Why thermal wellness is about to be the next big thing in health
Thermal wellness means using temperature strategically to enhance the body’s natural processes – and it may be a powerful tool to put in your health arsenal.
Humans have a sophisticated in-built thermoregulation system that is said to maintain an average ideal temperature of around 37C.
But this can change according to what the body is experiencing, whether it’s the onset of a fever to fight off infection or a natural dip in temperature when it is getting ready for sleep.
Aficionados say thermal wellness works with that natural process by strategically exposing the body to extreme heat or extreme cold, both of which trigger a physical response.
“Hot and cold activate every part of your body,” says Professor Marc Cohen, an integrative medical doctor and founder of the Extreme Wellness Institute.
“I call it the point of forced-mindfulness. The point we become ‘comfortably uncomfortable’, where our mitochondria start talking to our mind and demanding our conscious attention. Our mitochondria, our cells, our organs and our mind all get on the same page saying, ‘We have to deal with this temperature’.”
Going to extremes
Using extreme cold, whole body cryotherapy involves standing in a capsule containing air cooled with liquid nitrogen for around two to three minutes.
The air temperatures dip to between -90C and -160C, which is colder than Antarctica.
“This process starts pulling blood away from the extremities and directs them into your vital organs, because you’re tricking your body into thinking that it’s freezing,” says Shaun Button, founder of Koa Recovery, which offers temperature-based therapies including cryotherapy and infrared saunas.
“When you step out, that’s when endorphins and other hormones are released and oxygen-rich blood is brought to all the cells of the body,”
Shaun says participants report feeling energised and uplifted, and have found the process useful for pain management.
A favourite of athletes, preliminary research into whole body cryotherapy suggests it can improve the perception of soreness and recovery after various sports and exercise.
At the other end of the temperature spectrum are saunas, with the latest trend being infrared saunas which use infrared waves as opposed to steam.
The exposure to extreme heat in a sauna helps the heart rate to increase (similar to what it does when you’re working out), blood vessels to dilate and encourages sweat production which helps to detoxify the body.
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What are the benefits of thermal therapies?
By exposing the body strategically to extreme heat and cold, it helps the body optimise naturally occurring processes in the body such as activating blood vessels which is like “a bicep curl for your vascular system”, says Prof Cohen.
“(Exposure to heat and cold) exercises our mind, our heart, our lungs, our mitochondria, the biochemical processes in our bodies and our immune system,” he says.
Dealing with extreme heat and cold doesn’t just bring physical benefits.
“It brings resilience and allows you to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. It puts you into the mindset of, ‘OK, if there’s something uncomfortable to do, I can just do it’,” says Prof Cohen.
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Watch Rachael Finch and Luke Darcy try cryotherapy in season 3 of The House of Wellness TV.
Written by Tania Gomez.