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Cold exposure has long been used to reduce muscle soreness and promote muscle recovery after physical activity. However, evidence indicates that regular cold exposure also improves glucose and lipid metabolism, decreases inflammation, enhances immune function, and improves cognitive performance. Now, findings from a recent study suggest that cold exposure improves mood and increases connectivity between brain networks.

The study involved 33 men and women who were unaccustomed to regular cold exposure. The participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess their brain network connectivity before and after soaking in a cold water (20°C, 68°F) bath. They also reported on their mood before and after the intervention.

The participants reported feeling more active, alert, attentive, proud, and inspired after the cold exposure. The fMRIs revealed that the participants' positive moods correlated with increased connectivity in the default mode, frontoparietal, salience, and visual lateral networks, regions of the brain that contribute to self-reflection, attention, emotion regulation, and visual processing.

The findings from this small study suggest that short-term cold exposure improves mood by enhancing brain connectivity in regions associated with mood. These benefits may arise from the effects of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter involved in vigilance, focus, attention, and mood. Norepinephrine release is one of the most consistent and profound physiological responses to cold exposure. Learn more about cold exposure and the mechanisms that drive its effects in our comprehensive overview article.

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