Saunas are a Finnish tradition popular in the midwest, such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, and northern Michigan, and are also available in some health clubs across the country. Many homes in these states also have their own saunas, so people can enjoy taking saunas more often and then going for a cold plunge afterward. Why would anyone want to go through this extreme heat and then this extreme cold? The health benefits of going to a sauna and then taking a cold plunge will be talked about in this article.
Saunas and cold plunges have numerous health benefits.
If you have high blood pressure or are taking medicine, you should not go to a sauna and then a cold plunge.
You should only cold plunge for 20 to 30 seconds to get the most out of it. Staying in a cold plunge for an extended period of time can have negative consequences.
History of sauna
A sauna is defined as "a bath that uses dry heat to make you sweat and in which steam is made by pouring water over hot stones." A sauna is a place where you can undress, sweat, and unwind. Saunas in Finland are traditionally heated to 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit; however, some saunas are heated to 150-175 degrees Fahrenheit.
Finnish saunas were originally pits in the ground thousands of years ago. Eventually, they evolved into small, usually log buildings heated between 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit with a wood-burning stove. The steam in the sauna is produced by throwing water on the rocks that are heated on top of the sauna stove.
There are still traditional Finnish saunas around, but now you can also find electric saunas in homes and apartments. Some people may feel hotter in this type of sauna because the heat is not as moist.
Benefits of sauna
Some people might not understand why anyone would want to sit in a hot room and sweat, but going to a sauna has been shown to be good for your health.
Studies have shown that sauna therapy is beneficial for congestive heart failure (CHF) patients. People with congenital heart failure (CHF) who went to the sauna improved their 6-minute walking distances, had smaller hearts on chest x-rays, and were given a better New York Heart Association (NYHA) diagnosis of the disease after two weeks of sauna therapy.
Further studies on infants with ventricular defects (VSDs) and severe CHF showed decreased VSD shunt flow ratios in 9 of 12 infants after four weeks of sauna bathing.
A study conducted in Finland over 20.7 years on 2,315 men who frequently used sauna bathing revealed some promising results. The study showed a 66% risk reduction for dementia, 65% for Alzheimer's, 63% for sudden cardiac death, and 40% for cardiovascular disease-related all-cause mortality.
Rheumatological and immune-mediated disease
A Dutch study that followed 34 people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or ankylosing spondylitis (AS) for four weeks and gave them sauna therapy found that people with RA had less pain and stiffness. Participants reported that they did not sustain a decrease in pain after they stopped treatment.
Studies done on patients with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other rheumatological disorders showed improvement in pain, reduced symptoms of the disease, decreased fatigue, and improved quality. Of life after completing 8-12 weeks of sauna therapy.
Chronic pain and depression
A New Zealand study on patients with chronic tension headaches reported a 44% reduction in headache intensity after six weeks of sauna treatment. Another study showed a decrease in depression symptoms with improved relaxation after four weeks of sauna therapy.
Lungs and airways
Studies have shown that people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have better forced expiratory flow after 50% of their expired forced vital capacity after four weeks of sauna therapy every day. Studies on COPD patients who used sauna therapy for four weeks showed better symptom scores, lower pulmonary artery pressures during exercise, longer exercise sessions, and better oxygen saturation during exercise.
A randomized controlled trial study in Germany on participants with common cold symptoms showed decreased symptom severity with fewer doses of cold and flu medication needed for treatment.
When studied in health populations, sauna bathing for four weeks showed reduced total cholesterol and lowered LDL levels.
An additional study found that frequent sauna bathing is linked to a reduced risk of sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease, fatal cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality.
Health benefits of a cold plunge after sauna
Taking a cold plunge after being in a sauna helps your body cool down even faster and is also good for your health. To do this, jump into the lake, roll around in fresh snow, or take an ice bath after a sauna.
Boosts immune system and detoxifies your body
Taking a cold plunge after a sauna can improve lymphatic circulation, which aids in the removal of germs, bacteria, and waste from our bodies. When you take a sauna followed by a cold plunge on a regular basis, it helps flush the waste from your immune system, allowing your body to function at its best. The cold water plunge tightens your lymph vessels, allowing for faster waste removal and boosting your white blood cell's resistance to pollutants.
Taking a sauna dilates your blood vessels in a hot environment. When you take a cold plunge after a sauna, the shock of going from a hot to a cold climate causes your blood vessels to constrict, which reduces circulation and increases blood pressure quickly.
While in the sauna, your vital organs, like your heart, don't have to work as hard because the blood concentration is close to the skin during the sauna. When you take a cold plunge after the sauna, the cold causes the blood to rapidly return to the vital organs to ensure they operate correctly. This enhances oxygen delivery throughout the body.
Saunas can help you burn calories faster. When your core body temperature increases during a sauna, you burn calories one and a half to two times faster. The infrared radiation increases your heart and metabolic rate, like doing a moderate cardio workout, allowing you to burn extra calories.
Adding a cold plunge after taking a sauna can also increase your ability to burn fat and lose weight because the cold-water exposure activates your brown adipose tissue to help burn fat for energy to stay warm.
Relieves stress and improves mood
When you go to a sauna, the temperature of your skin rises, resulting in increased alertness, decreased pain perception, and an elevated mood. Cooling your body quickly after a sauna with a cold plunge causes your adrenaline to rise, improving your mood. Why is this? Norepinephrine is a chemical that our bodies make when we are stressed, and that impacts our mood and anxiety. Norepinephrine also helps improve focus, concentration, and sleep.
The heat from a sauna, followed by cold, results in increased blood flow, heart rate, and adrenaline, boosting the production of endorphins. This can reduce pain and increase happiness.
Decreases muscle soreness and inflammation
Studies have shown that cold water exposure can aid in decreasing inflammation. Pain and inflammation may get worse if you only go to the sauna. Taking a hot sauna bath followed by a cold plunge can help. More fluid gets into the joints when you use a sauna, which can make the pain worse the next day. However, when a cold plunge follows a sauna, there's a reduction in inflammation with improved blood flow that results in decreased pain.
Rejuvenates the skin
When you combine a hot sauna with a cold plunge, your blood flow gets better, which makes your skin healthier. When you take a cold plunge after being in a sauna, your pores close quickly. This keeps germs from getting into your skin and causing other skin problems.
There are many things to consider when taking a sauna followed by a cold plunge. Knowing how long and cold the plunge should be is crucial. Due to rapid breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure increases, cold shock is dangerous. Gasping while submerged can drown a person in seconds. The shock also stresses the heart and makes it work harder.
Within minutes of being in the cold water, additional problems can occur. The blood rushes to the vital organs, causing the extremities to lose strength and coordination, which can lead to hypothermia.
People with heart conditions may take medications that lower their heart rate and blood pressure. Participating in a cold-water plunge can make it harder for those people to adapt to the shock of a sudden temperature drop.
The National Center for Cold Water Safety also warns that a sudden water immersion under 60 degrees Fahrenheit can kill you in less than one minute. You shouldn't stay in a cold plunge for more than 10-20 seconds because the cold water will take away too much heat from your body.
Spending 15 minutes in the sauna followed by 30 seconds in cold water or an ice bath and repeating it three times can increase the amount of brown fat activated to assist with weight loss.
A hot sauna and cold plunge is not recommended for everyone. It is not recommended for people with high blood pressure or pregnant women. If you have any underlying health conditions, it is always best to consult your healthcare provider before trying something new.
- National Library of Medicine. Clinical Effects of Regular Dry Sauna Bathing: A Systematic Review.
- Jama Internal Medicine. Association Between Sauna Bathing and Fatal Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality Events.
- Taiga Times. Finnish sauna culture.
- American Heart Association. You’re not a polar bear: The plunge into cold water comes with risks.
- National Center for Cold Water Safety. Cold Water Can Kill You Within Seconds.
- International Journal of Circumpolar Health. Health effects of voluntary. Exposure to cold water-a continuing subject of debate.
- Dictionary.com. Sauna.