“Alternate hot and cold.” You’ve probably heard this advice before, right? The world of natural healing is full of stuff like essential oils, medicinal mushrooms, supplements, and the debate between herbs and over-the-counter medicines. But natural healing and mainstream medicine do agree on at least a couple natural therapies… …namely, hot and cold therapies, to be specific.
It’s widely accepted that heat and cold trigger amazing homeostasis and healing in the body. These “thermo-therapies” are definitely something that provide profound benefit, and must be researched more! And you’re probably already familiar with some of it: hot steam helps breathing and opens the lungs, while ice packs are soothing for inflammation. It’s almost basic first aid. Heat also improves circulation, while cold lowers inflammation. And that’s just the start. The miracles of temperature therapy can be seen everywhere. Beyond icing wounds and hot compresses, some researchers have looked deeper into cold and hot therapies, and some of these have some serious benefits! Such as:
SAUNAS OR STEAM ROOMS.
We’ve known for a while that these modalities are huge health-boosters.
Some form of “steam room” (or dry sauna) is found in almost every culture, for ritual and health purposes (or both): the Scandinavian sauna, the Latin American temazcal, Native American sweat lodges, etc.
Research shows tons of benefits from these types of heat therapies. They release endorphins for one, which can promote emotional well-being and boost mood. They also increase cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of heart disease!
Heat therapy may also have a hand in reducing chronic inflammation and detoxing through our sweat, while steam rooms may have soothing benefits for respiratory health and the lungs (potentially great for those with asthma).
COLD THERAPIES (ICE BATHS, COLD SHOWERS/SWIMS)
While heat therapies (also called thermotherapy) are found all over the globe, cold therapies (cryotherapy) have their own value— and research is starting to prove these more and more.
In Scandinavia, for example, “polar bear” swims are thought to be excellent for the body. Post-workout cold showers are becoming popular wellness boosts today, too— but what do these cold therapies actually do?
A lot, apparently. One study showed they may help people retain healthy weight or encourage weight loss. And like saunas, they might improve cardiovascular health as well as immunity, circulation, and depression.
WHAT’S BETTER THAN EITHER? BOTH!
Some research suggests both heat and cold therapy together can be better than the other alone! They found this to be true in Scandinavia: where sauna sessions were usually followed by time spent in the cold, either walking around or rolling in the snow (or just passing through extremely cold air temperatures). Both hot and cold might be healthier and more effective than just heat or cold alone. What are the “better” benefits of hot and cold? All the above: better heart health, mood, and metabolism. But there were also neurological benefits, such as reduced risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and all-cause mortality! If you haven't yet heard of Wim Hof (the "Ice man"), he is quickly becoming all the rage because of his impressive ability to use breath work in combination with cold submersion to create almost supernatural health. Check him out HERE. His work and research has inspired me to start my own cold plunge practice (as you can see in the picture above), and it has had truly noticeable positive impact on my mental health, mood, and energy. :) So next time you take a shower, or you’re stepping out of that sauna or steam room… …step back into a cold shower or turn the temperature way down to as cold as you can stand it, and let it run for 30-60 seconds, and then eventually work your way up to a few minutes. Your body will thank you!
Drop a comment if you've used saunas or cold therapy. What was your experience like?