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Not Too Hot to Handle

Years ago I had a house in Sherman, Connecticut. My husband and I had traversed Candlewood Lake communities for months with our patient realtor, Jenny, and our kids, then ages 3 and 6, looking for a weekend retreat. Some places had fire pits, others had swimming pools. (“I like the house with the painting of the naked lady!” said our son. “I like the one where the cat threw up in the living room!” chirped our daughter when we asked which were their favorites.)

Ultimately a hilltop view of the lake persuaded us to plunk down our 20%. The house also had a room with a huge hot tub supposedly once owned by Diane Von Furstenberg, which we promptly tore out (who buys a used hot tub, even if it did once belong to a fashion icon?). And a sauna, which we never once used - I couldn’t imagine why anyone would. Heat? Sweat? Ew. That’s what central air is for.

Flash forward to last week, when my once-a-week trainer, Rolf, brought up how much he loves saunas. Rolf has changed my thinking on quite a few things, like how you don’t have to deprive yourself to eat healthier, and exercise doesn’t have to feel punishing. He also extolls the virtues of organic cold-pressed juice, as I have mentioned. (Of course what sold me on fresh Living Juice was not just the fact that it tastes amazing and is super healthy, but they deliver. Love delivery.)

Given the fact that Rolf has so far been right about every other health-related issue we have debated, I wanted to hear more. “The first time I went into a sauna I was in high school and I just remember it being about 5 minutes before I wanted to kick down the door for some fresh air,” said Rolf. “I tried my hardest to resist the urge, checking my watch every 10 seconds, but only lasted another minute or two before I caved and got out.” But afterward, “All I remember is feeling extremely relaxed, happy and clear-headed after. I loved that benefit but I had no idea all the other great things that were going on.”

Like?

“The beauty of the sauna is that it improves performance and health of your body and your brain on many different levels,” said Rolf. “It helps you gain and retain muscle mass, it makes your heart healthier and more efficient, it improves muscular endurance, it decreases symptoms of anxiety and depression, improves attention and learning, and it improves retention and creation of new neurons. Oh yeah, it also decreases all-cause mortality.” (I had to look that up – it means death from any cause. Duh.)

Here’s a biggie: “Something I noticed since I started using the sauna more religiously is my circadian rhythm has improved, meaning I get tired at a similar time every night now, and my sleep quality has improved in a big way,” said Rolf. “This could be a game changer for many people. I'd say about half of all clients I've trained, if not more, tell me they have trouble getting enough sleep/quality sleep.”

The benefits of the sauna are dose dependent, meaning that the longer you stay in the better the benefits, Rolf explained. But don’t go crazy. “Of course, you shouldn't  go for a 30-minute session on day 1 because your body isn't acclimated yet,” he cautioned. “Start small and try to gradually increase the time in there as sessions go by so you can get more of the benefits. If it's too hot for you to stay in for long stretches, you can start by staying in 5 minutes, getting out for a couple minutes, then getting another 5 so it's not as unbearable.”

Got it. Get out before it’s unbearable.  

Also, “Stay hydrated, progress at your own pace, pay attention to your body.”

I asked Rolf for 5 benefits of the sauna, and he came up with 11 study-backed reasons to sweat it out:

  • Improves heart function 
  • Gain and maintain muscle mass 
  • Improves endurance 
  • Improves mood and focus 
  • Improves memory and learning
  • Improves insulin sensitivity 
  • Improves your body’s ability to cool itself
  • Improves sleep quality and circadian rhythm
  • Decreases symptoms of depression and anxiety 
  • Decreases all-cause mortality 
  • Improves the ability for your DNA to maintain their structure 

“Something worth thinking about is how your body responds to a controlled stress, in this case heat but also cold stress and exercise,” says Rolf. “When you expose your body to these stressors (but not too much), your body thanks you by improving your ability to handle it, along with improving how your body functions and feels.”

And you can thank your body with a little Living Juice Carrot Kick mimosa afterward.

(My suggestion, not Rolf’s.)

For more on Rolf go here: http://www.kraussfitness.com

 

 

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