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Last Updated: 21.06.23

Using Deliberate Cold Exposure for Health and Performance

Huberman explores the effects of deliberate cold exposure on mental health, performance, and metabolism. He shares protocols for safe engagement, including optimal temperatures, recovery strategies, and mindset. Huberman explains how cold exposure improves attention, mood, and cognitive focus, while also enhancing endurance and weight training. The benefits of targeted cold exposure on glabrous skin surfaces are discussed as well.

Key Takeaways

High level takeaways from the episode.

Proceed with caution and consult a board-​​certified physician before starting any new protocol.

15 minutes of moderate exercise prior to cognitive work can be beneficial for focus and working memory.

Temperature rises with waking, continues to rise throughout the day

  • Late afternoon and evening: temperature starts to decline
  • Decrease in core body temperature essential for deep sleep

Cooling off in the desert heat

  • Placing a cold towel on the head or torso would actually increase body temperature
  • This is because the brain’s thermostat would register the environment as artificially cool and trigger a mechanism to further increase temperature

To reduce core body temperature efficiently and improve athletic/​​cognitive performance, leverage specific body sites where heat can leave more readily:

  • Upper cheeks/​​upper half of the face
  • Palms of hands
  • Bottoms of feet

Cold exposure can shift mental state and train the mind to better cope with stress.

Cold exposure increases catecholamines (dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine) which can improve attention and mood.

Cold exposure can increase metabolism and convert white fat cells (energy-​​storing) to beige or brown fat cells (thermogenic)

  • Brown fat helps maintain core body temperature and supports a leaner body composition

Cold exposure can reduce inflammation post-​​exercise and in general

  • Can enhance performance in strength training and endurance training

The right cold temperature depends on individual cold tolerance and core metabolism

  • Rule of thumb: the environment should make you want to leave but be safe to stay in

Cold exposure methods ranked by effectiveness:

  • Cold water immersion up to the neck with hands and feet submerged
  • Cold shower
  • Going outside with minimal clothing in a cold environment
  • Cryo chambers, ice vests, and ice packs

Cold exposure can help build mental resilience, grit, and toughness

  • Develop the ability to resist escape from stressors through willpower and prefrontal cortex control

Time and temperature

  • Increase duration or lower temperature over time
  • Limited by practicality and safety concerns

Counting walls

  • Recognize sensations of resistance and wanting to escape the cold
  • Set a designated number of walls to overcome during each session
  • Provides more flexibility and room for improvement

Remain calm or lean into the challenge mentally

  • Calming yourself through controlled breathing can help
  • Engaging in cognitive activities during cold exposure can maintain clarity of mind and teach the prefrontal cortex to stay engaged during stress

No strict guidelines, but some studies suggest a threshold of 11 minutes per week for increased metabolism.

Deliberate cold exposure can be used as a healthier form of dopamine release, as seen in a patient who used it to stay sober from drugs.

Study on young, healthy winter swimming men

  • 11 minutes of cold water immersion per week (divided into two sessions)
  • Long-​​lasting changes in the types of fat stored in the body and how it impacts metabolism throughout the day

Study on cold exposure suggests that cold exposure creates “eustress” (positive stress) rather than “distress” (negative stress).

Increases in dopamine from cold exposure are similar to those from addictive substances or behaviors

  • However, cold exposure provides long-​​lasting dopamine increases without negative side effects

Fasting increases baseline levels of norepinephrine and epinephrine

  • Cold exposure during fasting can have a greater effect on metabolism and resilience

Ingesting caffeine 60–120 minutes before cold exposure can increase dopamine levels in the brain

  • Caffeine increases the density and efficacy of dopamine receptors, allowing dopamine to have a greater effect

Soberg Principle: To achieve greatest increases in metabolism through cold exposure, force yourself to reheat on your own after the exposure

  • End with cold exposure and avoid using heat immediately after

Avoid cold water or ice bath immersion for up to 4 hours after strength/​​hypertrophy training to maximize muscle growth and strength.

Cold exposure after training can be beneficial for recovery and reducing inflammation.

Cold water immersion (CWI) is more effective than passive recovery for:

  • Improving muscular power performance
  • Reducing muscle soreness
  • Reducing serum creatine kinase
  • Improving perceived recovery after high-​​intensity exercise

Shorter duration and lower temperature CWI may be more effective after high-​​intensity exercise.

Glabrous skin (palms, soles of feet, upper face) cooling can help sustain exercise in hot conditions and return body temperature to baseline faster than traditional cooling methods.

Effects of glabrous skin cooling on physical performance

  • Increases endurance and volume of strength training
  • Allows for more work over time

Some people use cold exposure directly on the testicles to increase testosterone

  • No well-​​controlled studies show that this works, but it’s plausible due to increased blood flow and dopamine release

Cold water immersion likely increases testosterone as a downstream consequence of its effects on dopamine and luteinizing hormone.


Two Types of Protocols for Building Mental Resilience


Glabrous Skin Cooling for Physical Performance



We recommend using this distillation as a supplemental resource to the source material.

  • Using Deliberate Cold Exposure for Health and Performance

    Huberman Lab #66

    Huberman examines the impact of deliberate cold exposure on mental health, performance, and metabolism, offering protocols and discussing the associated benefits.

Full Notes

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