Effects of mild whole body hypothermia on self-paced exercise performance

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2018 Aug 1;125(2):479-485. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01134.2017. Epub 2018 Apr 19.


This study examined self-paced, high-intensity exercise during mild hypothermia and whether hyperoxia might offset any potential impairment. Twelve trained males each completed 15-km time trials in three environmental conditions: Neutral (23°C, [Formula: see text] 0.21), Cold (0°C, [Formula: see text] 0.21), and Cold+Hyper (0°C, [Formula: see text] 0.40). Cold and Cold+Hyper trials occurred after a 0.5°C drop in rectal temperature. Rectal temperature was higher ( P ≤ 0.016) throughout Neutral compared with Cold and Cold+Hyper; Cold had a higher ( P ≤ 0.035) rectal temperature than Cold+Hyper from 2.5 to 7.5 km, and hyperoxia did not alter thermal sensation or comfort. Oxyhemoglobin saturation decreased from ~98% to ~94% with Neutral and Cold, but was maintained at ~99% in Cold+Hyper ( P < 0.01). Cerebral tissue oxygenation index (TOI) was higher in Neutral than in Cold throughout the time trial (TT) ( P ≤ 0.001), whereas Cold+Hyper were unchanged ( P ≥ 0.567) from Neutral by 2.5 km. Muscle TOI was maintained in Cold+Hyper compared with Neutral and was higher ( P ≤ 0.046) than Cold throughout the entire TT. Power output during Cold (246 ± 41 W) was lower than Neutral (260 ± 38 W) at all 2.5-km intervals ( P ≤ 0.012) except at 12.5 km. Power output during Cold+Hyper (256 ± 42 W) was unchanged ( P ≥ 0.161) from Neutral throughout the TT, and was higher than Cold from 7.5 km onward. Average cadence was higher in Neutral (93 ± 8 rpm) than in either Cold or Cold+Hyper (Cold: 89 ± 7 and Cold+Hyper: 90 ± 8 rpm, P = 0.031). In conclusion, mild hypothermia reduced self-paced exercise performance; hyperoxia during mild hypothermia restored performance to thermoneutral levels, likely due to maintenance of oxygen availability rather than any thermogenic benefit. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We examined self-paced, high-intensity exercise with 0.5°C rectal temperature decreases in a 0°C ambient environment, along with whether hyperoxia could offset any potential impairment. During a 15-km time trial, power output was lower with hypothermia than with thermoneutral. However, with hypothermia, hyperoxia of [Formula: see text] = 0.40 restored power output despite there being no thermophysiological improvement. Hypothermia impairs exercise performance, whereas hyperoxia likely restored performance due to maintenance of oxygen availability rather than any thermogenic benefit.

Keywords: NIRS; cold stress; hyperoxia; pacing; voluntary exercise.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Athletic Performance / physiology*
  • Bicycling / physiology*
  • Body Temperature / physiology*
  • Cold Temperature
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia / metabolism
  • Hypothermia / physiopathology*
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Thermosensing / physiology


  • Oxygen