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Thermal Wellness: Cold Plunge, Steam Room, and Sauna

The world of thermotherapy has much to offer. Together we will explore the differences and benefits between steam rooms, saunas and cold plunging.

Let’s Dive In!

What is the difference between the Steam Room and Sauna?

Sauna bathing is a form of whole-body thermotherapy. Traditional Finnish saunas are the most studied to date and generally involve short exposures (5−20 minutes) at temperatures of 176°F–212°F with dry air.

Steam Rooms are another form of whole-body thermotherapy. These however are typically set to 100-110°F, with a very high humidity.

Sauna therapy involves exposing your body to intense short-term heat, which raises both your skin and core body temperatures. This activates various systems in your body, including the autonomic nervous system and hormonal pathways, leading to well-known cardiovascular effects like increased heart rate, skin blood flow, cardiac output, and sweating.

The idea behind sauna therapy is to take advantage of your body's natural ability to regulate temperature (thermoregulation). The heat causes you to sweat, and when the sweat evaporates from your skin, it cools you down, helping to maintain a stable body temperature.

However, it's not clear if steam saunas, which have higher humidity and lower temperature, trigger the same physiological responses as dry saunas. This uncertainty arises because the moisture in steam rooms can lead to water condensation on the skin and reduce the evaporation of sweat.

Improved adaptation to stress with regular sauna bathing may be further enhanced by excretion of toxicants through heavy sweating. Many toxins including heavy metals and pesticides may be excreted in sweat leading to an enhancement of metabolic pathways.

Exposure to heat in either modalities causes specific changes in the body's metabolism. These changes include the production of heat shock proteins, a decrease in harmful reactive oxygenated species, lower levels of oxidative stress and inflammation, improved sensitivity to insulin, and modifications in various pathways that control the widening of blood vessels.

How long should I stay in the Steam Room and Sauna?

Timer starts when you begin to sweat - from there doing 10 minutes, 5 minute break, then another 10 minutes will get you the results you are looking for. Ensure you are hydrated, drinking water during the break and immediately after. Refer to my post Water: minerals, filtration & electrolytes to learn when to use electrolytes.

How often should I cold plunge?

Cold-water immersion, commonly in the form of cold-water/ice bathing, has gained popularity as an activity with potential health benefits. Research indicates a reduction in adipose tissue, suggesting a protective effect against conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Preliminary studies also highlight positive effects on the immune system, particularly in terms of stress tolerance and resistance to respiratory infections. While further research is needed to replicate these benefits, the prospect of easily accessible information is promising.

Among the various benefits associated with cold exposure, the alleviation of sore muscles stands out as the most substantiated.

For optimal results, it is recommended to start with shorter durations and gradually increase exposure time. A prudent approach involves initiating the practice with 3 minutes and progressively extending it to a maximum of 10 minutes.

I hope you enjoyed this article!

Just a friendly reminder that while I'm passionate about sharing valuable research and information for free, our personalized 1:1 services extend far beyond simple blog posts! If you're seeking a tailored exercise and recovery routine, feel free to reach out to our dedicated team to schedule a consultation. We're here to help you achieve your fitness goals more effectively.

Disclaimer: The information provided is as a community service to learn more about general health topics and does not replace medical advice. Always consult with your doctor before making changes to your diet, exercise, and supplement protocols. We never suggest stopping prescription medications. Our content is designed to be the latest, evidence-based knowledge pulling from reliable sources such as current research and the Institute of Functional Medicine. All statements have not been evaluated by the FDA nor are they intended to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any disease. If you have any questions, please contact us at As with all educational materials designed for large groups, utilize what interests you and do your own research, discard what doesn’t serve you.


Esperland, D., de Weerd, L., & Mercer, J. B. (2022). Health effects of voluntary exposure to cold water - a continuing subject of debate. International journal of circumpolar health, 81(1), 2111789.

Fields, L. (2022, July 20). Taking the Plunge: Is Cold Exposure Worthwhile? Cedars Sinai. January 30, 2024,

Hussain, J., & Cohen, M. (2018). Clinical Effects of Regular Dry Sauna Bathing: A Systematic Review. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2018, 1857413.

Pandiaraja, M., Vanitha, A., Maheshkumar, K., Venugopal, V., Poonguzhali, S., Radhika, L., & Manavalan, N. (2021). Effect of the steam bath on resting cardiovascular parameters in healthy volunteers. Advances in Integrative Medicine, 8(3), 199–202.

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