It would appear that the world is finally realising the massive benefits from hot and cold therapy.
So lets start with the hot therapy first and cover some of the many benefits. Now just to clarify there are numerous different types of hot therapy available however I’m going to cover the one most of you will be able to gain access to through your local gym or health centre and that is the sauna.
So what is a sauna?
The word “Sauna” is a Finnish word and translates to “bath” or “bathhouse”. In Finland and the rest of Scandinavia they have been a way of life for over 2000 years. The earliest saunas were dug into embankments and were technically underground. As they advanced they became wooden huts and used rocks heated on a fire. In the 1950’s the first electric sauna was invented and they have pretty much remained the same today. They have however gradually moved into peoples homes rather than a freestanding hut. They work by an electric element heating stones which when water is added produces steam. The steam is short lived and just increases the temperature of the sauna. The average temperature in a sauna is around 180’F with a humidity of around 25%. This is classed as dry and wet heat. This is different to a steam room which constantly emits steam and is generally much cooler at around 110’F. However this has a humidity of 100%. Both give similar benefits.
So what are the benefits of frequent use of the sauna
1. Improves cardiovascular performance and burns calories
Yes you read it correctly using the sauna is the equivalent of doing aerobic exercise! Sauna use increases the heart rate to a range of 120 to 150 bpm. So 20 minutes in the sauna which is deemed to be the optimum time is just the same as doing 20 mins cardio without the strain on your joints.
Due to the heart rate increase your body will naturally demand more calories to turn into usable energy and subsequently burn calories.
2. Aides in recovery after physical activity.
The heat from the sauna raises the body's temperature which causes the blood vessels to dilate. This in turn increases the circulation of blood to the muscles which speeds up the body's natural healing process. It also promotes muscle relaxation and helps eliminate lactic acid and other toxins that may be present. Studies have shown a sauna increases the secretion of growth hormone which also assists in muscle repair.
3. Flushes Toxins and cleanses the skin
As our body temperature rises the natural process is for the body to produce sweat and send it to the surface of the skin. This process is designed to cool the body but it also allows our body to remove toxins such as mercury, lead and copper. The sweating also rinses out the bacteria from the epidermal layer of the skin keeping our pores clean. There is no better way of removing toxins from the body. The effect of sweating also causes our bodies to produce endorphins which gives us that “well being” feeling when we leave the sauna and cool down.
4. Helps induce deep sleep and reduce stress
As covered in my other articles quality sleep can’t be underestimated. Research shows that sauna use assists in achieving a deeper sleep later that day. I will track this with my fitness tracker and report back my findings. If you've already tried saunas you will have noticed how you feel energised. This is because saunas reduce cortisol after regular use.
5. Helps fight illness.
When the body is exposed to any kind of trauma such a heat or cold. This stresses the mitochondria and causes the body to produce white blood cells. The body does this in an attempt to prepare itself for survival. It is known that white blood cells are the part of the body that assists in fighting infections and illness.
6. Helps increase lifespan.
Research has shown that regular sauna use has been linked to an increase in lifespan. This is documented by scientists which show an increase in heat shock proteins in worms gives a 15% lifespan increase. Therefore an increase in heat shock proteins in humans is advantageous.
7. Creates new brains cells
When the body is exposed to heat stress the body creates brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
These increase the growth of new brain cells whilst protecting existing neurons. This in turn can enhance cognition and help prevent against anxiety and depression.
So there you have just a few of the benefits of taking a regular sauna. The perfect scenario is to take a sauna daily. However I can see that being impractical for most people. So if you venture to the gym three times a week finish all your sessions with 20 minutes in the sauna to achieve all the benefits listed above. My protocol is 10 minutes in the sauna followed by 2 minutes in the ice cold plunge pool. I repeat this twice at least three times a week. If you practice meditation this is a good time to do this too.
So as I mentioned in the title what is a plunge pool?
A plunge pool is a container at least big enough for one person to be fully submerged which contains very cold water. You will often find these very close to the sauna in quality gyms and health spas.
So like heat therapy cold therapy works in a similar but opposite way. Whereas the sauna stresses the body with heat the plunge pool stresses the body with cold.
The benefits are similar such as improved blood flow, circulation, reduction in sore muscles and improved healing. An increase in energy and wellbeing, a reduction in seasonal anxiety and depression.
As with anything that stresses the body, too much is a bad thing. So like the sauna where the optimum time is 20 minutes with a plunge pool the maximum time is 5 minutes. So as you can see with my protocol of 10 and 2 repeated twice this puts me in the range of receiving the maximum benefits without the negative aspects of too much heat and cold.
So why not give it a go and see how you feel.