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20 Minutes to Extreme Hotness

It seems like everyone is trying to find the magic pill for vitality. Exercising like a warrior, eating like a saint, and taking butt-freezing cold showers all top the list for reported long-life “hacks”. They probably don’t hurt. But what if you could just sit and sweat and get some really great benefits, similar to those you get with exercise?

Let me press pause here a second and say that in no way am I saying that you shouldn’t exercise and move your body daily. Absolutely you should. Sauna bathing is not a substitute for movement. Ever sit on the couch all day watching Netflix? I know you have. You know how you feel when you finally drag your dead ass up off those cushions… like you’re about 90 years old? Yeah, that’s your sign that we’re not designed to sit all day.

So… In addition to whatever movement that you do regularly, sitting in a hot sauna can provide some of the same benefits as exercise.

Become Superhuman

According to Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D. the sauna guru at FoundMyFitness.com, you should get your ass into a 174° F sauna at least 4 times a week for 20 minutes if you want to be superhuman and live forever.

How so, you ask?

Well, it turns out that old Nietzsche adage “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” is true. For some things. For others though, that which kills us, actually just makes us dead. 

The Hormesis Adaptation

Scientists use the term “hormesis” to describe this generally favorable biological adaptation to low exposures to toxins and other stressful things. In other words, a little bit of whatever your poison of choice is won’t kill you. Nope, instead it makes you a total badass, and the next time you’re doing something physically or mentally difficult, you can go longer, faster, stronger.

Saunas have been around for a long time, and their use has major implications for increasing longevity due to exposure to extreme heat. The stress of this extreme heat has been shown to decrease the risk for age-related conditions such as cardiovascular disease, dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease, and premature death.

Cardiovascular Disease Death Risk Reduction

The Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor (KIHD) Study, a study of health outcomes in more than 2,300 middle-aged men from Finland, found that men who used the sauna 2-3 times per week were 27% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than men who didn’t use the sauna. AND, these benefits were dose-dependent: so, double that to 4-6 times a week, and those men decreased their risk of death from CVD by 50%. (The study was later repeated to include women with similar results.)

50%, people! That’s huge!

Cognitive Benefits, and More

Researchers found similar results with cognitive issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) as well, except better. Men who used the sauna 4-7 times per week had a 66% decreased risk of dementia and a 65% decreased risk of AD as compared to men who used the sauna just once per week.  (PMID: 27932366)

There are also additional benefits such as:

  • Improvement in blood glucose
  • decreased risk of stroke
  • mimics exercise
  • mimics meditation 
  • increases core body temperature
  • decreases risk of all-cause mortality
  • decreases resting blood pressure, and
  • increases blood flow to skin.  

Hell, it basically makes you smarter, more beautiful, and sexier. 

How It Works

First, your body is exposed to rapid, intense heat.  Your skin and core body temperature increase and you start to sweat.  Next, your heart rate increases by up to 60-70% (just like a workout!).

Then, blood flow is redirected to your skin in order to assist with sweating, and plasma volume increases to prevent quick core body temperature increases, and THIS is where hyperthermic conditioning happens and you become a badass. You are less susceptible to issues with heat intolerance on hot days. Your body begins sweating to cool itself more easily. And you are building a strong mental ability to tough it out in stressful conditions. 

Not gonna lie… those last 5 minutes can be a real mind game.  But, who the hell is running this show, you or your weak-ass mind?!

And those are just the things you feel.  There are other less apparent responses to heat stress that occur at the cellular and molecular level, likely due to hormesis, although the mechanisms aren’t fully understood yet.  We do know that they elicit long-term adaptations, repair cell damage, and provide protection from subsequent exposures to more devastating stressors.

Minimum Effective Dose

  • 4-7 times per week
  • minimum of 174° F, but optimally 176° – 194° F
  • 20+ minutes

If you want more, all the important points from this study have been condensed into an easy-to-read format by Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D.  Read the full article on her website here.

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