Finding Health & Longevity In Extreme Temperatures: Way to Go Americans!

Dr Mehmet Yildiz

After Finland, Russia, Japan, Turkey, and Korea, now it is possible to find amazing saunas in various parts of the United States. The main reason for this interest for Americans is the desire for health, fitness, and longevity.

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Sauna sessionPhoto by CRYSTALWEED cannabis on Unsplash

There is magic in heat and cold. This so-called magic is scientifically proven. Extreme temperatures (both cold and hot) affect our biology, genes, and hormones, known as the hormetic effect. Hormesis is known as a contributor to longevity.

Ongoing research on extreme cold and hot gave us valuable and practical insights. The most research area for longevity is the use of the dry sauna. The emergence of saunas in America is promising. It is known that excessive heat can activate the SIRT2 (Silent information regulator) genes. SIRT2 is used as a therapeutic target for age-related disorders. However, according to systemic reviews published by NIH: "More data of higher quality is needed on the frequency and extent of adverse side effects."

As a sauna lover, I visited popular saunas in various states in the US. A few of my favourites were Sōku Soakhouse in Austin, The Schvitz in Detroit, CityWell in Brooklyn, Löyly in Portland, Asha Urban Baths in Sacramento.

What I found in these saunas was impressions from historical saunas of the world representing cultures such as Korean jjimjilbangs, Turkish hammams, Russian banyas, Japanese sentos, Roman baths, and modern Finnish saunas.

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Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

My best sauna experience was in Finland. I have never seen another country with so much emphasis on the sauna. In every part of Finland, finding a high-quality sauna is very easy and affordable. Saunas are used for rituals in Finland. People communicate and interact with more ease as the sauna takes off physical and mental stress.

I had a fantastic experience with centenarians in some saunas I visited in Helsinki. These older adults, over 100 years, were acting like teenagers. They talk, smile, and laugh a lot. While they perspire and get rid of toxins from their bodies, they also get rid of psychological stress symptoms.

Saunas are the ideal places to socialize. One of the longevity secrets from Blue Zones is the intense social engagements of natives.

I loved most Finnish saunas using extreme temperature, both very hot and very cold alternatively. After a sweltering sauna, they jump into ice water. The joyful interaction and screaming sounds they create would add a pleasant atmosphere to the environment.

Whenever I have a sauna, my sleep quality increases substantially. I know this because I always check my sleep status with my smartwatch app.

Sleep has a tremendous impact on longevity. Okay, but what has our sleep got to do with temperature? In fact, it has a lot to do with temperature.

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Ice water showerPhoto by Major Tom Agency on Unsplash

Changing between these extreme temperatures certainly resets the circadian rhythm. For example, I fixed my insomnia using ten minutes alternating cold and hot showers half an hour before going to bed.

Cool body temperature is also an excellent contributor to high-quality sleep. For example, after having a shower, even a hot one, body temperature quickly lowers hence it helps you go to sleep fast.

With good sleep, we can dramatically reduce stress. When I improved my sleep, my elevated cortisol blood markers normalized.

The sauna can be an effective tool to support life challenges. For example, after sauna sessions, I felt great even if I face critical situations at work or home.

After taking frequent sauna sessions for six months, I experienced remarkable benefits. The noticeable benefits included reduced stress, improved sleep, fast recovery from exercise, increased energy, reduced inflammation, improved skin conditions, uplifted mood, resulting in optimized overall blood markers for better health. All these benefits relate to health and longevity.

The heat in dry saunas induces noticeable physiological and psychological benefits. Thus, heat affects both body and mind therapeutically.
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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

From a physiological perspective, heat can increase skin and core body temperature quickly. This quick increase in body temperature can also increase our heart rate, skin blood flow, hence causes perspiration rapidly. This simple yet powerful physical phenomenon can have tremendous health benefits leading to longevity.

Our brain is also affected by heat. The stress generated by heat can break down the problematic cells in the brain. This hermetic effect can increase BNDF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), a good sign of mental health. Improved mental health can lead to longevity.

Those who use regular dry saunas are more resistant to oxidative stress. This is because they have less inflammation in the brain. In addition, long term studies in Finland suggest that people who take saunas three to five days a week lived at least ten years longer than those who don’t.

Over several decades of conversations with sauna lovers, I learned valuable and practical techniques to make a sauna effective for physical and mental health.

After trial and error, the optimal time to stay in a 140 Fahrenheit degree dry sauna is 20 minutes. So naturally, I sweat a lot during this time, and my pulse increases to 150 or even 170 beats per minute.

As I learned from centenarians of Finland, I have a three to five minutes cold shower and take another 20-minute session. So a total 40 minutes sauna is ideal for me.

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Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

However, when I first started, I couldn’t handle more than 10 minutes of heat exposure, so I had four sessions. Nowadays, two sessions give me optimal benefits. We are all different thus there is no universal rule about time spent in the sauna.

It is critical to have cold showers after intense sauna sessions. You will feel great and notice that your stress quickly disappears. Your mood will uplift.

After the second or third sessions, I keep cooling down with constant cold showers. Cold showers are critical to cope with the thermal effect of the sauna.

Initially, your pulse may fluctuate up and down frequently. Sometimes it may reach 170 beats per minutes when inside the sauna. You need to be careful with changes in your cardiovascular conditions. Using a smartwatch can be very helpful.

The good thing is, your pulse will drop back to normal around 60 to 70 beats per second after having cold showers. Keep in mind that heat increases pulse, and cold decreases it. Your blood pleasure also fluctuates with changing heat. Many modern saunas have a blood pressure monitoring device outside of the sauna. It is always a good idea to check.

You feel a massive difference after around an hour of your sauna session. Most of your stress magically disappears an hour after the last session. The physical manifestation becomes evident in relaxed muscles, joints, and ligaments. Your fitness will increase and you will certainly feel happier and more productive. These great symptoms are signs of physical and mental health.

Longevity depends on both physical and psychological health.
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Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

The best part is, in contrast to medication and supplements, heat and cold therapy provide us with all those benefits naturally leveraging the body’s natural healing systems.

Thank you for reading my perspectives.

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I write about important and valuable life lessons. My goal is to delight my readers. My content aims to inform and engage my readers. I'm a technologist, cognitive scientist, and postdoctoral researcher, with four decades of experience.

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