Benefits of Sauna and Cold Showers
There has been a phenomenal amount of research that came out over the last few years on the benefits of saunas and cold showers. Most of the benefits come from the physiological changes and adaptations that occur but there are more than physiological positives. There are many hidden mental benefits that most people don’t take into consideration. Besides physically feeling better there are many psychological benefits to the sauna and cold showers.
Hidden Benefits of the Sauna
Most people know about the basic benefits of the sauna such as the ones that come from sweating. Sweating opens up your pours and rids the body of certain toxins. Did you know that beyond sweating the sauna extends your workout, increases stress tolerance, and makes you more open-minded?
Extends your workout
- Sauna keeps your workout going by continuing that vasodilation. Our body dilates with heat and constricts with cold, by going to the sauna you’re prolonging the increase of blood going into your muscles and tissues.
- If you had a cardio day, the sauna maintains a higher heart rate and you can get a little bit more squeeze out of your workout. If you’re someone that’s 5ft 8in 165lbs you can lose around 100 calories just by sitting in the sauna for 20/30 min more if you hop in right after a workout. Doesnt sound like a lot but it’s more than you’ll lose if you just go home.
Increases stress tolerance
- This is the ability to take on pressure without feeling negative or letting it consume you.
- The sauna builds stress tolerance because you are putting yourself in an uncomfortable place. It’s hot, you’re sweating, and you want to get out of there. By forcing yourself to be there all while your brain and mind are telling you that you can just simply step out and be more comfortable.
- You forcing yourself to stay in the uncomfortable translates to life outside of the sauna. It makes doing the uncomfortable things a little easier because you are subconsciously showing that you can get through tough challenges by focusing on what you want to do and not so much on your body.
Makes you more open-minded
- I’ve had some of the best conversations in the sauna. There’s something about suffering and suffering in a group makes people more open. I noticed that some of the most intellectual or groundbreaking conversations I’ve had were in the sauna. Everyone is miserable and that allows some people to put their guard down.
- By having a conversation with people of all races, backgrounds, and ages it gives you a broader perspective of the world. People have been through different circumstances and offer a lot of knowledge on how they got out or how they felt. Some people have been in the exact same situation as you but in turn, did all the right things and some did the exact opposite.
I’ve been doing cold showers on and off for the last 5 years. I used to do ice baths regularly when I lived in San Diego and had access to them, but overall I have been doing cold showers for a long time and can speak to its effects.
The research behind cold showers
Do cold showers really do anything? At the surface taking a cold shower might seem like it would have some benefits because you are going from warm temperatures to cold temperatures but remember that the average shower doesn’t take a long time. So the question is do cold showers have any benefit when taken for the average time and at what temperature?
We know the colder the better and the longer the better.
Most research studies use temperatures between 20-25 degrees Celsius which is about 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Illinois shower water. Overall studies show that ice baths are superior to a cold showers but that doesn’t mean cold showers don’t have any benefits.
Basic Physiologic Affects
When the body comes into contact with cold water, the initial cold sensation stimulates the skin’s surface vessels, causing them to narrow and redirect blood flow to preserve heat.
- The brain and vital organs receive a fresh supply of oxygen and nutrients from the blood.
- Unlike warm receptors, cold receptors are abundant on the skin surface, ranging from 3 to 30 times more numerous. This abundance explains why the body feels invigorated by the sudden contact with cold water, as it promotes vasoconstriction and applies pressure to these receptors, resulting in heightened brain activity.
Cold exposure offers numerous benefits for human health, encompassing both physical and psychological aspects. Regarding physical well-being, cold exposure can potentially aid in body
- Cold temperatures stimulate increased energy expenditure and metabolism. Additionally, exposure to cold prompts the activation of brown adipose tissue (brown fat), which utilizes stored body fat as fuel. Consequently, cold exposure holds promise as a means to facilitate body fat loss.
- Nonetheless, further research is necessary to establish conclusive evidence. Realistically you won’t lose fat from cold showers this was seen to be more effective with ice baths and really cold temperatures. A shower won’t stress your body enough for you to start using your fat as fuel.
Improved cardiovascular health.
- Initially, cold exposure raises heart rate and blood pressure, leading to enhanced circulation. Blood is redirected from the skin towards vital organs, necessitating increased effort from the heart to pump blood effectively to these organs.
- Regular brief cold exposure over time can enhance heart efficiency and improve blood flow. Enhanced circulation yields various health benefits, including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, improved cognitive function, and enhanced metabolism.
- Contrary to common misconceptions (e.g., the belief that exposure to cold weather causes illness). Brief cold exposure actually increases the number of white blood cells and natural killer cells in the body, effectively bolstering the immune system.
- However, it is crucial to note that brief cold exposure is beneficial, whereas prolonged cold showers or extended periods in cold weather may not yield the same effects and could even be detrimental.
Alleviate pain and reduce inflammation:
- The reduced blood flow during cold exposure helps minimize swelling and other inflammation-related factors.
- Additionally, the release of endorphins during cold exposure activates opiate receptors in the brain, diminishing sensations of pain. This aligns with the common practice of using ice packs or cold therapies to alleviate inflammation, injuries, or pain in specific body areas. Similarly, cold showers can reduce systemic inflammation, soreness, and overall pain, making them an efficient and potent pain-relieving strategy.
Cold shower as an analgesic
One interesting theory about cold showers and cold therapy, in general, is its potential to act as an analgesic. There is a basis for how cold showers and cold therapy can improve mental function. There are 2 interesting theories, cold showers and therapy as a battle against depression and psychosis.
- Cold showers and psychosis
- With respect to cold stress, an adapted cold shower could work as a mild form of electroshock applied bilaterally to the sensory cortex, and cold showers appear to have an anti-depressive rather than a sedative effect. Since electroshock therapy is known to have beneficial effects on psychotic symptoms of patients with schizophrenia, it is possible that adapted cold showers might have a similar antipsychotic effect. In addition, cold hydrotherapy is known to cause analgesia, suggesting that it may act through the mechanism of stress-induced analgesia involving the mesolimbic pathway and thus could have the effect of “crowding out” psychosis in that region of the brain similar.
- This idea is referred to as hormesis, our body’s response to a low amount of stress or toxin which causes a beneficial response. Over time the threshold increases and the effect of the toxic or stressor is decreased.
- Cold showers and depression
- Exposure to cold temperatures leads to greater blood flow toward the brain, resulting in the simultaneous increase of endorphin production. These endorphins activate opiate receptors, which can contribute to an improved mood.
- Additionally, cold exposure enhances the transmission of electrical impulses in the brain and potentially raises dopamine levels. The combined effect of increased blood flow, endorphins, dopamine, and enhanced electrical activity can have potent anti-depressive effects. Notably, the boosted electrical activity resembles the mechanism employed in electroconvulsive therapy for depression, but without the associated potential side effects.
- Therefore, incorporating cold showers into one’s routine can serve as a simple approach to alleviate depression or low moods, while acknowledging that depression encompasses more severe symptoms beyond a mere transient low or bad mood.
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