Effect of cold water immersion on postexercise parasympathetic reactivation

Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2009 Feb;296(2):H421-7. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.01017.2008. Epub 2008 Dec 12.


The aim of the present study was to assess the effect of cold water immersion (CWI) on postexercise parasympathetic reactivation. Ten male cyclists (age, 29 +/- 6 yr) performed two repeated supramaximal cycling exercises (SE(1) and SE(2)) interspersed with a 20-min passive recovery period, during which they were randomly assigned to either 5 min of CWI in 14 degrees C or a control (N) condition where they sat in an environmental chamber (35.0 +/- 0.3 degrees C and 40.0 +/- 3.0% relative humidity). Rectal temperature (T(re)) and beat-to-beat heart rate (HR) were recorded continuously. The time constant of HR recovery (HRRtau) and a time (30-s) varying vagal-related HR variability (HRV) index (rMSSD(30s)) were assessed during the 6-min period immediately following exercise. Resting vagal-related HRV indexes were calculated during 3-min periods 2 min before and 3 min after SE(1) and SE(2). Results showed no effect of CWI on T(re) (P = 0.29), SE performance (P = 0.76), and HRRtau (P = 0.61). In contrast, all vagal-related HRV indexes were decreased after SE(1) (P < 0.001) and tended to decrease even further after SE(2) under N condition but not with CWI. When compared with the N condition, CWI increased HRV indexes before (P < 0.05) and rMSSD(30s) after (P < 0.05) SE(2). Our study shows that CWI can significantly restore the impaired vagal-related HRV indexes observed after supramaximal exercise. CWI may serve as a simple and effective means to accelerate parasympathetic reactivation during the immediate period following supramaximal exercise.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bicycling
  • Body Temperature
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Heart / innervation*
  • Heart Rate*
  • Humans
  • Immersion*
  • Male
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Physical Exertion*
  • Recovery of Function
  • Time Factors
  • Water*
  • Young Adult


  • Water