Benefits of Cold Water for Mental and Physical Strength

When individuals submerge in cold water, the initial shock is accompanied by a notable spike in adrenaline or epinephrine, characterized by the all-too-familiar rush many feel as they take the plunge. 

It’s an inescapable part of the experience that signals your body’s acute response to the sudden change in temperature.

Beyond adrenaline, however, there are more sustained biochemical effects that develop over time, particularly the increase in dopamine levels. 

Dopamine, commonly known for its association with pleasure and reward, rises gradually during cold exposure and can peak at levels up to 2.5 times above the baseline. 

This significant elevation of dopamine does not exhibit the sharp decline often seen with stimulants like cocaine; instead, it provides a prolonged sense of well-being that can last up to three hours after the cold exposure. 

It’s this increase that may explain why many practitioners of cold water immersion report heightened calmness and focus post-submersion.

The temperature of the water plays a crucial role in these effects. The study referred to temperatures of 14 degrees Celsius as a reference point, though the individual preference for what constitutes ‘cold’ varies widely. 

Interestingly, alongside adrenaline and dopamine, cortisol (the stress hormone) levels also rise during cold exposure, albeit temporarily, indicating the body’s ability to adapt to the stressor over time with repeated practice.

Andrew Huberman suggests different methods of coping with the discomfort of cold water, from relaxation techniques like slow breathing and panoramic vision, to psyching oneself up to endure the cold

But regardless of the approach, the dopamine release persists, signifying a universal benefit from the experience.

Ultimately, cold water immersion emerges as a zero-cost, pharmacology-free method to potentially uplift one’s dopamine levels and overall mood.

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Links

Review on Dopamine: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41583-021-00455-7Cold Exposure & Dopamine: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s004210050065

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