a man in an ice bath next with a sauna with the words "benefits of cold plunge and sauna"

The 9 Benefits Of Cold Plunge And Sauna: Everything You Need To Know

Cold plunging has been the rage recently with all manner of celebrities from Joe Rogan to Tony Robbins touting its benefits.

And, saunas are well known for their health-promoting benefits, especially with the popularity of infrared saunas.

So we know the benefits of these things separately, but are there any additional benefits of cold plunge and sauna when done one after the other?

Well, that’s what we’re here to find out.

Contrast therapy, meaning going to and from extreme temperatures, seems to be the next big thing that’ll be flooding our news feeds.

Is it all hype or is it something you should be considering? Let’s dig in.

What Is A Cold Plunge?

A cold plunge, often known as an ice bath, cold immersion, or cold water immersion, involves submerging your body in icy water, usually at temperatures ranging from 50°F to 59°F (10°C to 15°C).

This practice isn’t just about braving the chill; it’s a deliberate method to harness the therapeutic benefits of cold exposure stimulating the sympathetic nervous system and triggering the fight or flight response.

Another term for this practice is ‘cold plunging,’ which emphasizes the benefits of a cold plunge routine for wellness, including improvements in mood, weight loss, and recovery after exercise.

Unique Health Benefits of a Cold Plunge:

  1. Enhances Blood Circulation: Taking a cold plunge helps constrict blood vessels, which forces blood to flow to vital organs. This process boosts overall circulation once you warm up, supplying your body with fresh, oxygenated blood.
  2. Reduces Inflammation and Soreness: Common among athletes, cold plunges can significantly reduce muscle soreness and inflammation by constricting blood vessels, speeding up recovery times.
  3. Boosts Mental Sharpness: The shock from cold water not only invigorates the senses but also increases mental alertness, clarity, and focus.
  4. Improves Immune Response: Regular cold plunges can enhance the immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells, which help fight off illness.
  5. Increases Fat Burning: Exposure to cold temperatures can activate brown adipose tissue (BAT), a type of fat that burns calories to maintain body temperature.

Incorporating cold plunges into your routine can be a powerful way to invigorate your body, boost your health, and improve your resilience to stress.

Whether you’re an athlete looking to enhance recovery or someone seeking increased vitality, the cold plunge offers a refreshing challenge with substantial benefits.

What Is A Sauna?

A sauna is a small room or house designed for experiencing dry or wet heat sessions, which can vary widely in temperature from about 150°F to 195°F (65°C to 90°C).

Traditionally wood-lined, saunas have been a staple in wellness routines for centuries, particularly in Nordic countries. More recently, infrared saunas have become popular for their health benefits.

Types of Saunas:

  • Traditional Finnish Sauna: Dry heat with occasional water thrown on hot stones to create steam.
  • Infrared Sauna: Employs infrared heaters to release radiant heat that is directly absorbed by the skin.
  • Steam Room: Operates with wet heat; the air is saturated with moisture, offering a different type of heat exposure.

Unique Health Benefits of a Sauna:

  1. Detoxification Through Sweating: Saunas induce heavy sweating, which helps flush toxins from the body, promoting clearer skin and better kidney function.
  2. Relaxation and Stress Reduction: The heat in a sauna helps relax muscles, reduce tension, and lower stress levels by increasing the release of endorphins.
  3. Heart Health and Brain Health: Regular sauna use can mimic the effects of a moderate workout by elevating heart rate and improving circulation, potentially reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, the heat exposure causes a spike in heat shock proteins, which can reduce neuroinflammation, offering significant benefits for brain health.
  4. Pain Relief: Heat from the sauna can alleviate pain in muscles and joints by improving circulation and relaxing tight tissues.
  5. Improved Respiratory Function: The warm air in saunas can help open airways, increase lung capacity, and ease breathing, which is particularly beneficial for those with asthma or bronchitis.

Saunas offer a soothing escape that benefits both the mind and body, promoting relaxation and wellness through heat therapy. Saunas are particularly great after an intense workout.

Whether used alone or as part of a larger wellness routine incorporating cold plunges, saunas can significantly enhance your health and well-being.

The Combined Benefits Of Cold Plunge And Sauna

Contrast therapy, which involves alternating between hot sauna sessions and cold plunges, harnesses the unique advantages of both therapies, including detoxification, immune system support, reduction of inflammation, improved sleep, and increased energy levels through the use of both heat and cold exposure.

Here are the nine key benefits you’ll experience by incorporating both into your wellness routine:

1. Enhancing Circulation Through Increased Blood Flow

Alternating between the intense heat of a sauna and the refreshing chill of a cold plunge creates a natural pump action in the blood vessels, significantly enhancing circulation resulting in improved blood flow.

This process not only delivers more oxygen and nutrients to tissues but also aids in removing waste products more efficiently, leading to better overall health.

2. Strengthening the Immune System

The thermal stress induced by sauna and cold plunge sessions stimulates the production of white blood cells, which play a crucial role in your body’s immune response.

Regular exposure to these conditions can lead to a more robust immune system, making you less susceptible to infections.

3. Elevating Mood and Boosting Mental Health

The rush of endorphins released during hot and cold therapy sessions can greatly improve mental well-being.

This biochemical change helps alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety while promoting feelings of happiness and relaxation.

4. Advancing Sleep Quality

The profound relaxation induced by sauna heat, followed by the rapid cooling in a cold plunge, helps regulate your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm.

This thermal regulation assists in calming the nervous system and promoting deeper, more restorative sleep.

5. Promoting Weight Loss and Fat Burning

Sauna sessions elevate core body temperature, increasing heart rate and calorie burn, similar to the effects of a moderate-intensity workout.

Following this with a cold plunge can stimulate the metabolism further, particularly enhancing the activity of brown adipose tissue, which burns calories to maintain body temperature and ultimately helps to lose weight.

6. Reducing Stress and Enhancing Relaxation

The heat from a sauna session helps to dissolve tension in the muscles and calm the mind, while the subsequent cold plunge refreshes and invigorates the body.

This combination not only reduces stress levels but also heightens the sense of mental clarity and physical relaxation.

7. Boosting Energy and Overall Vitality

The invigorating effect of rapidly changing temperatures boosts mitochondrial function—the powerhouses of your cells—leading to increased energy production.

This enhancement in cellular energy translates into greater overall vitality and improved physical performance.

8. Hormetic Benefits: Building Resilience

Exposing the body to moderate stressors like heat and cold can initiate a process called hormesis, which increases the body’s capacity to withstand stress and builds overall resilience.

This can lead to improved adaptability across various physiological processes, including stress response and aging.

9. Optimizing Vascular Health Through Thermal Regulation

Regular alternation between sauna heat and cold plunge causes the blood vessels to expand and contract, enhancing vascular elasticity.

This not only helps in regulating blood pressure but also improves overall cardiovascular health and reduces the risk of vascular diseases.

In summary

Contrast therapy through alternating sauna and cold plunge sessions offers a holistic approach to wellness that taps into ancient traditions and modern health practices.

This powerful combination elevates physical health and enhances psychological resilience, providing a comprehensive wellness boost.

It’s important for individuals with high blood pressure to approach sauna and cold plunge practices with caution, seeking recommendations for safe practices to ensure their well-being.

Cold and Hot Therapy: A Guide to Getting Started

So, you’re sold on the health benefits and want to get contrast therapy, including ice baths and sauna sessions, into your life and your health regime.

Integrating ice baths as part of your cold therapy regimen alongside sauna sessions can offer synergistic benefits, enhancing wellness through a combination of cold and heat therapy.

This approach contrasts and complements the physiological responses, stress reduction, improved sleep, and mental health benefits, making it an ideal starting point for those looking to boost their wellness regimen.

Where to start?

What First? Ice Bath or Sauna?

Choosing between starting with an ice bath or a sauna largely depends on personal preference and specific health goals. As a guide:

For Stress Response and Energy:

Begin with a sauna to relax and dilate the blood vessels, followed by a cold plunge to invigorate the body and sharpen mental alertness.

For Circulation and Recovery:

Start with a cold plunge to constrict blood vessels and centralize blood flow through cold shock, followed by a sauna to warm up and dilate the blood vessels, enhancing circulation and muscle recovery.

Preparing for Your First Cold Water Immersion

Acclimatization: Start by gradually lowering the water temperature during regular showers. This helps your body adjust to the sensation of cold.

Timing: For beginners, aim to stay in the cold plunge for 1 to 3 minutes. Listen to your body and gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable.

Safety: Always ensure that you are medically cleared for cold exposure, especially if you have heart conditions or blood pressure issues.

Tips for a Safe and Effective Sauna Experience

Hydration: Drink plenty of water before entering a sauna to avoid dehydration. Replenish fluids after the session as well.

Duration: Start with shorter sessions of around 5 to 10 minutes. As your body adapts, you can extend this time up to 20 minutes or as long as it feels comfortable.

Read more about how long you should stay in a sauna.

Cool Down: Allow your body to cool down gradually after a sauna session. This can involve sitting in a cooler area of the spa or taking a tepid shower.


So, perhaps it’s not a trendy fad after all. The contrast between a cold water plunge and a hot sauna session provides a load of additional health benefits.

I like to ask myself if we’d have been exposed to something like this as hunter-gatherers. And, thinking about it, we may have been exposed to the hot sun and jumped into a cold lake or sea.

Whether that be to cool down, bathe, or simply for fun.

I still feel this is more on the bio-hacking side of things, which is fine as a hack to optimize health – optimizing health through holistic practices is what this blog is all about.

So if you’re tempted and up for the challenge, why not give it a try?

And that’s it… have a healthy day!

P.S. If you want to discover more about infrared saunas and perhaps LED light therapy, check out my other posts.


Is it good to sauna after a cold plunge?

Yes, a sauna after a cold plunge can enhance circulation and recovery by reversing the constriction of blood vessels, promoting relaxation and detoxification.

Is it good to cold plunge every day?

Daily cold plunges can be beneficial, enhancing immune function, metabolism, and stress resilience, but should be tailored to individual tolerance and health conditions.

What are the side effects of the cold plunge sauna?

Potential side effects include initial discomfort, increased heart rate, hypothermia from prolonged exposure, and strain on the cardiovascular system, especially for those with heart conditions.

How long should you stay in a cold plunge?

For beginners, 1-3 minutes is recommended. As tolerance builds, some may extend up to 10 minutes, but always listen to your body’s response to avoid risks like hypothermia.

Does Taking A Cold Shower Work As Cold Therapy?

Yes, a cold shower or cold bath can serve as an effective form of cold therapy. They help reduce inflammation, boost circulation, and enhance alertness, although they might be less intense compared to full-body cold plunges.

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