Sauna and ice bath – if you tell someone from Finland it's officially a thing now and they have great health benefits, they'll definitely roll their eyes and tell you what else is new?
I don't blame them; it's a very old tradition up north, but with the ever-increasing interest and almost obsessive hunt for self-improvement, it's now a worldwide thing. But it's not only a sauna and a cold dip in a wintery lake anymore; it's everything from a 30-second cold shower social media challenge to spa cryotherapy.
Along with the Finns, athletes are also used to this method, but more as a way to ease sore and aching muscles after a game or exercise, and in various forms like regular icing or foot soaks, rather than just a feel-good tradition to stay healthy.
“The ice bath is thought to constrict blood vessels, flush waste products, and reduce swelling and tissue breakdown. Subsequently, as the tissue warms and the increased blood flow speeds circulation, the healing process is jump-started.”
The benefits of cold exposure are many, and if going for the traditional sauna and ice dip seem out of reach, start by setting the morning shower on cold instead of comfy warm and reap some of the benefits.
- Ease sore and aching muscles
- Limits the inflammatory response – helping you recover faster
- Decreases the effect of heat and humidity – help keep a regulated temp
- Helps your central nervous system – better sleep which creates better focus
- Reduced stress levels
- A general sense of ‘feel good' and alertness
Whether you opt for an ice-filled tub or a cold lake, move in slowly and don't stay for more than 10-15 minutes in the cold. If you're also doing the sauna, hydrate properly before and take a minute between going from the extreme heat to the cold. Breathing is also very important. Deep breaths and a calm focused mind.
As I mentioned before, it's not only beneficial for athletes or after a tough workout – it can also be used as a method to increase alertness, and to boost your general focus, health, and immune system. You don't need to go all out and opt to become the next Wim Hof, but trying to add a cold shower once a day to your routine can definitely be worth trying.
There's also the mental aspect; when you challenge your body to stand the cold, you become more resilient, and repeated cold baths or showers can help you prepare mentally for different types of challenges. Together with deep breathing and the sense of ‘I can do this', a few minutes in the cold will definitely boost your confidence, whether you need it in sports, or any other aspect.