“The heat is on.”
Album: Beverly Hills Cop: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1984)
If just reading the cold exposure edition made you shiver, then here’s hoping some hot takes on heat exposure leave you in a balmier state of mind.
We know hot is relative. We traveled to Florida for Disney vacations when I was a kid. How could the locals identify the tourists on sight, besides the way some of us dressed?
We northerners were swimming in the hotel pools in the off season.😱
The good news is, you don’t have to live in the South, or even visit, to benefit from heat exposure.
What is heat exposure?
“Feeling hot hot hot…”
Hot Hot Hot
Album: Hot Hot Hot (1982)
Heat exposure involves subjecting yourself to enough heat for enough time that it forces your body to take cooling measures. Sweating, elevating your heart rate, and such.
Until recently, I’d only viewed an elevated temperature as a negative. Case studies Andrew Huberman and Peter Attia referenced on their podcasts shed light on how heat exposure can improve your overall health.
How heat exposure works
Heat exposure induces mild hyperthermia, the opposite of hypothermia. Hyperthermia means your body temperature reaches an unusually high level.
Your body responds just as it does with cold exposure, managing your core temperature to return to an equilibrium known as homeostasis. This temperature regulation process brings most of the benefits you gain from heat exposure.
If I’d known about heat exposure and hyperthermia when I was a kid, I would’ve blasted out a high intensity workout in record time and abandoned running the thermometer under hot water to fake a fever. Failed every time.
Mom could detect a fever with a forehead kiss. My spirits would sink when she’d then shake the thermometer for a retake.
Let’s try it again.
I’d think feverish thoughts in vain, only to be on my way to school soon thereafter. If only I’d embraced science sooner.
Though the forehead method isn’t 100% accurate, it’s proven close for me. As a parent, I’ve always confirmed a fever, or its absence, with a thermometer.
The forehead only failed me once.
Let’s get heated…
Where to get heat exposure
“Man, it’s hot. It’s like Africa hot. Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of hot.”
World War II draftee Eugene Morris Jerome commenting on the Mississippi heat during basic training
Biloxi Blues (1988)
Andrew Huberman says it well, and you’ll find links to his and other resources at the bottom:
“There are many ways to access controlled deliberate exposure to heat, including dry saunas, steam saunas, hot tubs, hot showers, or by simply increasing body temperature by wearing warm layers of clothes during a brief jog.
Pick whatever method or methods you can routinely work into your schedule and that match your budget.
Note: Recently, the use of infrared saunas has become popular. Currently, there is insufficient evidence of their having additional effects beyond those of a standard sauna, and more importantly, most infrared saunas do not reach the heat ranges outlined below for positive health effects.”
Here’s the “below” part he references:
“In order to use sauna to benefit cardiovascular health, try the following protocol. Heat the sauna to a temperature in the range of 80-100 ℃; 176-212 ℉. Note: Your personal heat tolerance should determine the actual temperature.
Try to stay in the sauna anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes per session and repeat the use of the sauna from 2 to 3x per week, or as often as 7x per week. More often does appear to be better with respect to cardiovascular health.”
That makes an infrared sauna one expensive wannabe to me.
Why you might consider heat exposure
It has nothing to do with fever dreams.
Cardiovascular benefits are my primary motivator, but the benefits go much further:
“Snap out of it!”
Loretta, after spending the night with her fiance’s brother, Ronny, then slapping him when he says he’s in love with her
The body releases dynorphins and endorphins in the brain in response to heat.
Dynorphins are the opening act, causing discomfort and agitation that set the table for endorphins. The endorphin surge leads to the mild, post-sauna euphoria.
Euphoria is high atop my list of really cool hobbies.
Improved stress response
Subjecting your body to heat stress helps it to adapt to it. Studies have shown regular sauna use can help to reduce stress levels.
Since I’d never say I need more stress in my life, and I don’t know anyone in their right mind who would, this sounds fantastic.
Improved overall health
This goes deep into the scientific weeds. I’m talking, brush height.
Studies have found regular sauna use can:
- Help your body manage stress
- Enhance pathway activation for DNA repair and longevity
- Influence molecular activity to help monitor and perhaps repair cellular protein structures, the integrity of which is vital to our overall health.
Boost growth hormone release
Growth hormone is instrumental in:
- Stimulating muscle growth
- Strengthening bones
- Repairing tissue
- Increasing metabolism
Though our body releases natural growth hormone while we sleep, the amount declines as we age. Specific sauna regimens can help boost these levels. In one study, the increase was as much as 16X.
My experiences with heat exposure
I had no idea heat exposure was a thing when I was younger. Most of my experiences are incidental and date back years, unless you consider tropical vacations heat exposure.
There’s also the European vacation we took during their June 2019 heat wave.
Otherwise, my warm memories include…
I soaked in a hot bath from time to time when I was a kid. I enjoyed the heat. Sometimes, I read a magazine. Just don’t drop it, or catch it fast.
With three back surgeries in the rear view, this is off the table now.
I took hot showers for years. Felt great at the moment, and did a dynamite job of drying my skin out and making me itch.
Nobody likes sandpaper skin. Or itching.
Cold showers are my thing now.
I enjoyed a 30-minute session. My only mistake was forgetting to bring something to read. I did remember to bring and sip water throughout the session.
The sauna “only” reached between 149-154℉, so as I mentioned above, it likely wasn’t hot enough to induce the state needed to gain health benefits.
😡← Me when I realized it.
Despite falling far short of the magic temperature, it still felt like sitting inside a preheating oven. There was no basting. And no thermometer impaling my torso, either. Whew.
If infrared raises its temperature game, I’ll reconsider a return visit.
Now, this sounds infernal…
I’ll be trying this at some point. Looks like a miserable experience in the movies, but Chris Hemsworth and Doctor Peter Attia made it seem far more appealing in Limitless.
I’ll report back when I do.
The cool down
“You’re hot, then you’re cold
You’re yes, then you’re no
You’re in, then you’re out
You’re up, then you’re down”
Hot N Cold
Album: One of the Boys (2008)
As with cold exposure, learning about heat exposure has changed the way I think about temperature fluctuations. I’m most inclined to try tolerating some discomfort when I’m outside my comfort zone.
Even if I eventually seek cooling or warmth, I’ve pushed my system toward further adaptation.
Some people are benefiting from following cold exposure with heat exposure or vice versa. If I take a liking to heat exposure, I’ll experiment with this, too.
If you’re a seasoned practitioner, what are your preferences and regimens? What results are you seeing?