Cold Plunge vs Sauna: Which is Better for Your Health?

cold plunge vs sauna

Have you ever found yourself standing at the edge of a cold plunge pool, toes curled over the edge, heart pounding, as you prepare to take the icy plunge?

Or you’re more familiar with the enveloping warmth of a hot sauna, where the air is so thick you could slice it with a knife.

Either way, you’re here because you’re curious about the health benefits of a cold plunge or your own hot sauna, and you’re wondering which one might be the champion in this chilly versus toasty showdown.

Both have their unique allure and health benefits that can make it a tough choice. But don’t worry, I’m here to dive into the icy waters and turn up the heat on this debate.

So, grab your towel, and let’s plunge into the world of cold plunges and hot saunas.

Short Summary
  • This blog post explores the various health benefits of cold plunge and sauna therapies, including their effects on muscle recovery, cardiovascular health & mental health.
  • Combining both therapies can create a synergistic effect for improved wellness such as enhanced immune function, optimized fat burning & weight loss and better sleep quality.
  • Establishing a personalized schedule while being mindful of safety precautions is essential to maximize these therapeutic benefits.

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Understanding Cold Plunge and Sauna

sauna vs cold immersion

Cold plunge and sauna therapies (thermotherapy) have been popular in various cultures for centuries, offering a wide array of health benefits.

Both practices work by exposing the body to extreme temperatures, which in turn stimulate blood flow and induce various physiological responses.

Cold plunge, also known as cold water immersion or ice baths, involves submerging the body in cold water to promote health benefits such as increased metabolic rate, anti-inflammatory effects, cardiovascular protection, and improved overall well-being.

On the other hand, sauna therapy consists of a heated room or enclosure that promotes relaxation and sweating, with different types of saunas available, each providing distinct health benefits.

While each therapy provides its own unique set of benefits, combining them can lead to even greater health improvements, such as better regulation of high blood pressure, but there are some ins and outs of these two therapies, and how they complement each other for a more effective wellness routine.

What is a Cold Plunge?

A cold plunge, or even a cold shower, is a form of cold water immersion therapy that involves submerging the body in cold water to promote various health benefits. Cold plunge therapy has been known to:

  • Boost the lymphatic, immune, digestive, and circulatory systems
  • Reduce cortisol and ACTH levels
  • Increase norepinephrine
  • Improve insulin sensitivity
  • Increase the production of adiponectin, leading to an improved feeling of well-being
  • Improve muscle recovery and athletic performance
  • Provide pain relief for conditions such as rheumatism, fibromyalgia, and asthma
  • Promote positive mental states and psychological well-being
  • Elevate energy levels

To achieve the best results, the optimal temperature for a cold plunge is 10-15°C or 50-59°F, and the recommended duration is 5 to 10 minutes.

As with any therapy, it’s important to be aware of safety precautions and contraindications. For instance, after an ice bath, allow your body to naturally warm up. If difficulty is experienced in achieving this, a shower with lukewarm to warm water may be employed after a few minutes.

What is a Sauna?

A sauna is a heated room or enclosure that is designed to provide a relaxing atmosphere and induce perspiration, with a variety of types available that offer a range of health benefits.

Traditional saunas heat the air, while infrared saunas use light to directly heat the body. Saunas may be beneficial for individuals with peripheral arterial disease, COPD, congestive heart failure, and rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, saunas may be helpful for those undergoing depression and anxiety.

Furthermore, saunas may facilitate calorie burning, relaxation of the sympathetic nervous system, and increased white blood cell count.

The origin of saunas dates back to a time when they were used as a hygienic means of cleansing prior to the advent of running hot water. The rocks were put in a stone stove and heated with burning wood. The heat from the fire caused the stones to get hot.

Today, saunas continue to be popular for their relaxation and health benefits, making them an ideal complement to cold plunge therapy.

Comparing Health Benefits: Cold Plunge vs Sauna

cold plunge and sauna

Cold plunge and sauna therapies offer a wide range of health benefits.

Athletes have been using both to aid in muscle recovery for years, but more people are adopting for general health promoting benefits of cardiovascular health, and contributing to mental well-being.

However, as individuals and their workout routines differ, the efficacy of these therapies may vary.

While both therapies have their merits, it’s essential to consider the following factors when determining which therapy to utilize:

  • The type of exercise or physical activity
  • The amount of recovery time needed
  • When the next performance is scheduled
  • Personal preferences
  • Ease of access

Taking these factors into account will help you make an informed decision between cold plunge and sauna therapy.

Muscle Recovery and Pain Relief

seek pain relief

Both cold plunge and sauna can aid in muscle recovery and pain relief, but their effectiveness may vary depending on the individual and the type of exercise performed.

Cold plunge therapy offers the following benefits:

  • Accelerates the healing process
  • Provides relief from pain
  • Reduces inflammation and muscle damage
  • Activates antioxidant defenses
  • Stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis
  • Prevents injury

Sauna use has been found to be beneficial in:

  • Reducing pain and stiffness in those with chronic musculoskeletal diseases
  • Aiding post-workout discomfort
  • Potentially helping speed up the recovery process following a strenuous workout or race

Research suggests that sauna is more beneficial than cold plunge for recovery from HIIT. However, the efficacy of either method may depend on the individual and the type of exercise performed.


Generally, sauna has a more pronounced effect on muscle recovery in the long term, while cold plunge can provide more immediate relief from delayed onset muscle soreness.

Cardiovascular Health

cardio health

Cold plunge and sauna therapies can both improve cardiovascular health by promoting blood flow and circulation, but their effects on heart rate and blood pressure may differ.

Cold water immersion has the potential to improve cardiovascular health. Research shows that it can reduce risk factors such as the apolipoprotein B/apolipoprotein A1 ratio, plasma homocysteine levels and oxidative stress markers.

Cold-water exposure has been found to have positive effects on cardiovascular health. Various markers of cardiovascular wellbeing, such as triiodothyronine levels, paraoxonase-1 activity and zinc concentration, are improved after adapting to cold-water.

Sauna use can increase blood flow and blood circulation by causing the expansion of blood vessels, which decreases blood pressure and increases the transport of oxygen throughout the body.

On the other hand, cold water immersion can cause the contraction of arteries and capillaries, leading to higher blood pressure and more rapid transport of oxygen-rich blood.

Overall, both therapies can contribute to improved cardiovascular health, but their specific effects on heart rate and blood pressure should be considered.

Mental Health and Stress Reduction

Cold plunge and sauna therapies can both help reduce stress and improve mental health, but their mechanisms of action and the specific benefits they provide may vary.

mental health rx

Both therapies can:

  • Activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to reduce stress and anxiety
  • Increase endorphin production
  • Decrease cortisol levels
  • Improve sleep quality.

While the benefits of both therapies are evident, the specific mechanisms through which they affect mental health may differ.

For example, cold exposure stimulates the production of cold shock proteins, which have been shown to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s and activate the immune system.

On the other hand, sauna use can lead to the release of heat shock proteins, which can potentially reduce inflammation of the brain and support the immune system in fighting pathogens.

By understanding these differences, individuals can tailor their cold plunge and sauna routine to best suit their mental health needs.

My Take

These are both powerful ways to enhance health, but I will say the evidence in the research shows that Sauna’s impact is more profound.

The Power of Combining Cold Plunge and Sauna

meditation with CWI and Sauna

Combining cold plunge and sauna therapies can lead to enhanced health benefits, such as improved immune function, optimized fat burning, and better sleep quality.

This powerful duo works together to amplify the individual health benefits, creating a synergistic effect that can help you achieve your wellness goals more effectively.

The importance of incorporating both practices into your routine for optimal results can’t be understated.

Enhanced Immune Function

Cold plunge and sauna therapies can work together to boost immune function by stimulating the production of white blood cells and natural killer cells. Sauna bathing can elevate the core body temperature, resulting in the release of:

  • white blood cells
  • lymphocytes
  • neutrophils
  • interferons

These are all components of the body’s antiviral defense system.

Cold water exposure and cold temperatures have been associated with an increase in glutathione levels. Glutathione is an antioxidant which is essential for the proper functioning of t-cell lymphocytes and it also activates natural killer (NK) cells.

By combining both therapies, individuals can achieve a more robust immune system, better equipped to fight off pathogens and maintain overall health.

Regularly incorporating both cold plunge and sauna sessions into your wellness routine can lead to a stronger immune system and a healthier life.

Optimized Fat Burning and Weight Loss

fat burn

Combining cold plunge and sauna therapies can optimize fat burning and weight loss by:

  • Activating brown adipose tissue
  • Increasing metabolic rates
  • Increasing energy expenditure through non-shivering thermogenesis, regulated by the release of norepinephrine
  • Increasing core body temperature, which can lead to a higher metabolic rate and calorie burning

By incorporating both cold plunge and sauna sessions into your routine, you can enhance your body’s ability to burn fat and lose weight more effectively. This powerful combination can help you reach your weight loss goals and improve overall health and well-being.

Improved Sleep Quality

Cold plunge and sauna therapies can improve sleep quality by promoting relaxation, reducing core body temperature, and helping individuals fall asleep faster.

Cold plunges can help lower your core body temperature, which is essential for initiating sleep, while saunas can promote relaxation and help reduce stress and anxiety, making it easier for individuals to fall asleep.

When incorporating cold plunge and sauna therapies into your routine, consider how they may impact your sleep quality and make adjustments based on your personal preferences and needs.

With the right balance, these therapies can work together to improve your sleep and contribute to overall well-being.

Practical Tips for Integrating Cold Plunge and Sauna into Your Routine


Integrating cold plunge and sauna therapies into your routine can be a game-changer for your health and wellness journey. However, it’s essential to approach these therapies with a practical mindset and consider factors such as scheduling, alternating between therapies, and safety precautions.

Here are some practical tips on how to incorporate cold plunge and sauna sessions into your routine effectively.

By following these tips and considering your individual needs and preferences, you can create a personalized wellness routine that maximizes the benefits of both cold plunge and sauna therapies.

Establishing a Schedule

Creating a schedule that incorporates both cold plunge and sauna sessions based on your personal needs and preferences is crucial for achieving optimal results. It’s essential to consider factors such as your daily routine, workout schedule, and recovery needs when establishing your cold plunge and sauna schedule.

To begin, aim for at least three sessions per week for both therapies, adjusting the frequency as needed.

For sauna sessions, start with five to ten minutes and gradually increase the duration up to 20 minutes, followed by an ice bath for a minimum of one minute and a maximum of 12 minutes. For cold plunges, start with 2-3 minutes and steadily increase the duration.

Always pay attention to your body and modify the schedule accordingly to ensure your comfort level and desired outcomes.

Alternating Between Cold Plunge and Sauna

To maximize the health benefits of both cold plunge and sauna therapies, consider alternating between the two, also known as contrast therapy.

This practice involves transitioning from a hot sauna session to a cold plunge, which can provide substantial health benefits for the body.

To ensure optimal results, follow these steps:

  1. Begin with a sauna session until the temperature becomes too intense.
  2. Move to the cold plunge until the cold is bearable.
  3. Repeat the process multiple times, alternating between hot and cold therapies.

This method can help you achieve the best possible outcomes and enhance your overall health and well-being.

Safety Precautions and Contraindications

Be aware of safety precautions and contraindications when incorporating cold plunge and sauna therapies into your routine. If you have any pre-existing health conditions, it’s important to consult with a doctor before beginning these therapies.

For beginners, limit your sauna usage to five to ten minutes initially, and not exceed 20 minutes in order to avoid dehydration.

When incorporating contrast therapy into your routine, be aware of your body’s response and start with brief hot or cold therapy sessions, gradually increasing the duration over time. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Refrain from abruptly entering cold water
  • Drink plenty of fluids prior to using saunas
  • Cool down with water after exiting saunas
  • Avoid extreme temperatures
  • Always seek medical advice if you have any health issues.

Frequently Asked Questions

Both sauna and cold plunge can be beneficial, depending on what you are looking for: sauna has a longer-term effect on muscle recovery while cold plunge provides more immediate relief of muscle soreness.

The sauna can help to reduce inflammation and improve circulation, while the cold plunge can help to reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery time. Both methods can be used to improve overall health and wellbeing.

Sauna followed by a cold plunge can be beneficial, as it increases blood flow, helps with sore muscles, and may even help burn energy and affect weight.

Cold plunges should be done after sauna sessions, as the former slows down the heart rate and contracts blood vessels.

A 2 minute cold plunge has scientifically proven benefits including reducing inflammation, improving circulation, promoting better sleep, and strengthening the immune system.

It is also thought to be effective in relieving sore muscles, improving mood, burning calories, and increasing testosterone.

Cold plunging carries serious risks, including frostbite, hypothermia, heart arrhythmias and even heart attacks. Blood can rush away from extremities to protect vital organs, leading to a loss of strength and coordination and quickly increasing breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.

Cold plunge and sauna therapies can provide a range of health benefits, including muscle recovery, improved cardiovascular health, better mental wellbeing, boosted immune function, optimized fat burning, and enhanced sleep quality.

They can also be used to improve mental clarity and focus, as well as to reduce fatigue and improve energy.

Bottom Line

The powerful combination of cold plunge and sauna therapies offers a wide range of health benefits, including improved muscle recovery, enhanced cardiovascular health, better mental well-being, a stronger immune system, optimized fat burning, and improved sleep quality.

By incorporating both therapies into your wellness routine and following the practical tips provided in this blog post, you can reap the benefits of these ancient practices and embark on a journey towards better health and well-being.

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