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J Therm Biol. 2013 Jan;38(1):24-31. doi: 10.1016/j.jtherbio.2012.10.002. Epub 2012 Oct 23.

Habituation of the metabolic and ventilatory responses to cold-water immersion in humans.

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Department of Sport and Exercise Science, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, United Kingdom.


An experiment was undertaken to answer long-standing questions concerning the nature of metabolic habituation in repeatedly cooled humans. It was hypothesised that repeated skin and deep-body cooling would produce such a habituation that would be specific to the magnitude of the cooling experienced, and that skin cooling alone would dampen the cold-shock but not the metabolic response to cold-water immersion. Twenty-one male participants were divided into three groups, each of which completed two experimental immersions in 12°C water, lasting until either rectal temperature fell to 35°C or 90min had elapsed. Between these two immersions, the control group avoided cold exposures, whilst two experimental groups completed five additional immersions (12°C). One experimental group repeatedly immersed for 45min in average, resulting in deep-body (1.18°C) and skin temperature reductions. The immersions in the second experimental group were designed to result only in skin temperature reductions, and lasted only 5min. Only the deep-body cooling group displayed a significantly blunted metabolic response during the second experimental immersion until rectal temperature decreased by 1.18°C, but no habituation was observed when they were cooled further. The skin cooling group showed a significant habituation in the ventilatory response during the initial 5min of the second experimental immersion, but no alteration in the metabolic response. It is concluded that repeated falls of skin and deep-body temperature can habituate the metabolic response, which shows tissue temperature specificity. However, skin temperature cooling only will lower the cold-shock response, but appears not to elicit an alteration in the metabolic response.

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