That magic fitness pill you’ve been waiting for – the one that provides all the physiological benefits of exercise without the sweating and pesky soreness? No such luck. Despite all the technological advances of the fifty years since the University of Nebraska hired the first full-time strength coach, modern medicine has yet to come so far as a once-daily exercise supplement for your brutal Tuesday evening spin class.
There is however a litany of new research into various fitness hacks that anyone can cash in on for the positive health outcomes. One such report comes by way of Dr. Rhonda Patrick, founder of Found My Fitness, an online curator of resources related to health, longevity, and the like.
The empirical review of data from observational, interventional, and mechanistic studies looks specifically at an often overlooked amenity included within your gym or community pool membership – unlimited access to the locker room sauna.
Dr. Patrick’s report characterizes sauna use, sometimes referred to throughout the report as heat bathing or sauna bathing, as short-term passive exposure to high temperatures, “typically ranging from 45 °C to 100 °C (113 °F to 212 °F) depending on modality.” When put in these terms, it is easy to see how the sauna may have manifested throughout history. In fact, the concept of “bathing oneself in heat…for purification, cleansing, and healing” dates back thousands of years across countless cultures.
Time and time again throughout history, the equivalent to today’s medical professionals have been way off on the go-to healing techniques of their respective eras. But as is evident from Dr. Patrick’s findings, history has always had the right idea when it comes to heat bathing.
According to Dr. Patrick’s May publication, which is also credited to science writer Teresa L. Johnson, short term heat exposure “elicits mild hyperthermia, inducing a thermoregulatory response involving neuroendocrine, cardiovascular, and cytoprotective mechanisms that work in a synergistic fashion in an attempt to maintain homeostasis.”
In other words, as you’re sweating it out in the sauna, your body goes into temperature control crisis mode to protect the body from damage, recruiting a gang of molecular mechanisms tasked with various life sustaining processes for support. When repeated over time, the systems recruited for that collective emergency response get better, stronger, and faster. This adaptation is known as a hormetic response, and is nearly identical to what happens when we exercise.
Now anyone who’s stuck it out in the sauna for longer than fifteen minutes understands how committing to regular sauna sessions as an extension of health and wellness is easier said than done. There are also some concerns noted in Dr. Patrick’s report like notable, but reversible, effects on male sperm and fertility measures, as well as potential risks to pregnant women and children. Still, it’s hard to ignore the length of section 4 of the report titled Sauna bathing may extend lifespan, and the countless instances of clear data linked that very claim.
To read the full study, click here.
To learn more helpful tips on how to extend your healthspan, check out our other blogs.