy, lower the temp, increase the duration or the frequency
01:00:22 Cold exposure for dopamine, mood, focus, & reducing inflammation
Along with noradrenaline and adrenaline, dopamine is co-released.
This elevates our mood, energises and increases ability to focus.
Quotes a study:
20°c water for an hour - 93% increase in metabolism
14°c water for an hour - 350% increase in metabolism
530% inc in noradrenaline
250% inc in dopamine (which persisted for as much as two hours after)
No increase in the stress hormone cortisol (negative stress)
01:12:55 Cold exposure and metabolism, white, beige and brown fat
Increased brown fat thermogenesis - When brown fat burns, it creates heat without shivering. This process is called thermogenesis. During this process, the brown fat also burns calories. Brown fat is highly regarded as a possible treatment for obesity and some metabolic syndromes. I experience this.
While we burn calories during cold exposure, it is not significant. However, it appears to cause a change in the types of fat we store in our body - from white to beige or brown fat cells - which act as a furnace.
Beige and brown fat raises metabolism and helps burn white fat by creating a caloric deficit.
01:20:00 - description of science of how white cells are converted into more thermogenetically active, metabolism increasing beige or brown cells.
01:24:54 Fasting and cold exposure
Metabolism increases with cold exposure in fasted state because of the increased baseline levels of noradrenaline and adrenaline during fasted state.
01:25:55 Caffeine, dopamine & cold exposure
Taking (2-3 cups of coffee) caffeine 60-120 mins before cold exposure will increase dopamine. The caffeine allows the dopamine to bind to key receptors.
Helpful in treatment of narcolepsy.
01:29:14 Increasing metabolism with cold – The Søberg Principle, shivering
Force yourself to reheat on your own after the cold, if you want to increase your metabolism.
Done to the point where you shiver - which I have experienced after more extreme (low temp, long duration) cold exposure.
Detailed process for achieving this brutal protocol.
01:36:22 Cold effects on physical performance, inflammation
Enjoy - you’ll be amazed at the benefits!
Stuff recently wrote about a small group in Nelson, in: The strange and powerful attraction of cold water swimming.
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