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Hype or Health Hack? Your Checklist to Hot & Cold Treatments


Reviewed by Bruce Hamby, PA-C of Forum Health West Bloomfield

At a Glance:  

  • Contrast Therapy is the practice of alternating between hot and cold temperatures at regular intervals to increase blood flow and reduce inflammation in the body. 

  • Not Just Hype! This health hack has been proven effective in more than a dozen studies with both physical and mental benefits.  

  • Jump to the checklist of what you need to get started with contrast therapy.

By now you’ve probably heard about cold plunging, cryotherapy, saunas, and more treatments that involve being in very low or very high temperatures. Maybe you’ve even tried one!  


But why is this all of a sudden so popular? And even more importantly, what are the actual health benefits?  


This treatment is called contrast therapy and involves immersing the body or a specific body part in hot water or applying heat packs, followed by immersion in cold water or the application of cold packs. 


Contrast therapy is nothing new. Bathing in natural hot springs and applying cold to sore muscles has been common practice for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years. And the principles are simple. Heat stimulates blood flow and cold reduces inflammation. Two basic functions of healing and keeping your body healthy.  

Hot & Cold Therapy is in Fact, a Health Hack!

The cumulative research of 13 studies showed that contrast water therapy, “resulted in significantly greater improvements in muscle soreness… in comparison to passive recovery. [And] is superior to using passive recovery or rest after exercise…” 


Physical benefits of contrast therapy:  


  • Improved Circulation: Alternating between hot and cold can improve blood flow, enhancing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues.  


  • Reduced Inflammation: The cold phase helps reduce inflammation and swelling in injured or sore areas.  


  • Pain Relief: Both heat and cold can help manage pain, with heat relaxing muscles and cold numbing pain sensations. 


  • Enhanced Recovery: Athletes often use contrast therapy to speed up recovery after intense workouts or competitions by reducing muscle soreness and fatigue. 


  • Injury Prevention: Regular use of contrast therapy may help prevent injuries by keeping muscles flexible and reducing stiffness. 


Mental and emotional benefits of contrast therapy:  


  • Stress Relief & Improved Sleep: The heat phase promotes relaxation, while the cold phase can invigorate and refresh, creating a balanced state of calm and alertness. Regular contrast therapy can help regulate sleep patterns and improve the quality of sleep by reducing inflammation and discomfort.  


  • Mental Clarity & Mood Regulation: Boosts endorphin levels, the body’s natural “feel-good” hormones, leading to an improved positive mental state and a sense of well-being. The cold phase can enhance mental alertness and clarity, and improve focus and cognitive function, making it easier to concentrate on tasks.   


  • Enhanced Resilience & Mind-Body Connection: Regularly exposing the body to controlled stressors, like alternating hot and cold, can improve mental resilience making it easier to handle everyday stress and challenges more effectively. And paying attention to the sensations and responses during the therapy can foster a stronger connection between the mind and body.  


  • Improved Emotional Regulation: With regular practice, it may become easier to regulate emotions. The calming effects of the heat phase and the invigorating effects of the cold phase can help balance emotional responses. 


Ready to get started? We’ve created a checklist with what you need to know to include contrast therapy in your bio-hacking regimen.  

How to Perform Contrast Therapy: Alternating Between Hot and Cold Temperatures for Therapeutic Benefits

As with all new regimens, check with your healthcare provider to ensure that this is safe for you, especially if you have cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, pregnancy or other health concerns; and discontinue treatment if adverse effects occur.  

Step 1: Preparation  

Step 2: Application

Extra Tips for Contrast Therapy Beginners! 

  1. Mindfulness Practice: Focus on your breathing and sensations during therapy to enhance mindfulness and relaxation. Incorporate meditation or visualization to keep your mind present.  

  2. Play Music! Listening to a familiar song may help ease the shock and help you relax. 

  3. Better Together: Get a buddy and try contrast therapy together to offer each other emotional support and accountability.  

  4. Set a Goal: What is the purpose of doing this? Improving mentally, physically? Get clear on your why and make contrast therapy a part of your weekly or monthly routine.  

  5. Keep it Simple! You don’t have to spend tons to do this. Check your local area for spas or even fitness studios that offer contrast therapy. You can do it at home. Alternate between a warm bath and cold shower, a large outdoor tub filled with ice and your jacuzzi – get creative!  

  6. Personalization: Adjust the duration and intensity of each phase based on your comfort level and needs to create a personalized and enjoyable experience.
  7. Prolonged Exposure: There are also benefits to doing just one or the other, hot or cold, individually to focus on the specific benefits you are looking to achieve.  

By incorporating contrast therapy into your routine, you can experience a holistic approach to wellness that supports both your physical and mental health.

Schedule a consultation today!