All aspects of health require a multi-pronged approach. The heart is truly at the center of it all, and in Chinese medicine is considered to be the monarch ruling over all other internal organs. But at the end of the day, it is a muscle, and as such need to be used and pushed to remain strong. While plant based diets remain essential to keeping the heart healthy, here are two equally important activities that can keep your internal rhythm going.
Saunas feel great. They are relaxing, they help us sweat out toxins, and allow our muscles to relax after a rigorous workout. But recent research done in Finland (and designed by Dr. Tanjaniina Laukkanen) has helped paint a more elaborate picture of the benefits of frequent sauna use.
Dr. Laukkanen’s research was done over a 20 year period, and has shown that frequent sauna use can improve cardiovascular health significantly, in addition to reducing all cause mortality rates. These studies involved high amounts of heat for 15 minutes per session, with at least 2 sessions per week. The mechanisms involved are still being explored, but it is thought that the process is similar to moderate exercise, without putting any strain on the skeletal muscles. By making the heart work harder for about 15 minutes at a time and getting the individual to sweat, the effects are lower blood pressure, improved circulation in the arms, legs and skin, and lowered incidence of arrhythmias (or, irregular heart beat patterns). Part of what is also occurring during a sauna session is a positive effect on our stress response and the nervous system, as well as lower levels of norepinephrine from the adrenal glands.
We love exercise, and can’t stop singing the praises of it with regards to both mental and physical health (which we all know is inseparable). Regardless of the type that you choose to do, you need to engage in some form of exercise, every day, as if your life depends upon it—quite simply because it does.
Extensive research has shown that moderate, daily physical activity lasting over 2 hours has seriously positive impacts on cardiovascular health, in addition to staving off other metabolic issues including type 2 diabetes. A recent piece in Scientific American, penned by professor Herman Pontzer, highlights his work with hunter-gatherers to uncover the myriad benefits of extensive exercise on the body, and they are profound. According to the piece, endurance-type exercise can help reduce chronic inflammation, reduce cortisol, and help our bodies to create energy stores for our muscles from the food that we eat, instead of making more fat.
If anything, this is a nice reminder from science that we need to move more often throughout the day. This can take many shapes in your life. Here are some suggestions:
Get up at least once an hour from your desk to move to get the blood pumping.
Park further away from work so that you have to walk more to get to and from the office.
Make a habit of taking short, brisk walks after each meal of the day.
Incorporate a low-impact exercise, like Tai Chi, into your daily exercise regimen.
Laukkanen, T., Kunutsor, S.K., Khan, H. et al. Sauna bathing is associated with reduced cardiovascular mortality and improves risk prediction in men and women: a prospective cohort study. BMC Med 16, 219 (2018). Please visit this website to read more: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-018-1198-0
Herman Pontzer. “Humans Evolved to Exercise,” in Scientific American. January 2019, Vol. 320, Issue 1. Please visit the Scientific American website to read more.