Make the sauna as hot as you can stand it? There’s a wacky idea you’re thinking. Here’s one way to look at taking a hot sauna: “benign masochism”. I know, I know. Many people think taking a traditional steam sauna is masochism pure and simple no benign about it.
But here’s another way to look at taking a traditional sauna that’s super hot. Psychologist Paul Rozin has argued that people get a kick from “benign masochism”—that is, controlled exposure to low-level discomfort (think spicy chili peppers and saunas). Maybe we love the endorphin rush. Or just the delightful contrast when we ultimately escape from the pain. Regardless, it pays to pamper yourself occasionally with a bit—but just a bit—of suffering.
So an endorphin rush as well as the relief when it’s over are two ways to make a sauna feel good for those of you who are skeptical.
Here’s the best reason to take a hot sauna:
Many researchers believe that small doses of “stressors” such as poisons, radiation and heat can actually be good for you — so good that they can even reverse the aging process. This counter-intuitive effect, called “hormesis,” was once considered flaky, but in recent years, it has been shown to extend longevity in yeast, fruit flies, protozoans, worms and rodents.
If the findings extend to people (and studies are being done on this), it could stretch the average healthy human lifespan to 90, says biologist Joan Smith-Sonneborn of the University of Wyoming, Laramie.
How so? Stressors seem to kick-start natural repair mechanisms, including heat-shock proteins and DNA-repair enzymes, to fix the damage they have caused. If this damage is not too severe, the repair systems may overcompensate, building up enough oomph to repair unrelated damage as well. And if you accept the idea that damage equals aging, this is nothing less than rejuvenation.
The big unanswered question is at what dose does an otherwise-harmful agent become beneficial? Clearly, too much radiation or poison or heat are bad for you. However, many medical professionals believe that there may be a safe way to trick your body’s repair mechanisms into overdrive and that’s with a sauna’s heat. Look at the Finns-arguably some of the healthiest people on the planet. There are more saunas than cars in Finland and they get used daily.
So give a sauna a try for better health. Just don’t overdo it and remember we’re not doctors. Check with your own doctor if you have concerns. This is a blog post about healthy ideas! What are your thoughts on the “benign masochism” of a traditional steam sauna?
Like this post? Check out these related posts: