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  • Dr. Allison Andre, DPT

A Therapeutic Ritual - Sauna & Cold Plunge

Greetings, sauna seekers and cold connoisseurs! Today, we're going to dive into the invigorating world of hot/cold therapy, discover the benefits of sauna to ice bath, dive into the ancient practice that's heating up the wellness scene faster than a sauna stove on a chilly day.


Known by many names (including the Nordic Cycle, the Viking Bath, and my personal favorite, the Chill 'n' Heat Retreat), this therapeutic technique involves alternating between extreme temperatures to reap a host of health benefits. And while it may sound like a modern trend, the truth is that hot/cold therapy has been a beloved tradition in Finland for centuries.


The sauna and cold plunge have been warming hearts and loosening limbs since long before Instagram influencers started extolling its virtues. And with its many proven benefits for both body and mind, it's no wonder that this tradition has spread across the globe like wildfire.


But don't let its popularity fool you – the sauna ice bath combo is still accessible to everyone, whether you're a seasoned sauna veteran or a first-time ice-bather. So, let's jump in (or, rather, jump from hot to cold and back again) and explore the wonders of this ancient yet endlessly fascinating practice.


sauna cold plunge combo
Home Sauna and Cold Plunge

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

HOW IS THE SAUNA & COLD PLUNGE ROUTINE PERFORMED?


STEP 1 - HOT aka HYDROTHERMOTHERAPY


DEFINITION OF HYDROTHERMOTHERAPY- comes from three Greek Words:
HUDOR - Water; THERMO - Heat; THERAPEIA - Healing
Means the intelligent application of water (in any form, including ice and steam) for the healing of disease.

woman sitting in a sauna with accessories, banya hat


HOW TO PERFORM THE HOT CYCLE


Welcome to the hot cycle, my friends! If you're feeling chilly or just in need of a good sweat, a sauna session is the perfect place to turn up the heat. This ancient tradition has been warming folks up for thousands of years, and whether you prefer a Turkish bath with its sultry steam or a Finnish sauna with its dry heat and hot rocks, there's a heat source out there to suit your style.


Once you've settled into your sauna or steamy sanctuary, the next step is to let the heat work its magic. But don't overdo it – most folks stick to a session of 5-20 minutes, with the sweet spot often falling at 15 minutes. And if you don't have access to hot saunas, don't sweat it – a hot bath, hot tub, or even a steamy shower can work just as well to get your temperature soaring.


"In Finland, the sauna is a sacred place; it's where we come to cleanse our bodies and souls." - Esa Kukkonen

So go ahead, take a deep breath, and let the heat wash over you like a cozy blanket on a winter's day. You'll emerge feeling refreshed, recharged, and ready to take on whatever life throws your way.


WHAT DOES A SAUNA DO TO YOUR BODY?


The sauna will raise the body temperature to 102° F within 15 to 20 min, which will cause dilation of blood vessels, sweating, increased heart rate, reduction of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein. Feel-good chemicals including dopamine are released and stress fades away. Your joints and muscles begin to relax due to the increased blood circulation. Your body flushes out toxins, cleansing your skin of bacteria while replacing dead skin cells. Don't forget to hydrate to replace all the fluid you are sweating out!

 


STEP 2 - COLD aka HYDROTHERAPY, COLD PLUNGE, ICE BATH


man dipping into ice cold water outside

Now that you're all hot and bothered, it's time to cool things down with a refreshing dip in some chilly water! Cold water immersion is a form of hydrotherapy that involves submerging your body in cold water for a brief period of time. And while the thought of plunging into icy water might make you shiver, and give you a bit of a cold shock, but trust me – it's worth it!


The water temperature can vary depending on your preferences and tolerance, but generally, it's below 60° F. And if you're feeling extra brave (or just a little bit crazy), you can always take the plunge at even colder temperatures. My personal cold plunge at home is currently set to a brisk 45° F, but I started out at a balmy 59° F. Trust me, there's nothing like the rush of adrenaline you get from a chilly dip – it's like a shot of espresso straight to the heart (or maybe just to the toes).


Andrew Huberman recommends "The key is to aim for a temperature that evokes the thought 'this is really cold!, and I want to get out, BUT I can safely stay in." That number will be different for everyone.

HOW TO PERFORM THE COLD CYCLE


You can use an ice bath, a cold plunge, cold water from a natural or artificial body of water, a cold shower, cryo-chamber, snow...all will work! How long to cold plunge is up to you. It will vary depending on the individual, your tolerance, the water temperature, and even how you are feeling mentally. Some days I can only last less than 30sec, other days much longer. Generally, it is recommended to keep your time under 10 minutes.


words saying "just breathe"

Make sure to focus on your breath work to help calm your nervous system. The cold water will trigger your sympathetic nervous system, AKA the fight-or-flight response. Breathing and learning to calm your nervous system can help your body become more resilient to stress.





WHAT DOES THE COLD DO TO YOUR BODY?


Cold water causes vasoconstriction of your blood vessels which is great for muscle recovery, decreased inflammation and swelling and pain management. Your body will release more feel-good chemicals from including norepinephrine and epinephrine from triggering the sympathetic nervous system. It takes a lot of determination to get into that cold water...and not jump right out of it! Your resilience and resolve become stronger, and you begin to realize you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. Shivering from the cold exposure triggers the body to create brown fat - which is a type of fat that produces heat when you are cold. Plus, it boosts your metabolism because it contains more mitochondria than white fat.


 

STEP 3 - REST AND REPEAT (IF DESIRED)


Allow your body to rest and return to baseline temperature. Enjoy all the endorphins that were just released. Repeat 2-3 more times if desired.


 


SHOULD I COLD PLUNGE BEFORE OR AFTER SAUNA?


The Soberg Principle, named after Susanna Soberg, who is a leading scientist in metabolism during stress, rest and an expert in cold and heat therapy explains why it is important to cycle through the sauna first followed by a cold plunge. When you end with cold temperatures, your body needs to expel energy and shiver to heat back up, forcing your body to warm itself on its own. This increases your metabolism, stimulates your brown fat to generate heat.

 

LIST OF HEALTH BENEFITS OF SAUNA TO ICE BATH


The sauna and cold are packed with health benefits that go far beyond just relaxation. For starters, the heat of the sauna can help to improve circulation and oxygenation throughout the body, which can aid in everything from muscle recovery to reducing the risk of heart disease. Additionally, the heat can help to relax muscles and relieve tension, making it a great choice for those with chronic pain or stiffness.


On the other hand, cold immersion can help to reduce inflammation and swelling, as well as stimulate the immune system, leading to a stronger immune response. It can also help to improve circulation, particularly to the extremities, and reduce muscle soreness and pain. Additionally, the shock of cold immersion can help to reduce stress and increase mental clarity, making it a great choice for those who are feeling overwhelmed or fatigued.


Both the sauna and cold can also help to detoxify the body by increasing circulation and promoting sweating. This can help to eliminate toxins and impurities from the body, leading to clearer skin, improved digestion, and overall better health. And let's not forget the beauty benefits – the heat can help to open up pores and allow for deeper cleansing, while the cold can help to tighten and tone the skin, leaving you with a healthy, radiant glow.


So, if you're looking for a way to boost your health and wellness, consider incorporating the sauna and cold into your routine – your body (and your skin) will thank you!


"The benefits of sauna are many, including improved cardiovascular health, immune function, mood, and even longevity. Cold exposure, on the other hand, can help to reduce inflammation and improve metabolic health, while also increasing focus, mental clarity, and resilience to stress." - Dr. Rhonda Patrick, biomedical Scientist and expert in nutrition and aging.


large sauna in a u shape with stones in the middle

 

SAUNA AND ICE BATH COMBO BENEFITS

  • Improved cardiovascular health and lower heart rate.

  • Increased thermoregulatory control, contributes to improved endurance and sports performance.

  • Increased blood flow to skeletal muscles and other tissues/organs with improved oxygenation.

  • Improved insulin sensitivity.

  • Reduced inflammation, reduced pain associated with fibromyalgia and rheumatism, among others.

  • Enhanced and elevated immune system.

  • Reduced stress via increases production of mood elevating hormones like endorphins and dopamine.

  • Improved sleep

  • Improved skin health along with antiaging benefits

  • Can help detoxify the body of heavy metals

  • Increased energy

 

Well, there you have it – the sauna & cold plunge are more than just a way to work up a sweat and cool off. From reducing stress and inflammation to improving circulation and boosting immune function, these time-honored traditions have a wealth of health benefits to offer. And let's not forget the beauty benefits – with the heat opening up pores and the cold tightening and toning the skin, you'll be glowing from head to toe. So keep on doing what makes you feel good. After all, as the Finnish say, "sauna is a poor man's pharmacy" – and who doesn't love a good bargain?


 


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Disclaimer - If you have chronic health problems or are on long-term medications, or simply are not sure if your body can handle the stress - I highly encourage speaking with your doctor prior to starting.







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