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Sauna, Hot Tub, or Cold Plunge: Which Is Right for You?

Reviewed by: Dr. Steven Knauf, D.C.

By: Donna Stark

Sauna-Hot-Tub-or-Cold-Plunge-Which-Is-Right-for-You?

For most of us, the terms “hot” and “cold” aren't new. As children, we played the classic game of “hot and cold” in which we searched for hidden objects while our friends or parents would let us know how close (or hot) we were while looking for them. As adults who like to enjoy a daily beverage from the local coffee shop, we are constantly being asked if we’d like that drink hot or iced. But our interests in all things hot and cold don’t stop there.

In today’s world, more and more people are starting to focus on taking care of themselves and improving their overall well-being. They’re doing this with treatments that, might seem trendy to some, have actually been used for centuries—treatments like saunas, hot tubs, and cold plunges.

Which do you prefer, hot or cold? Thankfully, there’s no need to wander around searching and feeling lost anymore. The answers can be found below.

Different temperatures for different reasons

From the dry heat of a sauna to the relaxing warmth of a hot tub to the take-your-breath-away chill of a cold plunge, temperature-based treatments have become a popular way for people to relax, recover, and heal. However, you don’t want to use them willy-nilly. Each one serves a very distinct purpose, and it’s important to know when to choose hot when to choose cold, and when to stay somewhere in the middle.

Let’s take the time to learn more about each one because, unlike most trendy things, these treatments have proven they’re here for the long haul.

Saunas, hot tubs, and cold plunges

Saunas, hot tubs, and cold plunges are three very different modalities used to improve our overall well-being. At their most basic, saunas are heated, wood-lined rooms; hot tubs are large tubs of water that can be heated to a desired temperature; and cold plunges are containers of water often chilled with ice—lots of ice! Let’s look at each option in all their glory.

Saunas

Saunas have been around for centuries. They were originally created for survival but have since transformed into one of the most favored self-care activities in today’s world. The benefits of sauna sessions include the following.

  • Faster muscle recovery - Sauna baths reduce tension and increase blood circulation, resulting in faster recovery and less soreness.
  • Increased detoxification - Saunas are designed to make you sweat, which helps your body release heavy metals and other toxins.
  • Reduced muscle pain - The dry heat of a sauna dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow, releasing tension and reducing pain.
  • Improved cardiovascular health - Saunas have been shown to lower cholesterol levels and decrease blood pressure.
  • Improved mental health - Regular sauna use can help reduce stress and improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Increased weight loss - Saunas can help aid weight loss because the high heat helps boost metabolism.

In addition to traditional saunas, infrared saunas are also making their mark in the health and wellness world. Unlike typical saunas that use hot air to warm your body, these saunas use infrared lamps to warm your body directly. This helps to reduce the risk of dehydration and makes them a great option for those who “can’t stand the heat.”

Hot tubs

Although hot tubs are mostly known for their recreational purposes, we can’t overlook the fact that they can also deliver plenty of health benefits! Hot tubs can boost physical and mental health in the following ways.

  • Improved mental health - The relaxing effects of a hot tub can relieve stress, calm your nervous system, and improve your mood.
  • Reduced pain - Hot tubs are a great alternative to over-the-counter pain medications because the hot water helps relieve tension and ease muscle aches.
  • Improved heart health - Soaking in hot water can widen your blood vessels, which can help lower blood pressure. However, if you already have low blood pressure, be careful because it could drop even more.
  • Increased blood circulation - Hot tubs help with circulation, which can reduce symptoms of certain health issues like fibromyalgia and cognitive decline.
  • Better sleep - The muscle-relaxing, stress-reducing effects of hot tubs can help prep your body for a great night of sleep.

Although it’s safe to use a hot tub every day, there are some precautions you should take. Only use hot tubs if they are regularly cleaned and well-maintained (hot tubs are breeding grounds for germs), don’t use a hot tub if you’re pregnant, don’t let the water exceed 104 degrees, listen to your body and get out if you’re dizzy or experience a headache, avoid the use of alcohol or drugs while hot tubbing, and limit your dips to no more than 15 minutes. If the water temperature is between 95-100, you can stretch that time to 30 minutes.

Remember, the most important safety tip for hot tubs is to keep them locked when not in use! Hot tubs are a natural and dangerous curiosity for small children.

Cold plunge therapy

Cold plunge, ice baths, cold water immersion, polar plunging … whatever you call it, this therapy is designed to help your mind and body reset, recover, and rejuvenate. By immersing yourself in extremely cold water, you can enjoy numerous health benefits, including the following:

  • Reduced inflammation - People who are active tend to love cold plunges because they can help lessen muscle soreness and reduce inflammation in the same way that an ice pack can.
  • Increased energy levels - The sudden contact with cold water stimulates the body’s sympathetic nervous system, better known as its “fight-or-flight” response, and triggers a flood of energy.
  • Boosted immune system - Exposure to cold water can help strengthen the immune system by boosting white blood cell count and improving immune response.
  • Increased metabolism - Repeated bouts of cold exposure can increase the production of brown fat in the body (brown fat helps regulate body temperature and burn calories).

To plunge safely, make sure the water isn’t too cold (50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit), limit your sessions to no more than 5-10 minutes, never cold plunge alone, and avoid if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, deep vein thrombosis, and peripheral neuropathy.

Before you start diving into bodies of water and ice, take the time to understand the benefits versus the risks. Cold plunging should always be done in small doses because it can potentially lead to cardiovascular stress, hypothermia, hyperventilation, muscle cramps, and drowning. Due to these risks, it’s always good to speak with your doctor before taking the plunge and to listen to your body while participating.

Sauna and cold plunge combined

Many experts believe that combining cold plunging with a sauna session can provide greater physical and mental health benefits compared to doing them separately. However, it's important to consider the duration of each activity, which should be tailored to your goals and fitness levels.

Additionally, a hot sauna and cold plunge may not be suitable for everyone. Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or therapy, particularly if you are pregnant or have underlying health issues.

Are you hot or cold?

Your local chiropractors at The Joint Chiropractic support muscle recovery, pain relief, and improved health and wellness. They encourage you to explore the world of saunas, hot tubs, and cold plunges while prioritizing safety. Start in small doses, follow all the safety guidelines, and proceed with caution.

Finding the right therapy, or the right balance of these therapies, isn’t always easy and may not be suitable for certain people (children included!). If you have any questions about the use of these therapies or are feeling ill effects from participating, stop what you are doing immediately and speak to your doctor at once.

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