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THE SCIENCE

Hot and cold therapies have been used for centuries to alleviate pain, aid recovery, and enhance overall well-being. These therapies offer valuable benefits, rooted in both ancient practices and backed by modern scientific research. Understanding the scientific principles behind hot and cold therapies helps us plan how we can best employ these powerful practices to achieve maximal benefit in our daily lives.

HOW HOT THERAPY WORKS

1. Cardiovascular health, mitigating disease and stroke:

60 minutes of total sauna a week has been shown to reduce all causes of death by 51%. Including significantly reducing the risk of sudden cardiac death, fatal cardiovascular and coronary heart disease, and all-cause mortality, in healthy individuals and those with increased risk factors such as obesity and high blood pressure. Recent studies found that vascular function is improved after as little as one 30-minute sauna session!

2. Relaxation, Stress Reduction & Sleep:

Higher levels of stress are linked to a higher risk of many chronic health issues, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression, and autoimmune illness. Sauna use has been shown to actively combat the body's stress response, especially combined with ice bath use. By releasing powerful endorphins (morphine), and lowering cortisol levels. It is these physiological responses that, over many years of repeated sauna use, have been consistently attributed to fewer occurrences of many chronic health problems in sauna users.

3. Mental Health and Community

Most individuals who have been involved in sauna studies report increases in mood and well-being after as little as one sauna session! Multiple studies have found that frequent sauna bathing can significantly improve the health of individuals with depression by increasing the release of ‘feel-good’ endorphins and other hormones, which creates an entirely natural anti-depressant. In 2018 it was found that men who sauna bathed several times a week had a 78% reduced risk of developing psychosis in later life. Having a community such as Scenic Sauna available to regularly gather and bond with friends and/or family can also have a huge impact on mental well-being. 

4. Chronic Pain & Fatigue:

Sauna use has been used to relieve pain in various disorders including arthritis, fibromyalgia, back pain, chronic tension headaches, generalised chronic pain and many more. It is believed that the sauna's heat creates a sedative effect, resulting in a natural analgesic, (pain killer), that also serves to enhance immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory function and increase endorphin levels. A 2005 study also found a dramatic improvement in patients with Cronic Fatigue Syndrome, (CFS) who had found minimal relief from previous medical interventions. After introducing regular heath therapy, patients found that their symptoms vastly diminished, so much so that the medication they had been taking for 3-5 years was no longer required, and there was no relapse or exacerbation of symptoms in the following year! This has been repeated in similar study's since.

 

5. Sports Performance & Muscle Recovery:

Sauna use increases oxygen, nutritional, and hormonal flow to the muscles. Significantly improving exercise-induced muscle damage (DOMS). Adding ice baths into this practice has been shown to elevate these responses even more! Going from sauna to ice bath, (known as contrast therapy), works by restricting fluid diffusion into cells and utilising hydrostatic pressure to reduce post-exercise blood lactate levels (a by-product of anaerobic metabolism which contributes to the chemical process that causes sore and stiff muscles).  

6. Respiratory Disease, Dementia & Alzheimers:

Sauna has been found to reduce the risk of the common cold, by 50%. As well as considerably reducing how much effort it takes to breath effictivly in both asthmatics and those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, (COPD).  Sauna has also been shown to have a direct effect on lung tissue by reducing pulmonary congestion and increasing tidal volume and vital capacity.

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HOW COLD THERAPY WORKS

1. Hormetic Stressor: 

Cold exposure is an extremely potent tool that can cause that healthy stress response. By changing our attitude to the cold, and preparing ourselves for the cold through the breath, we influence our bodily reactions. We prime our body to cope better with this stressor. Consequently, this leads to more stress resilience in the long run, as we are increasing our stress threshold. The benefits extend past the immediate context of cold exposure and help with other stressful situations in everyday life. 

2. Cardiovascular Workout:

Going into the cold trains our smooth vascular muscles inside our blood vessells to rapidly contract and relax. Our body uses these muscles to close our vessels (vasoconstriction), but then also, open them up again when necessary (vasodilation).  Strong vascular muscles helps the heart move blood around the body. Without stimuli like the cold these muscles don't work as much and they atrophie. This means our hearts have to work harder and harder to compensate. Training these vascular muscles with the cold means that we make these vascular muscles more flexible and in time gain more control over them. Keeping this system healthy and flowing is vital for good health, the cold offers a great way to train and improve the whole cardiovascular system. It is a powerful and effective cardiovascular workout. (to the same degree as going for a run!)

3. Improvoing Thermoregulation:

Going into the cold causes our bodies natural defences to kick in, in order to keep our internal temperature where it needs to be, (36.6c - 37c). When our body’s temperature rises, receptors in the skin and the hypothalamus sense the temperature change. This change triggers a command from the brain, which causes a response. When it's hot, our body begins to sweat, causing vasodilation, vessels opening, to release heat. This helps the body temperature to decrease.  When exposed to cold, our body automatically closes off the bloodstream to the less vital parts of the body (legs and arms) so that more warmth can be kept in the core and the vital body parts (the heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, and head).  By going into an ice bath with proper technqiue we can begin to possitively influence this system. Maintain our body temperature, quicker for longer.  This allows us to stay in optimal shape in our daily life as our body is trained to adapt and thrive already due to our regular deliberate exposure to the cold.

4. Mental Wellbeing:

Noradrenaline is a hormone secreted by our brain that improves focus, attention, diligence, and mood. Pharmacological medications treating ADHD and depression target low noradrenaline levels. When we have an ice bath study's show that we can release 530% more Neurodrenaline, (that's more than doing a bungiee jump for the first time). Dopamine, another happy hormone, is also increased by 250% through deliberate cold exposure and these levels stay in our system for 2.5 hours. (Cocain causes a 250% dopamine release for only 9 minutes, taking an ice bath releases the same amount of dopamine for 2.5 hours!) Studies are ongoing on exactly why there are so many anecdotal accounts of individuals with depressive symptoms, ADHD etc finding mood stabilisation and releif from daily cold exposure. However we can assume, even with just with the above information, that cold exposure causes a net positive effect on mental wellbeing.

 

5. The Immune System and Lowering Inflammation:

The hormones noradrenaline, cortisol and adrenaline released by cold exposure act as anti-inflammatory agents and thus cold exposure can help against chronic inflammation, the sympotoms of illness and boost the bodies natural healing response. Causing you to feel less sick, recover faster and heal from long term inflamation. One study in 2016, showed that even just taking one cold shower a day resulted in a drop in sick leave from work of 29% compaired to those who didn't take a cold shower! The participants also reported feeling less sick when they were ill and more able to carry on with their daily lives. The immunes system is a source of continued study as we learn more about how beneiftial this practise is. Take a look at the links below for more detailed information.

 

KEY RESEARCH

Sauna Therapy

Cardiovascular Health

A 2015 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine observed regular sauna use associated with reduced risks of fatal cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality among middle-aged to elderly men in Finland. Regular sauna use was correlated with lowered risks of sudden cardiac death, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.

Blood Pressure & Hypertension

Research published in the American Journal of Hypertension (2017) highlighted how regular sauna bathing was associated with reduced risk of incident hypertension. Frequent sauna sessions were linked with decreased blood pressure, potentially offering benefits in managing hypertension.

Immune Response

A study in the Journal of Human Kinetics (2014) reported that regular sauna bathing could improve the immune system. The increased production of white blood cells and other immune-related cells after sauna sessions showed potential benefits in strengthening the body's immune response.

Cold Therapy

Muscle Recovery and Performance

A review in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance (2018) concluded that cold water immersion, such as ice baths, might enhance post-exercise recovery by reducing muscle soreness and improving subsequent athletic performance.

Inflammation Reduction

Research in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports (2015) indicated that cold water immersion after exercise significantly reduced markers of inflammation and muscle damage. This suggests that ice baths may aid in minimizing exercise-induced inflammation.

Pain Relief and Recovery

A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training (2017) showed that athletes who used cold water immersion after intense exercise experienced less muscle soreness and perceived faster recovery compared to those who didn't use this therapy.

Breath Techniques and Cold Exposure (including... Wim Hof Method)

Brain Over

Body

In 2018, a study published in the journal "NeuroImage" used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the brain activity of individuals practicing the Wim Hof Method. The results suggested increased activity in brain regions associated with attention and pain modulation, providing insights into the potential neural mechanisms underlying the method's effects.

Immune

Response

One notable study conducted by Radboud University in the Netherlands examined the effects of the Wim Hof Method on the immune response. Published in the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" in 2014, this study involved injecting participants with an endotoxin to induce a controlled immune response. The practitioners of the Wim Hof Method exhibited significantly lower levels of pro-inflammatory markers and reduced flu-like symptoms compared to the control group, suggesting a modulatory effect on the immune system.

Autonomic Nervous System Control

Research published in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" in 2012 investigated the influence of the Wim Hof Method on the autonomic nervous system. The study showed that practitioners were able to voluntarily activate their sympathetic nervous system and increase adrenaline levels, challenging the traditional understanding of voluntary control over these systems.

LINKS

Sauna Therapy

Laukkanen, T et al (2015) ‘Association Between Sauna Bathing and Fatal Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality Events’ JAMA Internal Medicine 175(4) pp. 542-548. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25705824

Zaccardi F, Laukkanen T, Willeit P, Kunutsor SK, Kauhanen J, Laukkanen JA. Sauna Bathing and Incident Hypertension: A Prospective Cohort Study. Am J Hypertens. 2017 Nov 1;30(11):1120-1125. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28633297/

Pilch W, Pokora I, Szyguła Z, Pałka T, Pilch P, Cisoń T, Malik L, Wiecha S. Effect of a single finnish sauna session on white blood cell profile and cortisol levels in athletes and non-athletes. J Hum Kinet. 2013 Dec 31;39:127-35. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3916915/

Cold Therapy

Epel ES. The geroscience agenda: Toxic stress, hormetic stress, and the rate of aging. Ageing Res Rev. 2020 Nov;63:101167. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7520385/

Otto Muzik, Timothy Mann, John Kopchick, Asadur Chowdury, Mario Yacou, Jamie Vadgama, Daniel Bonello, Vaibhav A. Diwadkar, The impact of a focused behavioral intervention on brain cannabinoid signaling and interoceptive function: Implications for mood and anxiety,
Brain Behavior and Immunity Integrative,
Volume 5, 2024, 100035, Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21750623/

Authors: M. Kox, P. Pickkers et al. - Radboud University Medical Center (published in PNAS) Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans.  Available at: https://media-cdn.wimhofmethod.com/uploads/kcfinder/files/PNAS.pdf

de Groot, S.; Ettema, F.W.L.; van Leeuwen, C.M.C.; Achterberg, W.J.; Janssen, T.W.J.; Hoekstra, S.P. The Effect of Mindset and Breathing Exercises on Physical and Mental Health in Persons with Spinal Cord Injury—A Pilot Feasibility Study. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2023, 20, 6784. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/20/18/6784

Breath Techniques and Cold Exposure (including... Wim Hof Method)

Detailed studies list available at: https://www.wimhofmethod.com/science

"The greatest wealth is health."

Virgil

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