In stark contrast to a sauna that feels warm and inviting, the very thought of a cold plunge can send shivers down your spine. There is a level of stoicism required to take the plunge into the cold on behalf of each participant. It is not for the faint of heart, and yet similar to regular sauna bathing, there are unique and clinically significant health benefits derived from regular and intentional cold plunges.
Engaging the thermoregulatory system of our bodies as a means to heal a variety of the body’s systems, as well as potentially aiding in the remission of certain diseases, extends deeply into the annals of human history. While cold plunging and the use of heat therapy are not new in human history, the scientific data and research that support their regular use is now available in abundance. The intellectual understanding of how thermal-hormesis can truly benefit our health may just be the nudge we all need to dive into the very, very cold plunge.
There are several health benefits that overlap with regular sauna use and cold therapy, so if you already use a sauna regularly, why add on a cold plunge to your routine for maximum health benefits?
The reality is that the use of cold therapy produces incredible results on human health. Additionally, there are a few specific health benefits that are exclusive and unique to this modality that cannot be derived from sauna use.
Health Benefits Derived from Regular Cold Plunge Use
- Mental Clarity and Focus
- Conversion of White Fat To Brown Fat
- Mitochondrial Biogenesis
- Reduced Anxiety
- Stabilized Mood
- Improved Resiliency
- Increased Metabolism
- Enhanced Cell Longevity
- Increase in Brown Fat
- Decrease in Inflammation
- Improved Circulation to Reduce Acute and Chronic Pain (1)
Mental Clarity and Focus: Epinephrine (Adrenaline) and Norepinephrine
Clearly, the build up to entering into a cold plunge creates those common butterflies of nervousness as the body and mind prepare for a deeply uncomfortable experience. While it is completely safe to use a cold plunge (for a limited amount of time), the result on the body is a hormetic effect (healthy stress). Pushing beyond the edge of comfortability during a cold therapy session has a two-fold positive effect on both the brain and character.
Epinephrine, more commonly known as adrenaline, is produced in the adrenal glands during a cold plunge along with Norepinephrine, which is also produced in the adrenal glands and is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. The positive effects of this release affects the body, and more notably the brain, for hours after a cold plunge.
Practically, this means that if you are preparing for an important work presentation, athletic event, or even a social event such as a prom or wedding, utilizing the cold plunge will make you more focused, your brain more active, and you will be able to respond in the moment to cerebral activity.
Associate Professor of Neurobiology at Stanford University, Dr. Andrew Huberman Writes:
“Deliberate cold exposure causes a significant release of epinephrine (aka adrenaline) and norepinephrine (aka noradrenaline) in the brain and body. These neurochemicals make us feel alert and can make us feel agitated and as if we need to move or vocalize during the cold exposure. Cold causes their levels to stay elevated for some time and their ongoing effect after the exposure is to increase your level of energy and focus, which can be applied to other mental and/or physical activities.” (2)
In addition to providing a more focused mental aptitude directly after a cold plunge, which has been shown to aid in daily activities, this specific therapy demands a level of commitment to do that which is uncomfortable. Learning to withstand dis-comfort in a safe, measured environment has many benefits that we are not yet able to quantify.
Resiliency and Cold Plunge Therapy
Life throws curve balls at us all the time. While some may seem devastating on initial appearances, very often, these obstacles and challenges are ultimately fixable and provide us with an opportunity for personal growth.
In a world where so much is outside of our immediate control, it is beneficial to learn the skill of resiliency, and the ability to move beyond discomfort to achieve a higher good.
Science has demonstrated how beneficial cold plunges are for both short and long term health, and yet the actual action of getting in and pushing our personal threshold beyond what is comfortable may be challenging for some. Overcoming the initial nerves and severe discomfort of sitting in the cold plunge requires each individual to rise up to the occasion. Learning this invaluable skill will inevitably extend itself into the rest of your life. Why not get your stamina and resiliency practice in while also improving your health?!
Comparisons Chart: Health Benefits of Saunas and Cold Plunges
|Health Benefits||Infrared Saunas||Traditional Saunas||Cold Plunge|
|White to Brown Fat||No||No||Yes|
Brown Fat to White Fat: Increase Mitochondrial Biogenesis
Most individuals not working in the field of thermal-contrast therapy probably wonder what the big deal is when it comes to converting brown fat to white fat. The short answer is simply that brown fat contains more mitochondria than white fat. The result of having many more energy centers in brown fat allows it to be a more efficient mechanism to the body’s overall wellness than white fat.
Dr Susanna Soeberg is an expert in the field of contrast therapy, as well as the founder of The Soberg Institute: Theramalist Cure, and she comments the following:
“Brown fat, a type of healthy fat stored around the spine that acts as our body’s temperature regulator, boosts metabolism and can even aid blood-sugar response and weight control. The more we expose ourselves to the cold, the more brown fat cells we have. So it’s a case of use it or lose it” (1)
Dr. Rhonda Patrick, another expert in the field of saunas and thermo hormesis expands upon the biochemical changes that take place as a result of cold exposure to effectively convert white fat to brown fat. She explains that the release of Norepinephrine in response to cold is made in the adrenal glands, as well as the central nervous system, and is both a hormone as well as a neurotransmitter. Moreover, it is the release of norepinephrine that is responsible for the conversion of white fat into brown fat. What makes this so very important is that the conversion process which activates brown fat is linked to mitochondrial biogenesis.
Mitochondria are the energy center of each individual cell, and scientists now understand that brown fat has at least five times as many mitochondria compared to white fat, and the only way to activate brown fat and therefore mitochondrial biogenesis is through the release of norepinephrine as a direct causation from cold exposure. (3)
This fact alone will probably get most people inspired to move beyond any resistance to the cold and just get in the tub!
Why Choose A Cold Plunge Tub? Safety First!
- Safety: Controlled Temperature and Time Duration
- Some Are Portable
- Standardize the Temperature of the Plunge
- No Ice Required
- Safe To Use at Home (Unlike Cryotherapy)
- Water Purification System
It is possible to achieve excellent results from natural bodies of cold water such as rivers and lakes, but unfortunately, there are some risks associated with this activity. When it comes to regular daily cold therapy, safety is extremely important to eliminate potential risks and dangers associated with plunging into lakes and rivers. By having a dedicated plunge at home you can remove the potential dangers of using a natural body of water to serve your cold plunge needs.
Relying on a cold shower or cold bath is difficult because depending on where you live, your cold water may not be cold enough. If you are looking to take a cold shower that is 55 degrees Fahrenheit or less, this may not be accessible to you unless you live in a more northerly climate. With an at home cold plunge you can set the temperature to what your body needs on any particular day, which is extremely beneficial if you are just starting with cold shock therapy.
Furthermore, rather than needing to fill the cold plunge up with new water each time, your cold plunge will come with a water purification system. This allows you to forgo the bags of ice and excessive water use everytime you want to cold plunge.
There is room for improvement with an at home cold plunge as you can set the temperature to something that is manageable for you in the beginning and gradually lower the temperature to 37 degrees.
Your cold plunge can also be used as a hot tub as it can reach up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Finally, you will probably benefit so much that you will not want to miss out on a single day of cold plunge, and the tub available through saunas.org is also portable!
Cold Plunge Risks and Contraindications
There are incredible health benefits to be derived from taking a cold plunge, however, using a cold plunge is not for everyone. Having a cold plunge tub in your home that allows you to control the temperature and keep the water clean will go a long way to ensure your safety.Nevertheless, humans can get too cold, and cold exposure can lead to long term health issues, if not worse.
Please always consult with a health care professional before engaging in cold therapy to ensure that it is appropriate for you. By choosing to use a cold therapy method, such as a cold plunge tub at home, you are able to mitigate some of the dangers of using a natural body of water, as well as other unknowns and uncontrollable elements.
If you are careful and use the correct tools, adding cold therapy to your healthcare regime could be a total game changer!