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Benefits of a Sauna and Hot Baths

In a previous post where I described a few benefits of reasonable exposure to cold, I explained why I begin my days with a cold shower. To answer the many readers who asked if there are benefits to taking hot baths, the answer is an emphatic yes.

Dr. Rhonda Patrick is well known and respected within the scientific and high performance communities for her observations on factors that influence aging and disease development. She calls using heat to improve health and performance "hyperthermic conditioning." In a nutshell, the idea is to allow the body to acclimate to heat while at rest, as doing so triggers adaptations within the body that improve performance capacity when the body is in motion and core temperature is elevated.

Sitting in a hot bath, sauna, or steam room for 20 to 30 minutes can improve our health and endurance by stimulating natural production of growth hormone, a peptide hormone that drives cellular regeneration. All of us produce less growth hormone with each passing year beginning in our early 30s, which is why it becomes more challenging to build and maintain lean tissue mass in our late 30s and beyond. Simply put, the more natural growth hormone our bodies manufacture, the healthier and stronger we will be - this is one of several reasons why getting restful sleep every night is highly correlated with longevity; we produce the bulk of our growth hormone during deeper stages of sleep.

Hyperthermic conditioning also triggers heat shock proteins, which, according to Dr. Patrick, can prevent damage by neutralizing free radicals and supporting antioxidant capacity through its effects on the ubiquitous antioxidant, glutathione.

Finally, reasonable heat stress is a highly effective means to improving blood flow through our circulatory system, optimizing delivery of nutrients and oxygen to our cells, and facilitating removal of waste products, including lactic acid and carbon dioxide. Use of hot baths, sauna, and steam baths ultimately lead to a higher red blood cell count, which further improves capacity to deliver oxygen and clear out carbon dioxide.

If you'd like to review some studies that support using reasonable heat stress to support health and endurance, please feel free to visit the following pages:

Heat acclimation responses of an ultra-endurance running group preparing for hot desert-based competition.

Muscle metabolism during exercise in the heat in unacclimatized and acclimatized humans.

Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners.

Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners.

On a personal note, I'm not able to make it to a sauna on a regular basis, so I often soak in a hot bath for 20 to 30 minutes in the evening before bed, and to enhance these hyperthermic conditioning sessions, I have a space heater on in the bathroom while I'm in the tub.

For more on the benefits of hypethermic conditioning from Dr. Rhonda Patrick herself, please feel free to view the following video:

 
 

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