Episode 66: Using Deliberate Cold Exposure for Health and Performance | Huberman Lab Podcast

Key Takeaways

  • Doing something deliberately and believing that it’s going to be good for us, can lead to a different set of physiological effects as opposed to something happening to us against our will
  • Deliberate cold exposure improves mental performance (resilience, grittiness, the ability to move through challenges)
    • It can be used to cause increases in catecholamines (including dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline) in ways that can improve your levels of attention and your mood
  • As a rule of thumb, the environment should be uncomfortably cold but such that you can stay in safely
  • Cold water immersion up to the neck is the most effective option, a cold shower is the next best thing
  • Doing deliberate cold exposure early in the day will further increase your core body temperature (associated with wakefulness, ability to be alert throughout the day)
  • Deliberate cold exposure is an opportunity to stress our body on purpose, and learn to maintain mental clarity & calm while our body is in a state of stress
  • Time protocol (11-15 minutes per week):
    • Monday – 1 minute of cold exposure
    • Wednesday – extending by 50%
    • Friday – twice as long as on Monday
    • Continue this every week and either increase the duration or lower the temperate and reduce the duration
  • “Anchoring your mind in cognitive activities as you get into the cold can be very helpful for maintaining clarity of mind.”Dr. Andrew Huberman
  • To increase stimulus and get more benefit, try moving continuously and keep your mind still
  • The quality of stress caused by deliberate cold exposure is most likely to one of “eustress” – positive health outcomes
  • For the greatest boost in metabolism via cold exposure force yourself to reheat on your own after cold exposure
  • If your main goal is hypertrophy and strength, it’s probably best to avoid cold immersion (up to the neck) for 4 hours after training

Intro

  • Dr. Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab) is a Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine. Much of his work is focused on neural regeneration, neuroplasticity, and brain states such as stress, focus, fear, and optimal performance
    • In this episode of Huberman Lab, Dr. Huberman explains mechanisms by which deliberate cold exposure can enhance mental health, physical health, and performance
      • Progress gradually when embarking on new protocols, especially if they involve strong stimuli like unusual temperatures
      • Find the minimum threshold of stimulus that will allow you to drive the maximum benefit
      • Gradual progression is never a weakness
  • Host: Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab)
    • Note: For full access to publications that are behind a paywall, check out Sci-Hub

Deliberate vs Non-deliberate Cold Exposure

  • Why so adamant on this distinction?
    • It’s not just about the state we are in, it’s also about if we had anything to do with placing ourselves into that state and if we did it on purpose
    • Check out these Podcast Notes for a discussion on how mindset shapes how we interact and react to the world around us
  • Doing something deliberately and believing that it’s going to be good for us, can lead to a different set of physiological effects as opposed to something happening to us against our will

Why Use Deliberate Cold Exposure?

  • Deliberate cold exposure improves mental performance (resilience, grittiness, the ability to move through challenges)
    • It regulates your mind and internal state under conditions of stress (the time when adrenaline and noradrenaline are elevated in your body)
  • Adrenaline and noradrenaline are often co-released in our bodies; they work in pairs to increase levels of agitation, focus, and our desire and ability to move
    • They are often co-released from different sites in the brain and body, together with dopamine (molecule of motivation, reward, and pursuit)
  • Deliberate cold exposure can be used to cause increases in catecholamines (including dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline) in ways that can improve your levels of attention and your mood
    • “Adrenaline and noradrenaline release in brain and body are the generic universal code for the stressor.” – Dr. Andrew Huberman
  • Many people use cold exposure deliberately to shift their body state as a way to train their mental state to better cope with stressful situations
  • Physical effects of cold exposure:
    • Metabolism; converting white fat cells to thermogenic fat

How, When, and Where? 

  • How cold depends on your cold tolerance, core metabolism, and many other features
    • As a rule of thumb, the environment should be uncomfortably cold but such that you can stay in safely
  • Something like: “Whoa! I would really like to get out of this environment, but I can stay in safely.”Dr. Andrew Huberman
    • That temperature will vary across the 24-hour cycle due to your circadian rhythm
  • Cold Showers or Cold Water Immersion?
    • Cold water immersion up to the neck is the most effective option
    • A cold shower is the next best solution
    • Putting yourself in a cold environment (close to shivering) is the third-best option
  • When Should You Do It?
    • Your baseline temperature is going to be the lowest about 2 hours before you wake up
    • It will increase in the morning, and throughout the day and afternoon
    • The drop happens in the evening
    • Doing deliberate cold exposure early in the day will further increase your core body temperature (associated with wakefulness, ability to be alert throughout the day)
    • Doing it very late in the evening might disrupt your sleep

Cold Exposure Protocols for Building Mental Resilience

  • Deliberate cold exposure is a non-negotiable stimulus for increasing noradrenaline and adrenaline and can be used to build up resilience
    • Stress is the consequence of increases in noradrenaline and adrenaline in our brain and body (almost identical to what happens from deliberate cold exposure)
    • Deliberate cold exposure is an opportunity to stress our body on purpose, and learn to maintain mental clarity & calm while our body is in a state of stress
    • That is the definition of resilience, grit, and mental toughness; tolerating challenges while keeping our heads “straight”
  • Time protocol (11-15 minutes per week):
    • Monday – 1 minute of cold exposure
    • Wednesday – extending by 50%
    • Friday – twice as long as on Monday
    • Continue this every week and either increase the duration or lower the temperate and reduce the duration
  • Counting “walls” protocol:
    • Think of a “wall” as a sensation of “No, I don’t want to do this” and the sensation that you want to leave the cold environment and warm-up
    • For some people, this can happen even before getting into the bath or cold shower
    • If you manage to do it, count that step as “one wall”
    • If you continue to stay in a cold environment, you will face multiple walls due to the surge of adrenaline and noradrenaline
    • By staying another approx. 10 seconds longer, you’ve traversed another wall
    • Maintain cognitive control, count, and traverse the walls but get out at some point
  • Huberman’s favorite protocol for building mental toughness:
    • Take the context of the day and the moment into account
    • We have different levels of grit and resilience on different days and depending on our life at the time of day we are doing these protocols
    • Start with being able to sense the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline (which can increase even before you immerse yourself in cold) and visualize them as walls
    • The key is to design protocols that are going to work for you over time; be flexible and vary the parameter space
    • Set a certain number of walls that you’re going to go over on a given day
    • Try to mix it up, add more walls if you are feeling bold
    • This approach makes it more realistic because, in real life, we are not engaging with stressors in fixed time; most of the stressors come in the form of surprises we don’t like
    • Basically, you are learning behavior control in the context of your body has elevated levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline

Optimal Mindset(s) During Cold Exposure 

  • Try to remain as mentally still as possible
    • Lean into the challenge and grind it out
    • Sometimes it’s easier to calm yourself (controlling the pace and volume of your breathing)
    • “Anchoring your mind in cognitive activities as you get into the cold can be very helpful for maintaining clarity of mind.”Dr. Andrew Huberman
  • Engage some sort of cognitive exercise to maintain clarity of thinking
    • This should not be a form of distraction
    • Math problems, thoughts with full sentence structure, recall of challenging information, etc.
  • You are training your brain to keep working when the reflex is to shut down parts of your brain involved in planning and thinking

Tool: Using Movement During Cold Exposure 

  • If you stay still, you get warmer than when you move around
    • To increase stimulus and get more benefit, try moving continuously and keep your mind still
    • Movement is another stimulus you can include to add variety to your personalized protocols

Cold Exposure for Dopamine, Mood & Focus

  • Deliberate cold exposure has a very powerful effect on the release of dopamine in our bodies
  • Dopamine release is of the main reasons why people continue with the practice of cold exposure
  • Boosts in dopamine produced by deliberate cold exposure are very similar to those by e.g. nicotine, and they last longer
    • “Virtually any stimulus that delivers more adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine to our system will sharpen our mental acuity and elevate our mood and will do so for a while.”Dr. Andrew Huberman
    • Deliberate cold exposure is a very potent way to increase this category of chemicals and improve mood & focus
  • The quality of stress caused by deliberate cold exposure is most likely to one of “eustress” – positive health outcomes
    • Distress is stress that negatively affects us and eustress is stress that has a positive effect on you (minimum increases in cortisol)

Increasing Metabolism With Cold

  • The Søberg Principle – always end a shower with cold exposure
    • For the greatest boost in metabolism via cold exposure force yourself to reheat on your own after cold exposure
    • Don’t go directly to a hot shower or sauna
    • Try to get to the point of shivering
    • Shivering releases succinate which plays a key role in activating brown fat thermogenesis

Cold, Physical Performance, Inflammation

  • If your main goal is hypertrophy and strength, it’s probably best to avoid cold immersion (up to the neck) for 4 hours after training
    • Cold showers are ok, there is no science to prove otherwise
    • For endurance, skill, or interval training any form of cold water immersion is ok
    • Shorter durations of cold water exposure after training have been shown to improve outcomes in terms of reducing soreness and improving training efficacy
Huberman Lab : , , , , , , ,
Notes By Dario

More Notes on these topics

Top Insights and Tactics From

31 Best Podcasts of All Time

FREE when you join over 35,000 subscribers to the
Podcast Notes newsletter

No Thanks