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How Can Cold And Heat Exposure Improve Your Mood And Cognitive Health?

Cold and heat exposure offer holistic approaches to stress reduction, harnessing physiological mechanisms that promote relaxation and counteract the effects of stressors.

sauna stress

Fighting stress by activating the parasympathetic nervous system

Cold water immersion activates the parasympathetic nervous system, fostering rest and recovery. This activation counterbalances the sympathetic nervous system, reducing alertness and promoting a calm and relaxed state.1,2

Similarly, heat exposure induces a relaxation response by promoting muscle relaxation and increased blood flow. This eases tension and reduces cortisol levels, contributing to an overall sense of calmness.3

Hormonal regulation and stress relief

Exposure to cold water triggers the release of hormones such as adrenaline, norepinephrine, cortisol, endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. These hormones play crucial roles in regulating bodily functions, including the stress response.1,2

Heat exposure leads to the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood enhancers, promoting feelings of euphoria and relaxation. Additionally, oxytocin release fosters a sense of connection and happiness, contributing to stress reduction.3

Temperature regulation as a way to fight stress

Cold water immersion prompts the body to conserve energy and maintain warmth, leading to increased metabolism. The subsequent drop in body temperature signals to the body that it’s time to rest, facilitating stress relief.1

Heat exposure, through practices like sauna treatments, helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythm. This, in turn, increases melatonin production, promoting relaxation and aiding stress reduction.3

cold shower stress

Reduction in inflammation for busting stress

Cold water immersion has been associated with reduced inflammation, as cortisol released in response has anti-inflammatory effects. This is particularly beneficial for individuals dealing with conditions such as arthritis or atherosclerosis.1

Similar to cold exposure, heat exposure triggers the release of prolactin, which is associated with relaxation and stress reduction, contributing to a sense of calm.3

brown fat activation build up cold water

Relaxation response

Both cold and heat exposure induce a relaxation response. Cold water immersion follows the initial stress response with a calming normalisation of breathing and reduced pulse rate, creating a meditative state. Heat exposure, through the release of endorphins and oxytocin, fosters a natural high and feelings of relaxation and happiness.2,3


Healthypedia FAQ

Studies have found that the risk of developing Dementia and Alzheimer’s is 66% lower if people use the sauna 4-7 times a week as opposed to only once a week. This probably comes down to cardiovascular health and the fact that an improved cardiovascular system has positive effects on the blood flow to the brain.

Saunas can help to reduce stress by promoting relaxation and reducing tension in the muscles. Heat exposure also causes an increase in endorphins, which are natural painkillers and can enhance your mood. This unique combination of heat, relaxation and a release of endorphins can help to reduce stress levels and promote a sense of well-being.

Of course, since saunas reduce stress, they can also help to improve your sleep in a similar way by promoting relaxation and reducing the tension in your muscles. But that’s not all: Heat exposure can also help regulate the body’s circadian rhythm and increase the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep. This means cutting those melatonin supplements and simply visiting the sauna more often for a natural fix.

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