Some of the simplest strategies have tremendous impact on your health. Many of these produce increasing benefit, in much the same way compound interest works. Little changes each day can build to produce significant impact over time. Exposure to extreme temperatures is one that serves as a catalyst to improve your health.
Saunas have historically been a strategy used in Eastern European, Asian and Finnish countries for relaxation, detoxification and more. Athletes are using the extreme heat of saunas for more than post-workout stress reduction and relaxation. Increasing core temperature actually offers conditioning that may improve athletic performance by increasing endurance.1
Exposure to extreme temperatures also has a beneficial effect on mitochondrial functioning, the minute powerhouses in your cells that provide your body with the energy required to function. The key to continued energy production is to remove old and worn-out ones and generate new mitochondria, a process called biogenesis.
Researchers had previously determined that extreme heat can help reduce your risk of cardiac death and hypertension (high blood pressure). They have now identified the direct effect that sauna heat has on vascular health, blood pressure and heart rate.2
Sauna Benefits Vascular Health, Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is recorded using two different measurements.3 The top number, your systolic measurement, is the pressure inside your blood vessels as your heart beats. The bottom number, your diastolic measurement, is the pressure in your vessels when your heart is at rest between beats. The higher the numbers, the greater the pressure in your arterial system against which the heart must work.
The team publishing the current study also published data from a previous study that was purely observational and suggested sauna use improved health outcomes, including sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality.4 During the current study the team recruited 102 people and monitored the biological effects of sauna use immediately before and after a 30-minute session.5
Cardiovascular and blood-based biomarkers were measured in the participants to evaluate arterial stiffness and blood pressure.6 Data was collected just prior to and after a single session of 30 minutes in a sauna set to 164 Fahrenheit (F) (73 Celsius [C]) with 10 to 20 percent humidity.
The participant’s systolic and diastolic blood pressure measurements both decreased after the sauna session and carotid-femoral pulse velocity7 decreased, indicating beneficial effects on arterial stiffness. The study’s co-author, a cardiologist at the University of Eastern Finland, Dr. Jari Laukkanen, believes that while a sauna session does not give the same muscular benefits as exercise, the cardiovascular responses may be similar.8
Mitochondrial Health Is Foundational to Your Overall Health
The health of your mitochondria is vital to your life and in the prevention of chronic disease. These tiny organelles reside in cells, nearly 2,000 in most cells, although red blood cells and skin cells have little to none. In order for your body to function you require energy, and your mitochondria provide that source of energy. As mitochondrial function is at the heart of disease prevention and in the treatment of chronic illness, it is important to use strategies that support their health and function.
Were all your mitochondria to simultaneously fail you would immediately die. Mitochondria are also responsible for apoptosis, programmed cell death, without which cancer cells freely replicate and grow. Mitochondria also serve as important signaling molecules to help regulate gene expression. As with most cells, your mitochondria are supported by some of the foods you eat and harmed by others. Nutrition is an essential factor in supporting the health and function of your mitochondria.
The vast majority of people who eat mostly processed foods are burning carbohydrates as their primary fuel, which has the devastating effect of shutting down your body’s ability to burn fat and support your mitochondria. This is why obesity is so prevalent, and why so many find it nearly impossible to lose weight and keep it off.