Cold Plunge Tubs and Saunas: Embracing Community Wellness

Posted on May 2, 2024

woman taking a cold plunge tub outdoors

Exploring and combining different ways to improve your health and wellness routine is a surefire way to improve your quality of life—including your social life. The rise in community saunas and groups using cold plunge tubs is not only boosting key health parameters in large populations but also facilitating the social element a healthy lifestyle also depends on.

In fact, both an active social life and cold/heat exposure provide many overlapping physical and mental benefits. Together, it's possible to compound these benefits in a fun, life-affirming setting with kindred souls.

Naturally, more people than ever are wondering: What can cold plunge tubs do for your health? How can I find a sauna group? There are countless other burning questions surrounding the growing interest in community cold plunges and saunas.


The Tradition of Heat and Cold Therapy

Saunas: A Finnish Legacy

Many cultures throughout history have engaged in some type of heat therapy, but "sauna" is an old Finnish word for "earth" or "snow pit." What began as heated rock-lined pits eventually gave way to birch steam houses, which fulfilled numerous Finnish communal functions for at least two thousand years, including:
  • Curing meat

  • Treating the sick

  • Facilitating childbirth

  • Conducting final rites for the dead or dying

Clearly, the sauna held deep spiritual significance to Finnish culture, being a veritable nexus for life, death, and community. Finns often built saunas into their homes, usually building the sauna first and the living quarters around it.

There was even an old Finnish adage likening saunas to a "poor man's pharmacy." Undoubtedly, ancient Finns intuitively knew the intrinsic benefits of steam saunas, as modern research now confirms, namely:
  • Better cardiovascular function

  • Greater angiogenesis (blood vessel growth)

  • Improved endothelial function

  • Lower blood pressure and reduced arterial stiffness

  • Better general health markers

  • Reduced mortality

  • Lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease

Finnish athletes have been largely credited for popularizing the sauna around the world, underscoring its intrinsic value for active lifestyles. Of course, practically anyone can enjoy the benefits of a modernized wood-panel sauna—especially in the company of others.


The Trend Spreads

The use and design of traditional Finnish saunas closely mirror those found in Eastern Europe and Russia. Expectedly, their use also spread to Sweden, Norway, and northern Germany. As time progressed, the "Nordic bath" became more recreational in their adoptive countries, leading to the sauna's welcome commercialization in recent centuries.


Today, there's been an influx in sauna health retreat spaces, harkening back to the ritual functions one can only imagine Finnish saunas originally fulfilling. Intrepid entrepreneurs are also spreading built-to-order in-house Nordic saunas across North America, helping more people develop a healthy sense of community from the comfort of home.


Important Other Hydrotherapy Modalities Around the World

Historical records relating to cold therapy are even clearer. The most ancient medical text known, circa 3500 BC, made numerous references to the therapeutic effects of cold, and cold water immersion was a popular social function in Ancient Greece. The Hippocratic Corpus also made lofty references to the curative power of water, including claims that hot and cold hydrotherapy could induce bodily homeostasis.

In many ways, the forebears of Western medicine considered water a veritable panacea, although it required the right use and temperature. Physicians in ancient Rome also touted cold water as beneficial for fevers, an idea that endured through the late 18th century. In the latter case, Scottish physician James Currie even created a "water cure establishment" to promote greater acceptance of hydrotherapy.

On a lighter note, the Polar Bear Club has demonstrated since the early 1900s how fun jumping into a cold body of water with your friends can be (acquired taste though it is!).


The Science Behind Saunas and Cold Plunges

Health science is an ever-evolving field, and attempts at proving the efficacy of cold/heat exposure have met with varying degrees of success. However, there's absolutely something to it.

A Deeper Dive Into the Benefits of Using Cold Plunge Tubs

One of the main physiological effects of frequent old plunges is the development of brown adipose fat tissue, which has high thermogenic (heat-producing) properties. As everyone's favorite "Ice Man" Wim Hof proved beyond doubt, the body's ability to adapt to extreme cold is nothing less than phenomenal—and it's primarily the development of brown fat tissue (and iron will) that makes it possible.

Doing so isn't just a demonstration of grit or a foolhardy way to stay comfortable without a sweater. What does a cold plunge do to improve health, you might rightly wonder:

  • Improved insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels

  • Higher thermogenesis and metabolic rate, which helps burn white fat tissue

  • Reduced inflammation and increased plasma concentrations of immune cells

  • Increased noradrenaline and dopamine, which enhance energy, mood, and focus

  • Possible suppression of tumor cells

  • Increased beta-endorphins, which reduce the sensation of pain and are partly responsible for the "runner's high"

These insights have enormous implications for many physical and mental health conditions. It's even prompted some researchers to suggest cold treatments for depression, improved immunity, and pain relief. Perhaps more important to some, it's also incredibly fun once you get used to it (at least, the effects are).

Moreover, social connection is also
 indispensable for good mental health, immune function, weight management, diabetes, and even all-cause mortality. It's actually quite remarkable how similar the benefits of using cold plunge tubs and social connectivity are. Could it be the Polar Bear Club was on to something?


Turning Up the Heat on Sauna Research!

Research has also conclusively revealed far-reaching health benefits for heat-induced bodily stress. As mentioned, sauna-goers experience lower all-cause mortality rates, including fewer fatalities from heart attacks, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease.

It's not hard to see why when you look at the physiological effects of saunas. Even a brief session in a dry sauna raises skin temperature as high as 104° F, prompting several heat-adaptive bodily functions:

  • Heart rate raises upwards of 30% or more

  • Circulation almost doubles

  • Blood moves away from the internal organs and toward the skin

  • Sweat glands produce over a pint of sweat, expelling toxins in their wake

Interestingly, blood pressure response varies, either rising or lowering among different people. It's always best to start slowly and acclimate yourself without pressure to keep up with the group. Also, take plenty of water and avoid dehydrating foods/drinks shortly before and after your session.

Saunas are perfectly safe for most people, so long as you heed your body's limits. Those with hypertension (high blood pressure) or heart issues in general should consult a doctor before incorporating temperature extremes into their lifestyle.

Like cold therapy, the body's heat response also carries major benefits for mood and mental health. Whole-body heating can elevate circulating BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), the same all-important nerve growth stimulant produced during HIIT (high-intensity interval training).

It's no stretch to say, with sufficient sauna temperatures and durations, you could induce the following known benefits of BDNF:

  • Improve the quality of life and reduce anxiety

  • Increase neuroplasticity, protect neurons, and enhance memory

  • Prevent or reduce the chance of Alzheimer's disease

Like all things health-related, the exact benefits of sitting in a sauna will vary depending on myriad individual factors, but doing so in a supportive group atmosphere will likely only amplify the benefits.


Making It a Community Experience

Sauna culture began as a pillar of community, and thankfully, that's where it's headed today. The same is true of using cold plunge tubs, hot on the heels of the mass popularization of cold showers and ice baths, even outside exercise communities.

You don't need to belong to any group or clique to experience the phenomenal benefits of heat or cold therapy because numerous cold plunge and sauna groups are open to all! Given the dramatic health benefits of social connectivity, you may as well incorporate them into your overall health protocol!

These benefits are no small matter—those with stronger social bonds and support enjoy a three-fold decrease in all-cause mortality. If you're willing to fine-tune your diet and devote significant time to an exercise regimen, neglecting this equally (or more) important aspect of your health is sheer folly.

Fortunately, connecting with like-minded individuals is easier than ever as cold plunges and saunas rise in popularity. A community hot & cold therapy center is usually the only way for most people to access sauna and ice bath resources in the same location.

You'll also feel much less self-conscious seeing your peers' facial expressions as they take the plunge for the first time ("Do I make those faces in the ice bath, too?" you'll wonder—and no, of course not).


Building Community Sauna and Cold Plunge Spaces

If you live in a moderately populated city, it's likely there's already a community of sauna goers and honorary ice men and women near you. Depending on your location, there may be a wellness center or health retreat featuring saunas and cold plunge tubs, including the possibility of natural cold plunge escapes (best done with a friend, for safety and fun alike).

For that matter, you don't need a facility devoted to cold plunges to get your shiver on. Depending on the season, natural swimming locales could be even more thrilling with the right group of people. A cold plunge meetup group can easily get the ball rolling and help you meet like-minded health champions (and it could lay the groundwork for a rewarding business venture).

If You Build It…

A formal sauna/cold plunge center helps people dial in their exact preferences and acclimate to cold or heat more comfortably—an extremely important factor in providing a less abrasive initial experience. It will also keep guests coming back for more.

Those with the means of creating their own sauna and cold plunge space should find the following considerations helpful in developing a frosty and melty retreat:

  • Consider annexing a current health center or gym already outfitted with extensive bathing/showering amenities and the necessary plumbing/drainage

  • An indoor/outdoor dynamic creates a fun and eventful feel—much more like a friendly gathering space

  • Take strides to ensure guests feel comfortable and in control of their experience, including various means of adjusting temperature (e.g., warming-up spots, room-temperature waiting areas, etc.)

  • Something as simple as a fan allows the real diehards to maximize their cold response after a plunge

  • Take the time to learn about safe and sanitary sauna construction and protocol from the beginning, so your design is inherently easy to upkeep and amenable to traditionalists.

  • Space around the heat/steam source allows sauna-goers to find their comfort zone.

  • Blend your heat and cold therapy offerings with other health services, such as fitness classes, group meditations, and coaching services—as well as integrated features, like aromatherapy saunas, chromotherapy, and private/group room dynamics.

  • A natural hot springs resort is the perfect location for sauna/cold plunge amenities.

  • Serve plenty of hydrating hot and cold drinks!

Crunching the Numbers on a New Sauna/Cold Plunge Facility

From a business sense, you'll need to know all the factors affecting revenue. That includes, at a minimum:
  • How many people your saunas and ice baths can accommodate

  • Closely comparing the ROI on all of the:

    • Sauna heat sources, materials, and layout

    • Choice of cold plunge tubs or pools, ice generators, etc.

    • Commercial HVAC equipment and services

    • Professional designers and architects with an emphasis on therapeutic design elements (e.g., color, lighting, and open/closed space dynamics)

  • Calculating upfront investment expense, payback period, and expected daily/weekly/monthly cash flow

  • Cost of utilities, taking into account things like utilities, especially thermal load (the amount of recooling required to offset body temperatures)

  • Other overhead costs, including much more extensive plumbing and cleaning services than the average business

  • Safety and legal considerations, such as permits, code compliance, and accessibility

A few business case studies should serve as inspiration for you and your stakeholders, and you'd also do well to incorporate public awareness and outreach into your business plan. Presenting anecdotal case studies on the benefits of cold plunge tubs and saunas will solidify your brand as people-centered and committed to your clientele's health outcomes.


Inspiring Events and Gatherings Using Sauna/Cold Plunge Tubs

Professionals and casual users alike would do well to keep their thumbs on the pulse of cold plunge and sauna community gatherings. A crowd's sentiments can be contagious—and all the better if they stem from a shared love of pushing one's body to the limits.

Keep your eyes peeled for any of the following types of events and gatherings near you, and take the plunge with your social circle!

  • Vernon, BC lake plunges: A loose-knit Facebook group that plans cold plunges at British Columbia's Kal Beach.

  • Lake Tahoe cold plunge group: A single cold plunger had the guts and social finesse to attract a regular weekly following in the idyllic Sierra Nevadas—proving anyone can build a group of their own with nothing but a phone.

  • Looney Dook: Upwards of 1,000 or more "Looney Dookers" meet on New Year's Day and "dook" (a Scottish word meaning "dip" or "plunge") into the ice-cold Firth of Forth. Did we mention there are also goofy outfits and a parade?

  • World Sauna Forum: The World Sauna Forum, held in Finland, bills itself "the most relaxing business environment in the world." After all, inspiration comes when you least expect it.

  • Secret Sauna Society: Sauna Share—mobile sauna wizards extraordinaire—started a public sauna map and events calendar, helping those across the country join in the fun!

Embracing Heat and Cold Therapy in Everyday Life

Making heat and cold therapy an everyday part of life doesn't have to be complicated. Weaving DIY hot and cold therapy into your routine will likely lay the groundwork for meeting others who are equally unabashed and determined.

As the Ice Man himself made clear, you can't go wrong with good old-fashioned cold showers. If your body craves a little more sweat, consider wearing extra layers on your next summer bike ride or jog.

Some even fill their bathtubs with ice packs to go the extra mile, and portable infra-red saunas fit neatly under the bed when finished. Those truly going the distance can also get their very own bespoke fixed-installation sauna.

Get a larger home sauna and become the hottest new hangout spot on the block! Alternatively, you could devote an outdoor jacuzzi to cold water and invite your friends for a cold soak (they'll probably also want a hot drink).

Heat and Cold Therapy FAQs

Should I Take a Cold Plunge Before or After a Workout?

Surprisingly, the likeliest answer is neither. Of course, it depends on your fitness goals, and it's far from a "bad" thing to work out close to a cold therapy session. Yet it's far better to ask how to best time your cold plunge and workout routine for optimal results.

Since cold exposure blunts the body's natural inflammatory response, doing so shortly before or after exercise interferes with the body's natural recovery process. Note that large-scale research is somewhat lacking, so take this with a grain of cold saltwater—because, as mentioned, cold also boosts immune cell response (which is also necessary for recovery).

A balanced approach would be to wait several hours before/after exercise or even do it on off days or around light training sessions. That's especially true if your goal is building muscle mass and/or strength, which cold water recovery inhibits.

How Hot Should a Sauna Be?

The benefits of sitting in a sauna discussed above were in relation to regular sauna use at around 176–212° F, re: cardiovascular/all-cause mortality, and 122° F hot water immersion for BDNF studies. When testing any bodily limits, the "best" is entirely personal. Always listen to your body's wisdom.

How Long Should I Sit in a Sauna?

Likewise, the maximum sauna benefits listed above were in relation to four or more 11–19-minute sauna sessions per week (for cardiovascular/all-cause mortality) and 90-minute hot water immersion, three times per week spaced 72 hours apart (for BDNF). In the latter case, the participants were in an overnight fasting state and told not to exercise the day before.

Obviously, these metrics are based on highly controlled lab conditions. For real-life applications, it's likely that simply "getting your fill" (i.e., until you feel satisfied) will guide you well.

Is “Cryotherapy” the Same as a Cold Plunge?

Not quite, though many use the terms interchangeably. The difference between cryotherapy and the cold plunge is important to trained medical professionals, who know cryotherapy as a specific technique using a full-body liquid nitrogen chamber capable of producing temperatures as low as -300° F.

"I Don’t Know if I Would Have Been Able to Do This Without the Group Experience."

That's exactly the testimony of one cold plunge first-timer, describing how the group energy motivates and takes you beyond your limits. Likely, your simply being there does the same for others.

Don't feel intimidated to go further than you yourself intend, and make each foray into exciting new health vistas unconditionally your own. That's exactly the sentiment Laird Superfoods was founded on, and we strive to make healthy eating easier than ever for those pursuing an overall wellness lifestyle.

Enduring significant heat or cold can be enormously taxing, and it's essential to fuel properly both before and after temperature therapy. Heed your appetite for adventure and kick-start your wellness routine with Laird's deluxe assortment of nutritious and delicious foods and drinks!

Some of our most popular offerings include:

...and as always, don't forget to bring some for your friends.



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