Hypothermia: The Best Way to Activate Brown Adipose Tissue

So among the many adventures in bizarre fitness/health rituals I have embarked upon in my time is the idea of dousing. That is to say: get in your trunks first thing in the morning, take nearly freezing water and dump it on your head. You have to (HAVE TO, so say the gurus) be standing on Terra Firma or the ghosts of Czars will haunt you for all eternity. Once you do this, go inside and take a shower. The shivering effect achieved is the body reminding you how tremendously stupid you are…but it is great for brown adipose tissue (BAT) activation.

I have also come to understand that a cold bath before bed is like “elephant tranquilizer.” I love a deep, decadent sleep so I thought it a good idea to try swimming in Barton Springs before bed last night. Barton Springs is a natural spring in Austin that naturally maintains a temperature of 68-71*F throughout the year and is a very popular spot when the surface of the sun has taken residence in our fair city…naturally. The fact that most people go there during the day is important and I’ll get to that in a minute.

So Barton Springs is ~10 miles from my house. After 9pm it is free admission so I get there around 9:10. I scale a fence, ninja-boulderer style to get in as I forgot that only one entrance is open after 9, and I proceed on my mission: dive in, swim back and forth across the width of the pool, go dive in at the gnarly diving board, swim back, get out, go home. After doing all of these things I realize that I am very dazed, my head hurt, tachypnea had set in, I felt obliquely pukey. This is surely the start of the elephant tranquilizer effect.

I head back to my car, get out on the road, realize that I’m extremely disoriented, pull over, get out, almost puke and after a few minutes start to feel better (only later did I realize that the warm air was the reason). I get back in my car and start to make my way through downtown Austin via Barton Springs road. If you’re not from around here, Barton Springs road is a very busy street filled with nightlife, traffic, and Tex Mex. That is to say, having my window rolled down increased my disorientation but kept me distracted from how god-awful I was feeling. Somewhere along the way, a shirtless bearded man road his bike up next to my car and informed me that my towel was hanging off the back of my car. Amazing. I channeled my inner Hulk Hogan and told him “Thanks Brother.”

I get on IH-35 shortly afterward, a notorious cluster-fuck of trucks and terrible on/off ramps. Austin was once meant to be a holding pen for smelly dirty hippies and other weirdos; little did it know that NAFTA would bring a metric ton of truck traffic our way straight up the 35. At this point my entire body is tingling and the noxious fumes of truck traffic was great at distracting me from my own disorientation. Somewhere on the upper deck I call my wife and calmly ask her to draw me a warm bath. Her response is, “I’m kind of busy…you can do it yourself.” In hindsight my voice and demeanor must have been cool to the point of relaxing. I hang up and try not to fly off the upper deck and  crash into a Baby A’s tex-mex restaurant.

When I get home I half park my car up on the curb before getting it parked correctly. I’m amazed I didn’t take out the mailbox as I was only vaguely aware of my limbs at this point. My face and jaw had begun to tingle, as had my ribs. While “tingly ribs” might be something that can be sold at a BBQ joint (Really, just inject a couple CO2 cartridges into some homemade BBQ sauce), it wasn’t very tasty for me at that moment. So I stumble into the house and my wife explains that she was sorry for being short with me and that she really had to get whatever she had to get done…done. It was a bill I think, I don’t know, I handed all of the finances off to her. That and I’m a grown-ass man who can draw his own bath.  She looks at me quizzically, states “You look pale. Go lay down.” I take a look in the mirror, marvel at my powder-like complexion, and proceed to strip off my wet clothes and lay down under multiple quilts and blankets. At this point my wife tells me “Put on some underwear; you lose a lot of heat through your balls.” This is technically correct methodology for rewarming after hypothermia though I’m sure EMS isn’t on the scene yelling, “SIR! YOUR BALLS ARE IN NEED OF RAPID REWARMING!” I’d be happy to increase my tax rate if they were going to do that as protocol permanently .

After some restless tossing and turning, I take a warm shower, feel life rush back into me, crack some jokes about how that was a “Great idea” inspired by Tim Ferriss and Richard Nikoley. The thing I didn’t take into account is that they could, at any moment, get out and take a hot shower. The moral of the story? If you’re going to try this, don’t do it 10 miles from the nearest shower should things suddenly go wrong…and if you do, please tell us all about it.

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16 thoughts on “Hypothermia: The Best Way to Activate Brown Adipose Tissue

  1. man u texans r soft. i swam in lake michigan for an hour when it was in the low 60s with no problem at all. my kids did the same thing with no problem. although i do live in the cold midwest and take cold showers a lot.

    i did have a bought of heat exhaustion last week after working in my yard all afternoon as the temp approached 90. i really felt sick. my wife filled my belly with a lot of food and water. i took a cold shower and felt better 20 minutes later. i am guessing that would not have happened to you.

    • Chuck,

      Exactly! The wife and I built 3 dog kennels this past weekend in 105* weather. We were tired when finished but not even sunburned. Man you Michiganers (?) are soft! ;)

  2. Wow. When I’ve gone to Barton Springs it was usually at night. Once I even went in October to try to freeze out a severe headache that meds wouldn’t help. I never had that reaction. But I am usually walking several miles home so I heat back up pretty quickly. Maybe the working in the heat all weekend and going to the other extreme affected you? Or maybe your very low body fat makes you more susceptible to the cold? Hope you fully recovered.

    • Could be any number of things but I am feeling better. As a matter of fact, I slept GREAT. Not how I wanted to get there but oh well.

  3. I go to Barton Springs once or twice a week during the summer and swim for roughly 30 mins — but like you say, I go during the heat of the day, so even if I come out a little shivery, 10 minutes out of the pool that effect is gone. After swimming I feel practically drugged in a blissed-out sense, and hang out under shade trees for a hour or so — and I don’t get really hot for the rest of the day even if I’m out in the sun. It surprises me that I can last that long in the water since I have so little body fat, but I love it hardcore. Do you think it was because you went when the air was cooler that you had this problem?

    • Totally the reason in my mind. Even though it is still warm at 9pm it is not sunny and this matters as far as warming up. When I had my windows down the warm rush of air felt great; it wasn’t until I was on 290 that I thought “Turn on your heat, dummy.” I was that disoriented.

  4. I recently participated in the World Naked Bike Ride (for the first time). June in Chicago was 60 degrees. I rode around in my skivvies for 3.5 hours through the neighborhoods of Chicago. Freezing. My left breast was frozen and unmovable. After I pile on fleece sweatpants and sweatshirt. Eat a burger and beer, get home and take a 30 min hot-as-I-can-stand-it bath at 2am. I sleep terribly. I think I suffered a form of hypothermia. I’m no lighter, stronger or a skinny bitch. I remained “cold” for 4 days thereafter. No lie. Attention World Naked Bike Ride Organizers, put warm showers every 5 miles, muthas.

    Your wife needed to lay naked on you to warm you up. Oooo, maybe that’s what I needed after the bike ride. Radiant heat.

    Yours was a great story, and I enjoyed reading about it immensely. I think of you as such a tough MF it’s fun to read about the real life happenings of a badass. :-) Meant with all respect. When are you going to get Keith in there? Weighted swimming? ;-)

    • Well I’m trying to remind myself I’m made of carbon and am perishable, ha! I had swam here plenty before…little did I know how photovoltaic I am when it comes to these things. The truth is you can’t get fully out of the sun during a day there so the direct light is muy acceptable para mi asi.

      Naked bike ride in Chicago? How about hot tubs and cognac every 5 miles? St. Bernards to serve everyone booze to keep their special bits from shriveling and falling off?

  5. Redline Metrics

    Digitial Thermometer under the tongue to measure your approximate “Core” temp. 92 degrees F is the lower limit of “Mild Hypothermia” and in the red zone (increasing likely hood of a bad medical outcome).

    Blood Pressure dip to down to 92 after ten minutes, below that a dirt nap is increasingly likely for me (according to my Doctor). Everyone has a different value but low BP will kill you just as fast as high BP.

    We did crazy stuff when teenagers (jumping into lake tahoe in the middle of winter). That will likely kill middle aged people (I’ve got the EKG plot from a journal paper and it looks like a train wreck from the point of immersion).

    Slow immersion is a prudent. Navy seal breathing is good (inhale/exhale ratio 2:1 or 3:1) for fat burning (no labored breathing).

    See Wikipedia for “Mild Hypothermia” info. Olympic pool temp (78-81 F) is generally regarded as safe. Start out with short times and slowly work into longer intervals.
    Always know the temperature of the water (use a non-medical thermometer).

    Respect mother nature. Otherwise she will kill you (which she may do anyway).

    Do not compare water hypothermia temp with mountaineering hypothermia temp, the thermodynamics are totally different, stick with the published numbers or expect to lose body parts (or worse).

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