Reflections: Sauna and Cold Exposure for Improved Fitness, Cognition, and Well-Being
Hello fall! The trees are busy putting on a beautiful display of color changes and the sun sets a little bit earlier and lower in the sky. To me it signifies a time for change. The first thing I changed this past month is my workout routine - incorporating a challenging hot and cold protocol. This benefits the body, mind and spirit as we will take a look at. Finally, did I mention those colors of leaves? How beautiful! Just looking at nature in action calms my spirit.
Heat and Cold for Health Benefits
There has been much written and many studies on the benefits of heat and cold. Armed with this knowledge, during this past month I set out to do just that - heat and cold protocol. Before we get into specifics, let's look into a few more of those benefits and how it works.
Sauna benefits Note: these listed only begin to touch the surface of the benefits - the more frequently a person uses the sauna, the more robust the effects.
Muscle mass promotion
Some of the mechanisms that drive these benefits include activation of heat shock proteins, dampening of inflammatory processes, production of important proteins (like BDNF and Nrf2) that protect cells from future stressors – a phenomenon known as hormesis.
Improved athletic recovery
Increased fat-burning potential
Enhanced mood and cognitive benefits
Boosts mental strength, resiliency, and stress adaptations
My specific routine consisted of 5/10/2 ; five minutes in the hot tub, 10 minutes in the dry sauna, and two minutes in the cold pool, then repeated three times. I completed the hot tub portion first, not only because it feels great but also because I was trying to raise my body temperature so that I could more quickly sweat in the sauna. Sweat is a form of releasing toxins from the body. It takes me a long time before I sweat in the sauna so I wanted to accelerate the process. After 10 minutes in the sauna, I swam two laps in the cold pool which felt great. Repeating this protocol I could feel my body being challenged, especially by the heat of the sauna.
Challenge for you:
You've heard the hype. You know it's good for you. Now is your chance to give this a try. If you don't have access to a sauna or hot tub, do a hot-cold contrast shower. Here is some info that can help you.
Challenge the Body, Challenge the Mind
Jumping into the cold pool isn't easy, even after 10 minutes in the sauna. As described above, heat and cold exposure have many benefits to the body, they also have benefits for the mind. The Stoics would do something difficult - Seneca, a cold-water enthusiast, would celebrate each new year by plunging into the Trevi Fountain. As he stated, the body should be treated more rigorously so that it may not be disobedient to the mind.
There is science behind this. Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman has written about how treating the body rigorously strengthens the mind. “By forcing yourself to embrace the stress of cold exposure,” Huberman writes, “you exert what is called ‘top-down control’ over deeper brain centers that regulate reflexive states.” When you override that part of your brain that is telling you not to take the cold shower, it builds “what people refer to when they talk about ‘resilience and grit.’” And every time you take that cold shower despite that part of your brain that wants to fight back against the prospect of discomfort, Huberman says, you get better at dealing with real-world stressors. “In other words, deliberate cold exposure is great training for the mind.”
Challenge for you:
Do one thing each day that you'd rather not do. Turn the shower to cold? Go for a walk after that big meal? Do a set of push-ups? Whatever is difficult for you, do it. Do it today.
Heat and cold exposure also great training for the spirit. The mega podcaster, Joe Rogan, often talks about how the reason he is such a calm, happy, seemingly unflappable person these days, is that he challenges himself with extremely difficult workouts and then pushes his body even further with alternating cold exposure and sauna cranked up to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. “Doing things that are difficult,” he said recently on Lex Fridman’s podcast, “is as much of a nourishment to the mind as food is nourishment to the body.”
Challenge for you:
Build in a routine for building the body, mind, and spirit. Why not start with a little bit of heat and a bit of cold? The benefits are endless.
Quote I’m pondering
"The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new "– Socrates
To your reflection and health,
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See my last newsletter Body, Mind & Spirit…