In the wellness world, there’s a lot of chatter about hot and cold therapy. From traditional mineral bathing to thermal spa facilities and even more advanced practices like cryotherapy, the timeless technique of switching from one temperature extreme to another is the foundation of many effective spa and wellness journeys. And now, as the pandemic continues to bring personal immunity to the forefront of our collective consciousness, the benefits of hot and cold therapy could not be more profound.
Also known as contrast or hydrothermal therapy, this practice is known to help balance the body by immersing it in extreme heat followed by extreme cold, usually by alternating between ice-cold plunge pools and hot baths or saunas. Quite simply, by stimulating dilation and constriction of the blood vessels, it encourages blood flow that in turn helps the body flush out waste, release endorphins, boost energy and balance the mind.
Almost every culture in the world has some tradition or practice that involves the concept of hot and cold therapy, from ancient Roman bathhouses to Japanese onsen bathing and piping hot Nordic saunas. However, due to the vast range of practices that differ from place to place, the various benefits of hot and cold bathing experiences can be sometimes lost in the myriad of explanations, rituals and physical facilities—each with their own special list of benefits for the body, both inside and out.
At GOCO Hospitality, we aim a lot of focus toward this practice, incorporating it as a matter of course into our spas and consulting projects. As spas begin reopening—or get closer to doing so—it’s worth considering that contrast therapy, and specifically the hot elements, can help play a role in preventing respiratory issues and elevating overall health and well-being.
How It Works
When a person enters water that’s warmer than their body temperature, a process called vasodilation occurs, meaning that the blood vessels expand and cause increased circulation to the limbs and extremities in order to wick away the heat and regulate the body’s overall temperature. When switching to cold water, the opposite happens. Here, vasoconstriction slows blood flow to the extremities and promotes local circulation in the body’s core—a biological survival reaction. This physical exertion temporarily alters the nerve signals traveling to and from the brain and can have a profound physical effect, relieving aches and chronic pain symptoms, in addition to improving the person’s psychological state.
Contrast therapy also helps induce contraction of the lymphatic vessels, tightening in the cold and relaxing in the heat. Unlike the circulatory system, the lymph system has no natural pumping action, so hot and cold experiences essentially “force pump” the lymph fluid around the body, reducing inflammation and flushing waste faster than it would otherwise be passed through the body’s never-ending network of vessels and nodes. The same pumping action can be seen in the muscles of the body, as well, where hot and cold temperatures cause the muscles to constrict and relax as though conducting a form of light aerobic activity.
Ingo Schweder has more than 30 years of experience in wellness and hospitality. Currently a creative lead in the management and development of all GOCO-branded spas and retreats, he’s also managing director of Horwath HTL Health and Wellness, helping to strategize, design and manage wellness developments for hospitality brands, from individual hotel spas to dedicated wellness resorts. Schweder owns and manages Glen Ivy Hot Springs in Corona, California, and was formerly a board member of Mandarin Oriental and earlier corporate director of operations for Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.