Salivary Cortisol in an Extreme Non-Competitive Sport Exercise: Winter Swimming


Salivary cortisol role in response to strong stressors implied in extreme exercises and in sport practice was investigated with the aim to verify the claimed benefits that steers winter swimmers to self-prescribe the trials. Specific biochemical data allow to study a variety of stressors in sports and physical exercises, including extreme ones as winter swimming. Salivary cortisol behavior was examined in winter swimmers trials and canoe, canoe-polo competitions and comparisons of results between days with and without performances were reported. Cortisol circadian rhythm in sedentary subjects was collected as control. All the subjects were selected after anamnestic-clinical checks to evaluate their physiological conditions. The circadian cortisol behavior was reported in days with competitions and trials as well as between these events. Abrupt cortisol concentration changes were detected at the time of the trials and competitions: surprisingly, large increasing and decreasing concentrations were detected in both groups. Moreover, in winter swimmers, cortisol concentration remained fairly elevated in the evening of the trial days. In days without competitions, the usual cortisol circadian rhythm was recovered in sportsmen whereas cortisol concentrations persisted at high levels up to the evening in winter swimmers. The view that an extreme sport-like exercise as the winter swimming may well pose some treats ranging from subclinical aspects up to dismetabolic pathologies and even cardiovascular risks is strengthened by results of cortisol trends, suggesting to check physiological conditions. Results demonstrate that well-being feeling can be in contrast to the claimed improvements of health.

Share and Cite:

Loria, P. , Ottoboni, S. , Michelazzi, L. , Giuria, R. , Ghisellini, P. , Rando, C. and Eggenhöffner, R. (2014) Salivary Cortisol in an Extreme Non-Competitive Sport Exercise: Winter Swimming. Natural Science, 6, 387-398. doi: 10.4236/ns.2014.66039.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Schulz, P., Kirschbaum, C., Prussner, J. and Hellhammer, D. (1998) Increased Free Cortisol Secretion after Awakening in Chronically Stressed Individuals Due to Work Overload. Stress Medicine, 14, 91-97.<91::AID-SMI765>3.0.CO;2-S
[2] Izawa, S., Shirotsuki, K., Sugaya, N., Ogawa, N., Suzuki, K. and Nomura, S. (2007) The Application of Saliva to an Assessment of Stress: Procedures for Collecting and Analyzing Saliva and Characteristics of Salivary Substances. Japanese Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 4, 91-101.
[3] Hellhammer, D.H., Wüst, S. and Kudielka, B.M. (2009) Salivary Cortisol as a Biomarker in Stress Research. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34, 163-171.
[4] O’Connor, J.P. and Corrigan, D.L. (1987) Influence of Short-Term Cycling on Salivary Cortisol Levels. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 19, 224-228.
[5] Lombardi, G., Ricci, C. and Banfi, G. (2011) Effect of Winter Swimming on Haematological Parameters. Biochemia Medica, 2, 71-78.
[6] Fukuda, S. and Morimoto, K. (2011) Lifestyle, Stress and Cortisol Response: Review I. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 6, 9-14.
[7] Fukuda, S. and Morimoto, K. (2011) Lifestyle, Stress and Cortisol Response: Review II. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 6, 15-21.
[8] De Weerth, C., Jansen, J., Vos, M.H., Maitimu, I. and Lentjes, E.G.W.M. (2007) A New Device for Collecting Saliva for Cortisol Determination. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 32, 1144-1148.
[9] Aardal, E. and Holm, A.C. (1995) Cortisol in Saliva—Reference Ranges and Relation to Cortisol in Serum. European Journal of Clinical Chemistry and Clinical Biochemistry, 33, 927-932.
[10] Young, E.A. and Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2001) Effect of Ruminations on the Saliva Cortisol Response to a Social Stressor. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 26, 319-329.
[11] Del-Corral, P., Mahon, A.D., Duncan, G.E., Howe, G.E. and Craig, B.W. (1994) The Effect of Exercise on Serum and Salivary Cortisol in Male Children. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 26, 1297-1301.
[12] Dahlgren, A., Kecklund, G., Theorell, T. and Akerstedt, T. (2009) Day-to-Day Variation in Saliva Cortisol—Relation with Sleep, Stress and Self-Rated Health. Biological Psychology, 82, 149-155.
[13] Watson, A.W.S. (1984) The Physique of Sportsmen: A Study Using Factor Analysis. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 16, 287-293.
[14] Smilios, I., Pilianidis, T., Karamouzis, M. and Tokmakidis, S.P. (2003) Hormonal Responses after Various Resistance Exercise Protocols. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 35, 644-654.
[15] Harriss, D.J. and Atkinson, G. (2011) Update—Ethical Standards in Sport and Exercise Science Research. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 32, 819-821.
[16] Toda, M., Morimoto, K., Nagasawa, S. and Kitamura, K. (2004) Effect of Snack Eating on Sensitive Salivary Stress Markers Cortisol and Chromogranin A. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 9, 27-29.
[17] Salimetrics Web Site (2013) State College, PA 16803 USA.
[18] Matsuda, S., Yamaguchi, T., Okada, K., Gotouda, A. and Mikami, S. (2012) Day-to-Day Variations in Salivary Cortisol Measurements. Journal of Prosthodontic Research, 56, 37-41.
[19] Hellhammer, J., Fries, E., Schweisthal, O.W., Schlotz, W., Stone, A.A. and Hagemann, D. (2007) Several Daily Measurements Are Necessary to Reliably Assess the Cortisol Rise after Awakening: Stateand Trait Components. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 32, 80-86.
[20] O’Donnell, K., Badrick, E., Kumari, M. and Steptoe, A. (2008) Psychological Coping Styles and Cortisol over the Day in Healthy Older Adults. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 33, 601-611.
[21] Simenckova, M., Jansky, L., Lesna, I., Vybiral, S. and Sramek, P. (2000) Role of Beta Adrenoceptors in Metabolic and Cardiovascular Responses of Cold Exposed Humans. Journal of Thermal Biology, 25, 437-442.
[22] Bittel, J. (1992) The Different Types of General Cold Adaptation in Man. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 13, S172-S176.
[23] Wright, C.E., O’Donnell, K., Brydon, L., Wardle, J. and Steptoe, A. (2007) Family History of Cardiovascular Disease Is Associated with Cardiovascular Responses to Stress in Healthy Young Men and Women. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 63, 275-282.
[24] Kolettis, T.M. and Kolettis, M.T. (2003) Winter Swimming: Healthy or Hazardous Evidence and Hypotheses. Medical Hypotheses, 61, 654-656.
[25] The Eurowinter Group (1997) Cold Exposure and Winter Mortality from Ischaemic Heart Disease, Cerebrovascular Disease, Respiratory Disease, and All Causes in Warm and Cold Regions of Europe. Lancet, 349, 1341-1346.
[26] Ducharme, M.B. and Lounsbury, D.S. (2007) Self-Rescue Swimming in Cold Water: The Latest Advice. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 32, 799-807.
[27] Leppaluoto, J., Westerlund, T., Huttunen, P., Oksa, J., Smolander, J., Dugué, B. and Mikkelsson, M. (2008) Effects of LongTerm Whole-Body Cold Exposures on Plasma Concentration of ACTH, Beta-Endorphin, Cortisol, Catecholamines and Cytokines in Healthy Females. Scandinavian Journal of Clinical & Laboratory Investigation, 68, 145-153.
[28] Hooper, S.L., Mackinnon, L.T., Gordon, R.D. and Bachmann, A.W. (1993) Hormonal Responses of Elite Swimmers to Overtraining. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 25, 741-747.
[29] Hipp, A.A., Heitkamp, H.C., Rocker, K. and Dickhuth, H.H. (2004) Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy—Sports-Related Aspects of Diagnosis, Therapy, and Sports Eligibility. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 25, 20-26.
[30] Bleakley, C.M. and Davison, G.W. (2010) What Is the Biochemical and Physiological Rationale for Using Cold-Water Immersion in Sports Recovery A Systematic Review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 44, 179-187.

Copyright © 2022 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.