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Cold Bath vs. Hot Bath: Which One Is Healthier?

By Skye Sherman  •   September 25, 2023
•    Medically Reviewed By Dr. Christine Bishara, MD - Dec 13, 2023

Photo Credit: by freepik.com
Photo Credit: by freepik.com

When you’re sore, sad, or seeking an escape, there’s nothing better than a hot bath to wind down. It’s hard not to feel great when you take a hot bath. But if you’ve been watching the news or social media lately, you’d see that cold baths are currently all the rage.

While a cold bath may not be somewhere to relax for 20 minutes like a hot bath is, you still feel great afterwards, which is why everyone who’s interested in health and fitness is getting into the ice bath trend. It seems to help with everything from heart health to weight loss.

So which is better for you: hot baths or cold baths? In this article, we’ll take a look at the health benefits of both types of baths and provide tips and recommendations for getting the most out of the type of bath you pick (or even both types of baths!).

Read on to learn more about bathing your way to healthiness.

Health benefits of hot baths

Hot baths, sauna sessions, steam rooms, and sweating are all similar activities with similar beneficial results.

The most accessible option for most people is a hot bath, because while many people have a bathtub in their home, not everyone has easy access to a sauna. Luckily, the benefits of hot baths are plenty!

GoodRx reports, “Hot baths are a form of both hydrotherapy and passive body heating. They have been studied as a complementary treatment for several conditions, including low mood, poor sleep, and sore muscles.”

As you know if you’ve ever taken a hot bath after a long, demanding day, they can be extremely soothing to body and mind. They can relieve pain in sore muscles and joints, lower stress levels, and just make you feel happier and more content overall. They may even improve sleep quality, which benefits you in every possible way.

Another big benefit of a hot bath is what it can do for your heart. GoodRx reports, “One small study found that 60 minutes of partial immersion in hot water temporarily reduced blood pressure. Another study found a link between regular baths and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Of course, taking a hot bath can’t take the place of healthy lifestyle changes, diet improvements, or, if applicable, high blood pressure medications like Lopressor. But you should still talk to your doctor about whether they may be helpful for you.

And if you have access to a sauna, or a similar form of dry heat, even better. According to Longevity Technology, “According to one study, four to seven sauna sessions a week lowered mortality rates – even one session per week can reduce all factor mortality. The heat from the sauna immediately relaxes you, enhances circulation and relieves pain in your muscles.”

What’s more, sweating in a sauna can be very healthy for people with certain heart conditions or diseases. “Sweating caused by saunas may benefit people with peripheral arterial disease, chronic obstructive peripheral arterial disease (COPD), and congestive heart failure. Saunas may also be beneficial for muscle healing after sports and help reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. People undergoing depression and anxiety may also find sauna bathing helpful.”

Did you know that you will also burn more calories while in a sauna? This is because your core body temperature increases as you sit in the sauna, increasing your calorie burn rate by up to twice as fast. Regular sauna sessions can be a great way to lose weight! While saunas can provide a lot of health benefits, be mindful to always stay hydrated since sweating while in a sauna can increase your fluid requirements.

Still, take precautions before taking a hot bath, especially if you are using a hot tub. WebMD warns, “The warm, bubbly water also eases aches and pains from conditions like arthritis, low back pain, and fibromyalgia. But hot tubs might not be safe for some people, including pregnant women and those with heart disease. And when they aren’t cleaned well, they pose risks to even healthy people.”

People wishing to dip into a hot tub should beware of bacteria that pose a potential risk for infections, swimmer’s ear, and even GI infections with diarrhea or a severe type of pneumonia (lung disease).

To stay safe before taking a hot bath or going into a hot tub, make sure it is sanitary, avoid crowds in a hot tub, turn down the heat to a safer temperature, don’t sit near the heat source, limit your time to ten minutes or less, shower with soap immediately afterward, stay hydrated, and talk to your doctor about whether it’s right for you.

Health benefits of ice baths

There’s a reason ice baths are all the rage these days. While professional athletes have known about the benefits of ice bathing for decades, the rest of the world seems to be just catching up.

If you’ve ever taken a cold bath or ice plunge, you know the exhilaration that comes after you finish. No one likes exposing themselves to cold water, but you feel so great when you get out, you soon forget all about it!

Like a hot bath, a cold bath may provide relief to sore and aching muscles, helping speed up recovery time, especially for active people and athletes. Cold-water immersion is also known to boost your central nervous system, help you sleep better, lower inflammation, and more.

Wondering how it works? Everyday Health explains:

“Plunging your body into cold water causes blood vessels to constrict (known as vasoconstriction). When blood vessels contract, they push blood toward your organs … Directing blood toward the organs supplies the blood with more oxygen and nutrients. Then, once you get out of the cold water, your blood vessels open up (known as vasodilation) … This allows oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to return to your tissues to help remove waste products, such as lactic acid buildup.”

As Longevity Technology puts it, the benefits of moderate cold exposure are as follows: “Cold therapy has been around perpetually in professional athletics, even though the mainstream population has only caught on in the last few years. A cold plunge approach implicates immersing the body in icy water for around two to ten minutes. Advantages include lymphatic, immune, digestive and circulatory system boosts. It can take the form of ice baths, cold showers, polar bear dips and cold-shocking after relaxing in a hot tub or sauna.” Cold therapy has also been shown to increase mitochondrial numbers and improve their function. If you recall, the mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells. Cold therapy has been shown to rejuvenate cells and allows the death of old or dysfunctional cells and the renewal of new, healthier cells which is a boost for your immune health.

With so many benefits awaiting you at the end of just two minutes, why wouldn’t you want to give it a try?

Should you take a hot bath or a cold bath? Try contrast therapy

Wondering if you should take an ice bath or a hot bath? Why not both? Contrast therapy, or switching between hot (whether a sauna or hot bath) and cold (from an ice bath or similar cold plunge) is a great way to revive your health and fitness.

It begins with a session in a sauna or even a hot tob to get all warmed up. Then, if you’re doing contrast therapy, you can hop straight into the cold. But how do the two temperature exposures work well together?

Longevity Technology reports, “As your skin temperature increases, sauna-goers undergo a ‘fight or flight’ response, resulting in a raised sense of alertness, decreased pain perception and an elevated mood. When you follow a sauna with a dip in cold water or snow, your adrenaline also rises. Additionally, as well as the adrenaline rise, the hot sauna and cold plunge routine can improve pain and inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis. This disease is said to be worsened by sauna visits that aren’t followed by some cold.”

But contrast therapy isn’t just for these diseases. Even healthy people who want to shed a few pounds can benefit from time in the sauna and ice.

The article also states, “The combined practice of the two jumpstarts your ability to burn fat and lose weight because cold water exposure activates your brown adipose tissue to help burn fat for energy, so you stay warm. On the other hand, infrared radiation raises your heart and metabolic rate, like a mild to moderate cardio workout, letting you burn extra calories.”

What you need to know before trying contrast therapy

However, keep in mind that contrast therapy isn’t for everyone. While most people find going back and forth between hot and cold is stimulating and invigorating, people who suffer from heart conditions may want to avoid it, so, always check with your doctor before starting cold or hot therapy.

According to Longevity Technology, “This is because receptors in the face and scalp react to the rapid temperature drop, stimulating the ‘diving reflex,’ a cardio respiratory reaction. It can induce shortness of breath, decreased cardiac output and an immediate decrease in pulse.”

If you want to lose weight and feel great, hot baths, cold baths, and contrast therapy may be a great option for you.

However, if you suffer from certain diseases or heart conditions, or if you are on prescription medications like beta blockers, muscle relaxants like Baclofen, or sedatives like benzodiazepines, it may be best to avoid ice baths.

Even ice baths alone can be off-limits to some people. You should only ever ice bath while sober and with proper training and supervision. However, there are other cases where you may want to avoid ice baths, such as if you are on certain medications or if you suffer from neurological conditions, Raynaud’s, anorexia, hormonal imbalances, cold allergies, or even typical allergies that require medications like Allegra.

Morozko reports, “Certain medical contraindications have been described by a French physician with decades of cold water swimming experience, including cardiovascular diseases, neurological irregularities, cold allergy, and adverse interactions with some medications.”

The report also states, “Like exercise, deliberate cold exposure is a way of stressing the cardiovascular system to stimulate growth, recovery, and resilience. However, caution is warranted to ensure that the stress is hormetic -- i.e., beneficial -- rather than injurious. The cardiovascular contraindications to cold water immersion fall into three general categories: 1) blood pressure, 2) heartbeat arrhythmia, and 3) pulmonary edema.”

If this applies to you, make sure to check with your doctor before taking an icy dip.



The purpose of the above content is to raise awareness only and does not advocate treatment or diagnosis. This information should not be substituted for your physician's consultation and it should not indicate that use of the drug is safe and suitable for you or your (pet). Seek professional medical advice and treatment if you have any questions or concerns.