The Health Benefits Behind Heat
FROM BOOSTING ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE TO SPARKING LIBIDO
The rumors are true. The Sakara HQ does have a sauna—lending a whole new meaning to “hotspot” around the office. Not only is the team walking around with a dewy, post-sweat glow, they’re also reaping the many therapeutic effects of heat exposure.
Whether or not you’re able to pop in for a quick sauna session before a marathon day of meetings, there are myriad ways to turn up the temperature in your day-to-day, from steamy to spicy. (Yes—cayenne counts! Spices not only build heat within a dish but also have a thermogenic, metabolism-increasing effect.)
Below, the science of why we look to heat, in all its forms, for body-loving benefits—from increasing athletic performance and encouraging relaxation, to waking up our libido and eliminating toxins.
Deliberate heat exposure can be a powerful tool when it comes to improving health and, ultimately, longevity. Take the sauna, for example. Sitting in the dry heat, with average temperatures around 176 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, a handful of times per week has been studied to strengthen cardiovascular and general health, and help prevent cardiovascular and all-cause mortality, sudden cardiac death (SCD), dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
The heat exposure can help with endothelial and microvascular (blood vessel) function, reducing blood pressure and arterial stiffness, and possibly increasing angiogenesis, or the formation of new blood vessels. Its heart healthy benefits can also boost the brain’s function and overall health, thanks to the close interactions between the two organs.
Want to boost the respiratory, circulatory, and cardiovascular benefits of your sauna time? Take a note from Finland, where sauna bathing is a popular pastime and is often paired with a cold plunge to relieve pain, ease inflammation, and boost mood.
By stimulating blood flow in the sauna, you’re also increasing the metabolic activity of the adipose (a.k.a. connective tissue used for fat storage), liver, and kidneys—increasing your body’s ability to circulate and excrete toxic substances (the ones we accumulate from pollution, pathogens, stress, etc.) via sweating.
Prefer to keep it steamy? The warm condensation in a steam room will get you sweating and, as your pores open up, you’ll begin to release the accumulated toxins trapped under your skin, ultimately revealing that coveted post-steam room glow.
If there’s no eucalyptus-scented steam room in sight, fear not. Try our DIY aromatic facial steam—with healing herbs like anti-inflammatory rose and antioxidant-rich red rooibos—which helps remove dirt, acne-causing bacteria, and toxins.
Cleanses Mind, Body, and Soul
Deeply revered in Native American cultures, sweat lodges are home to traditional ceremonies for religious and spiritual purification of the mind, body, and soul. An enclosed dome structure turns hot and steamy as water is periodically poured over heated rocks, and the space becomes a place for preparation, prayer, song, and transformation. Sweat lodges are spaces for communities to come together—to cleanse, heal, celebrate, mourn, or seek counsel—and emerge in a rebirth.
Heat also causes the body to up its production of heat-shock proteins, protective molecules that help repair damaged components of cells, protect against tissue injury, and facilitate cell proliferation and regeneration. Heat-shock proteins allow cells to survive extreme physical or biochemical stressors, like those faced by skeletal muscles during exercise—meaning you're more resistant to stress and injury.
Through repetitive heat exposure, the body also becomes more acclimated to a rise in temperature and is better able to control body temperature, which then helps keep you cooler when you’re riding up that hill in cycling class or pumping your arms through a Pilates’ hundred.
On the other hand, heat can be just as useful for inducing relaxation. If you’ve ever been handed a heating pad or hot water bottle to ease cramps, aches, or chronic tightness, you’ve felt the power of localized heat. Heat therapy works in these instances by permeating about a half-inch into the body, dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow. The rise in temperature also brings about nutrients and oxygen to area cells, promoting the healing process and helping with pain management, and muscle and joint stiffness.
Moist heat therapy—like hot tubs or steamy showers—can also encourage muscle and mental relaxation. Steam opens up the mucous membranes around the body, allowing for deep, restorative breathing.
Rich in warmth and vibrancy, spices are an easy (and delicious) way to up the nutrition profile of any meal. Fiery spices—like paprika, chili powder, and cayenne—contain capsaicin, a compound touted for being an antihistamine, increasing digestive fluids in the stomach, and supporting sultry all-over benefits, like boosting circulation in all the right places and livening libido.
Stay hot, Sakaralite.