Icy, cold water and red hot heat: both elements have the power to harm us and heal us. It’s well known that placing ice on an injury can help to reduce your swelling. In turn, heat applied in the right way can also bring down your sensations of pain. But what about moving from a sauna to cold water, one after the other? Does this do you any good?
Nordic cultures like that in Finland are said to have been using the “hot sauna, cold water” technique for centuries to rejuvenate their mind and body. Some even refer to it as the “Nordic Cycle,” its use is so ubiquitous. Ready to try a new contrast therapy routine? Here’s why you might consider adding a warm sauna to your cold plunge routine for that extra bit of “wow.”
Understanding the Benefits of Saunas and Cold Plunging
As illustrated in the table below, saunas and cold plunges (or ice baths) offer distinct sets of unique benefits due to their contrasting temperatures’ effects on the body. If you’d like to know more about the individual benefits of both, we’ve included several helpful resources to help guide you.
Cold Plunge Benefits
The Benefits of Sauna and Cold Plunge
If you’re interested in improving your physical and mental health, you know how often you look for ways to gain that extra edge in wellness. Engaging in a hot sauna and cold plunge routine allows individuals to harness a diverse range of benefits, addressing various aspects of physical and mental well-being.
Here are the top benefits of sauna and cold plunging contrast therapy:
1. Boosts Energy Levels
According to research the transition from a hot sauna to cold temperatures causes your heart rate to increase. This move also constricts your blood vessels and sends a sudden rush of adrenaline and endorphins racing through you. The results? An amazing feeling! Your mind is put into sudden focus and your body is activated in response.
2. Increases Circulation
Alternating between hot and cold temperatures can stimulate blood flow and improve circulation. The heat from the sauna causes blood vessels to dilate, while the cold plunge causes them to constrict. This contrast can enhance overall circulation, potentially benefiting cardiovascular health.
3. Enhances Immune Function
Scientists have found that an elevated body temperature can help certain types of immune cells function better. In this way, sauna sessions could help to keep you from falling sick, especially during colder winter months. Your body enhances its generation and differentiation of a type of lymphocyte that can destroy virus-infected cells when you reach a mild fever-range hyperthermia. We’re not advocating that you ever get this hot in your sauna, as this can be dangerous. The research shows, however, that heat therapy can be beneficial.
4. Promotes Faster Muscle Repair
And what about speeding up your recovery? Cold plunges help reduce muscle inflammation and soreness by constricting blood vessels and decreasing metabolic activity, which may aid in muscle recovery after intense exercise. Saunas, on the other hand, can relax muscles and relieve tension.
Through her research, Rhonda Perciavalle Patrick, Ph.D, found that regular sauna sessions can reduce the buildup of lactic acid in your muscles. Sauna use also induces heat shock proteins and the production of human growth hormone while releasing many other hormones. Because of this reaction to extreme heat, some experts believe that regular sauna use can help you recover faster. They say the practice can lower your anxiety, sharpen your focus, and allow you to endure tougher workouts.
5. Burns “Brown” Fat for Weight Loss
Research done in 2021 at the University of Copenhagen showed the benefits of the combo might also have something to do with your brown fat. Brown fat, or brown adipose tissue (BAT), is a specialized type of fat in the body that generates heat by burning energy, which plays an important role in regulating body temperature. Scientists think that alternating between chilled water and a hot sauna affects how your brown fat burns energy and produces heat, which can affect how you keep and lose weight.
6. Improves Skin Health
The combination of heat and cold exposure can positively affect the skin. Saunas may help cleanse the skin by promoting sweating, while cold plunges can tighten pores and improve skin tone. The alternating temperatures can contribute to a healthy complexion.
7. Reduces Stress
Both saunas and cold plunges have been linked to stress reduction. Saunas promote relaxation by increasing the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Then, the shock of cold water in an ice bath can help trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones.
Tips for Your Sauna and Cold Plunge Routine
With Plunge, you should set your at-home sauna to 140-200°F, and your cold plunge bath can go as low as 37°F. Individual tolerance to heat and cold varies, so listen to your body and adjust the duration and intensity accordingly. Here are some recommendations for setting up a sauna and ice bath routine:
- Most importantly, keep a water bottle nearby so you can stay hydrated throughout your contrast therapy routine.
- We recommend keeping the sauna and ice bath units physically close together to minimize any delay between switching, which will ensure maximum benefits with minimum discomfort.
- In general, keep your sauna sessions between 12 - 15 minutes and no more than five minutes in the cold plunge tub.
- You can alternate between the sauna and cold plunge for 2-3 cycles, depending on your comfort and tolerance levels.
- You can take ice baths and saunas daily if you wish, but if you’re just starting, aim for two to three times a week.
- When completing your hot and cold therapy cycles, always finish with cold therapy. If you finish with heat, it may worsen swelling and inflammation.
Precautions for Contrast Therapy Routines
Before starting a hot and cold contrast therapy routine, such as alternating between saunas and ice baths, it's crucial to consider certain precautions to ensure your safety and well-being. Here are some precautions to keep in mind:
- First, if you have pre-existing conditions (such as heart issues or diabetes), it’s always important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting contrast therapy.
- Stay well-hydrated and drink water before, during, and after using the sauna or heat therapy. Make sure to avoid alcohol and caffeine, as they can also lead to dehydration.
- People have different tolerances to heat and cold, so listen to your body and adjust the temperatures and durations accordingly.
Contrast Therapy FAQs
Should You Cold Plunge or Sauna First?
The decision to cold plunge or sauna first depends on personal preferences and wellness goals. Similarly, with contrast therapy, you can alternate between cycles of hot and cold exposures as you desire. However, if you are just beginning your journey, we recommend always finishing with cold therapy to reduce potential swelling and inflammation.
How Long Should You Stay in a Cold Plunge and a Sauna?
Engaging in a sauna and cold water routine doesn’t need to take a large part of your day.. When it comes to contrast therapy, it’s advised that you spend no more than 2 to 5 minutes in a cold plunge and another 12 to 15 minutes in a sauna. You don’t have to stay the maximum times to reap the benefits. In fact, if you are just starting your routine, a couple of minutes in the sauna followed by a short stint in the cold plunge can be perfect.
Is It Healthy to Go From a Sauna to Cold Water?
You want to make sure you practice plunging and heat immersion safely. Talk with your doctor before starting any new wellness regime. If you suffer from high blood pressure or you're pregnant, for instance, these practices might not be safe for you. Other health conditions and ailments could also put you at risk. Being diabetic, for example, can affect your body’s tolerance for hot and cold temperatures, so always talk with a medical professional before diving in.
Benefit from Saunas and Ice Bath Therapies Right at Home
After a hard day’s work or a difficult workout, a sauna and then a cold plunge can feel amazing. Going from a sauna to cold water can bring many potential benefits, as described above. At Plunge, our Cold Plunge and Plunge All-In options provide you with a premium ice water bathing experience.
Our automated cooling system allows you to easily immerse yourself in the healing of cold water as often as you like without racing to stock up on bags of ice. Ozone and UV sanitation along with a comprehensive 5-micron filter results in clean water every time you plunge. Easy drainage and an insulated cover add ease of use.
You can quickly set up your Cold Plunge after it’s delivered right to your doorstep, in a few simple steps. Click here to learn more or purchase our Cold Plunge, or get info on financing options today! Or, for the full benefits of the Nordic Cycle, our new incense cedar at-home sauna can be paired with your Plunge tub for the ultimate hot and cold experience.