The purpose of this study was to determine whether or not repeated short-term cold water immersions can induce a change in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and, consequently, in cardiovascular functions in healthy young athletes. Changes in some plasma hormone concentrations were also followed. A single cold water immersion (head-out, at 14 degrees C, for 1 h) increased sympathetic nervous system activity, as evidenced by a four-fold increase (P < 0.05) in plasma noradrenaline concentration. Plasma adrenaline and dopamine concentrations were not increased significantly. Plasma renin-angiotensin activity was reduced by half (P < 0.05) during immersion but plasma aldosterone concentration was unchanged. Stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system during immersion did not induce significant changes in heart rate, but induced peripheral vasoconstriction (as judged from a decrease in skin temperature) and a small increase (by 10%) in systolic and diastolic blood pressures. No clear change in reactivity of the sympathetic nervous system was observed due to repeated cold water immersions (three times a week, for 6 weeks). Neither the plasma renin-angiotensin activity, aldosterone concentration nor cardiovascular parameters were significantly influenced by repeated cold water immersions. A lowered diastolic pressure and an increase in peripheral vasoconstriction were observed after cold acclimation, however. Evidently, the repeated cold stimuli were not sufficient to induce significant adaptational changes in sympathetic activity and hormone production.