Heat, whether from a sauna or a hot tub, has been shown to reduce stress, relieve muscle pain, increase cardiovascular health, and lower blood pressure.
Most people who have participated in athletic training of any kind have, at one time or another, tried to figure out a way to get ahead of the competition and improve their training in some way or another. This can come in the form of changing diet to improve recovery, changing their training style to promote efficiency, changing their bedtime routine to improve sleep, and so on.
“Having a keen understanding on the impacts of heat…on exercise is critical for elite athletes and their support team,” said Dr Trebeck, a lead researcher for the Australian Olympic team.
Another method that many athletes use to improve performance is heat exposure. Heat exposure, which involves raising core body temperature above the usual 97-99 degrees Fahrenheit, has been thought to enhance muscle recovery, improve immune function, and more. But does it really work, and if it does, how should you be using it?
Does Heat Exposure Improve Health?
Long story short, heat exposure works. Heat exposure has been shown to result in several positive outcomes, including relief of muscle aches, lowering stress, improving cardiovascular health, and improving sleep quality.
Personal trainers and professional athletes have used heat exposure to recover from difficult workouts for many years. The logic behind this practice, backed up by research, is that higher core temperatures lead to increased blood flow to different body areas.
“Improved blood flow not only supplies the muscle with fresh blood and oxygen, it also effectively carries away the muscle's waste back to the kidneys,” according to the University of Rochester Medicine. “Better waste management leads to faster recovery times, less soreness after a workout, and overall improved tissue health.”
Heat exposure, used correctly, also relieves stress. Hot tub immersion has been shown to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which are responsible for feelings of stress and for feelings of relaxation. Stress has been linked to an increased risk of immune diseases, muscular injuries, and more.
Heat exposure also leads to blood vessel dilation, or widening, which can lead to lower blood pressure. High blood pressure has been linked to kidney problems, heart attacks, vision problems, and more.
"The high temperatures in a warm tub or sauna cause your blood vessels to dilate, which lowers blood pressure," says Dr. Adolph Hutter, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
A 20-year-long study on sauna bathing found that those who regularly made use of saunas had significantly fewer instances of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and death in general.
These results should lead one to conclude that heat exposure, whether in the form of a sauna or hot tub, can improve health and overall quality of life. But how should you use heat exposure to best reap the benefits?
How You Should Use Heat Exposure and Who Should Avoid it
As with anything, too much heat exposure can result in negative consequences. General safety guidelines recommend using hot tubs and saunas for a maximum of 15-20 minutes at a time, as exceeding these times can result in dehydration.
There are no clear limits to the number of times per week that one can use a sauna or hot tub. If you want to use it daily, ensure that you are staying hydrated and that your body feels refreshed afterward.
Heat exposure has numerous benefits, but it isn’t right for everyone. The rise in temperature can stress the heart and body, so those who have pre-existing conditions should ask their doctor before prolonged exposure. Pregnant women should also be careful with hot tubs, as studies have suggested that using a hot tub early in pregnancy can increase the risk of birth defects. Additionally, anyone under the influence of drugs or alcohol should avoid heat exposure until they are sober enough to do so safely.
Summing it Up
Overall, heat exposure has considerable benefits when used correctly, including reduced muscle aches, decreased stress, and a healthier heart. If you are an athlete looking for a quick way to recover from your training session, someone with chronic back pain who wants some relief, or someone who just wants to be in better health in general, consider using heat exposure and paying attention to how it helps your body. It will likely help!
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