Cold and cool water plunges have long been a popular part of using a sauna. Users often cool off in a shower or pool throughout their sauna session and afterwards. In warm weather, sessions may begin with a cold rinse. Cold plunges are not to be confused with polar plunges--cold plunges are usually kept around 50 to 55 degrees, and polar plunges are usually at freezing temperatures.
Cold Plunges Have Been Around a Long Time
The history of cold plunges go all the way back to the fifth century B.C. Ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks all used cold baths for health reasons. For more than 1000 years, Scandinavians have taken post-sauna plunges and plunge pools have been used as part of treatment in Chinese medicine.
What are the Health Benefits of Cold Plunges?
Cold plunges are used by sauna users and athletes alike for their rejuvenating benefits. It is believed that cold plunges have the following health benefits:
- The cold shock causes the body to release norepinephrine--a stress hormone and neurotransmitter--and epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), which causes a sense of invigoration.
- Going from hot to cold elevates the pulse rate and increases circulation.
- Following a sauna session with a cold shower has been shown to reduce rheumatoid arthritis pain and improve circulation, which reduces vasoconstriction and hypertension.
- Cold immersion improves the body's antioxidant capabilities and increases white blood cells.
- The body's resistance to respiratory infections improves .
- Recovery time from exercise aches and pains is reduced.
- Immersion in cold water causes the release of cytokines and other chemicals that can boost the immune system.
- The cold water activates nerves in the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system controls involuntary muscles like the heart. Repeated use of cold plunges can stabilize blood pressure.
Cold Plunges are not for Everyone
Rapid temperature changes can shock the system, which makes cold plunges potentially dangerous for some individuals. People with cardiac problems and blood-pressure issues, as well as pregnant women, should avoid cold plunges.