Hydrotherapy: diving into the benefits of hot and cold

If you have ever had the pleasure of spending time at the Scandinave Spa in Whistler, then you are aware that it is easily one of the most relaxing spots around. Aside from the pristine setting and soothing silence, what is it about the baths, steam rooms and saunas that leave us in such a blissful state?

Hydrotherapy is based on the idea that health and healing are proportional to the normal flow of blood throughout the body. By using hot and cold temperatures it is possible to manipulate the amount of circulation to a given tissue and even improve the quality of blood.

It is widely recognized that extreme water temperatures produce mechanical effects, such as hot water helping to relax tight muscles or the use of an ice pack to limit swelling. These properties also improve the quality of the blood by enhancing blood flow through the organs responsible for detoxification, working to eliminate waste products and increase beneficial elements, such as oxygen, nutrients and red blood cells.

Research conducted on the health benefits of hot and cold water exposure boils down to one common theme: stress. When we stress our body with exposure to extreme temperatures, it activates our sympathetic (“fight or flight”) response, causing an elevation in stress hormones in the short term. However, similar to the stress induced by regular exercise, exposure to these acute stresses over a longer duration provokes a compensatory adaption and overall reduction in stress hormones.


Temperature Tips:


Exposure to heat produces an immediate vasodilatory effect, which acts to increase oxygen absorption, CO2 excretion, decrease tissue tone and increase blood glucose. Recently it has been found that regular sauna use (2-3 times per week) has produced a significantly lower risk of fatal heat attacks. Using heat has also been shown to reduce oxidative stress in both health and sick individuals by lowering prostaglandin levels, increasing antioxidant capacity, and improving both lipid profiles and insulin sensitivity.


The effects of cold application can vary depending on the duration of application. A short cold application has a stimulating effect on metabolism, causing increased oxygen absorption and co2 excretion (more so than hot application), as well as increasing nitrogen absorption and excretion and increase cell counts of both WBC and RBC. Long term cold application, as you would expect, has a depressing effect on metabolism, causing blood vessels to constrict and send blood back to internal organs and glands.

By exposing the body to cold temperatures it is possible to enhance the immune system by increasing the number and activity of cytotoxic T cells responsible for fending off infected or damaged cells. Short cold applications can also act to stabilize blood pressure and improve circulation through vessel constriction and a compensatory increase in heart rate.

Longer exposure to cold temperature as an analgesic effect by increasing the release of endorphins and catecholamines which both carry proven pain-reducing properties


Bringing the Scandinave experience to your Home:

Cold shower blast

  • This is the simplest (but maybe not the most enjoyable) way to incorporate the stimulating effects of hydrotherapy into your daily life. By turning the tap to the coldest setting for the final 10-30 seconds of your morning shower, you’ll notice a boost of alertness (not surprising), mood and may even notice increased recovery if you’ve already gotten your workout in that morning.

Sauna or steam room

  • If you have access to a steam room or sauna at the gym or your apartment building, incorporating regular use (try 20 minutes, 2-3 times per week) into your schedule can aid in detoxification and elimination of toxins, lower oxidative stress and even enhance physical performance.

Warming socks treatment

  • This treatment is especially indicated in any case of congestion (including the sinuses, ears, eyes, throat and lungs) by increasing circulation to the feet and drawing the congestion down from the upper body. This should be done right before bedtime using the following steps:
  • Soak a pair of cotton socks in cold water, wring them out thoroughly and put them on your warm feet. Immediately cover with thick, dry wool socks and go to bed. When you wake in the morning the wet cotton socks will be dry.

It should go without saying that exposure to both extreme heat or cold can be overly stressful and even dangerous. Be careful that you do not get too hot or cold, make sure you stay well hydrated and always consult with a health care professional before embarking on any aggressive hydrotherapy adventures.

If this post wasn't inspiring enough to , check out the My Reason Video Series from the to take a look into the lives of some Whistler locals and how they incorporate hydrotherapy and the Scandinave Spa into their unique lifestyle.



Information can be empowering, but we all have unique health profiles and needs. The information in this post is intended for education purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with your primary care physician. For more information or individualized treatment, book in for a consultation with Dr. Crape here.