In today's world, our living conditions have become highly regulated for comfort. Gone are the days when humans would experience a wide range of temperatures as a part of their daily life. Heating and air-conditioning systems keep us in a cozy and narrow thermal range most of the time. However, emerging evidence suggests that brief exposure to heat and cold can have significant health benefits. Two popular methods that harness these temperatures are sauna and cryotherapy.
Heat and sauna
Originating from Finland, saunas have been a cornerstone of wellness for centuries. They are rooms or small buildings designed to provide a dry heat session, with temperatures ranging from 150-195°F (65-90°C).
Saunas are designed for use for a short period of time, usually 20 minutes or less.
Potentially supports cardiovascular health
One of the most noted benefits of regular sauna usage is improved cardiovascular health. The heat induces vasodilation, widening the blood vessels and reducing blood pressure temporarily. In addition, saunas increase your heart rate, similar to moderate exercise, aiding in better blood circulation.
The high heat helps release endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, providing a natural way to manage stress and anxiety. It also stimulates the production of serotonin, a key hormone that boosts mood.
Detoxification and skin health
The intense sweating experienced during a sauna session helps in flushing out toxins from the body. This detoxification process could open blocked pores to cleanse the skin, leading to improved skin appearance.
Cold and cryotherapy
More and more people have been turning to cold therapy, reporting a number of benefits. They may walk outside in cold temperatures to breathe the crisp air, do an ice face bath, switch their shower to cold, or even plunge in an ice bath for a few minutes. Cryotherapy, on the other hand, is a newer wellness trend that exposes the body to extremely cold air for a few minutes, ranging from -200°F to -300°F (-129°C to -184°C).
Ice baths and cryotherapy must be done with supervision, because it’s possible to lose consciousness if your body temperature drops too low. Enlist someone to look out for you so your body temperature doesn’t stay too low for too long.
Why would someone do these things? There are a number of potential benefits that people are after.
Possible reduction of inflammation
Inflammation is the body's natural response to injury and illness. While short-term inflammation can be beneficial, chronic inflammation can lead to various diseases like heart problems and cancer. Cryotherapy induces a process called vasoconstriction, which reduces blood flow to the extremities and may decrease inflammation.
Pain Relief and Muscle Recovery
Have you ever iced a sore muscle or joint? Cold is well-known for its recovery potential. Athletes and fitness enthusiasts are increasingly turning to cryotherapy for quicker recovery post-workout. The cold temperatures could numb irritated nerves, offering immediate pain relief. It’s also thought to reduce muscle soreness after intense physical activity.
Potential metabolism boost
The extreme cold forces your body to work harder to maintain its core temperature, possibly leading to an increased metabolic rate. Though the increase is temporary, regular sessions may contribute to better metabolism in the long run.
Balancing the extremes
Both sauna and cryotherapy are extreme temperature therapies with distinct benefits, but they also have precautions. It’s crucial to consult a medical professional, especially if you are pregnant, suffer from cardiovascular issues, or have other chronic illnesses. Both therapies can be dehydrating, so maintaining proper hydration is essential.
Some wellness centers even offer “contrast therapy,” which combines the sauna and cryotherapy back-to-back. The theory is that the drastic change in temperatures can stimulate the vascular and lymphatic systems, providing a more potent range of benefits.
Whether it’s the cozy heat of the sauna or the icy blast of a cryotherapy chamber, extreme temperatures offer a wide array of health benefits. From boosting cardiovascular health and reducing stress to aiding in detoxification and inflammation, these therapies are more than just trends. They are rooted in physiological responses that have helped humans adapt and survive in various conditions for millennia, and now they're being harnessed for optimal well-being. So next time you’re seeking something beyond your comfort zone, perhaps stepping into the extreme—be it hot or cold—could be a step toward better health.