Changes in thermal homeostasis in humans due to repeated cold water immersions

Pflugers Arch. 1996 Jul;432(3):368-72. doi: 10.1007/s004240050146.


The purpose of this study was to monitor changes in body and skin temperatures, heat production, subjective shivering, cold sensation and body fat content in humans after intermittent cold water immersion. Repeated exposures of young sportsmen to cold water (head out, 14 degrees C, 1 h, 3 times per week for 4-6 weeks) induced changes in regulation of thermal homeostasis. "Cold acclimated" subjects exhibited an hypothermic type of adaptation. Central and peripheral body temperatures at rest and during cold immersion were lowered. The metabolic response to cold was delayed and subjective shivering was attenuated. The observed hypothermia was due to the shift of the threshold for induction of cold thermogenesis to lower body temperatures. "Cold acclimated" subjects also showed a lowered cold sensation. Because of the observed physiological changes, about 20% of the total heat production was saved during one cold water immersion of "cold acclimated" subjects. Maximal aerobic and anaerobic performances were not altered. No change in the thermosensitivity of the body temperature controller, as assessed from the unchanged slope of the relation between the deep body temperature and total heat production, was observed. Changes in cold sensation and regulation of cold thermogenesis were noticed first after four cold water immersions and persisted for at least 2 weeks after termination of the adaptation procedure. A trend towards a small increase in the body fat content was also observed. This finding, as well as the increased vasoconstriction, evidenced by the lowered skin temperature, indicate that slight changes in body insulation may also occur after "cold acclimation" in humans.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization / physiology
  • Adult
  • Aerobiosis / physiology
  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Cold Temperature / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Immersion / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Shivering / physiology
  • Skinfold Thickness