Thermal wellness: the health trend taking it to the extreme

Thermal wellness means immersing yourself in extreme temperatures in a bid to improve your physical and mental health. Here are two techniques to try.

Humans have a sophisticated thermoregulation system that helps us maintain a normal internal body temperature of about 37C.

But our core body temperature can change.

Our body temperature may rise because of a fever, for example, and it naturally dips when we 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,” integrative medical doctor and Extreme Wellness Institute founder Professor Marc Cohen says.

“I call it the point of forced mindfulness: the point we become ‘comfortably uncomfortable’.

“Our mitochondria, our cells, our organs and our mind all get on the same page saying, ‘We have to deal with this temperature’.”

And this, it is thought, can improve our health and wellbeing.

Here are two ways to immerse yourself in extreme temperatures and what happens when you do.

Benefits of the extreme cold of cryotherapy

Whole-body cryotherapy involves standing in a capsule containing air cooled to below -100C for around two to three minutes.

One study into this favourite therapy of athletes suggests whole-body cryotherapy can improve the perception of soreness and recovery after various sports and exercise.

Another study shows it can be used as a tool to improve cognitive performance and reduce depression, while yet another shows it can relieve chronic pain.

Alchemy Cryotherapy Centre owner Jack de Leeuw cites the advantages of cryotherapy over another popular cold therapy, ice baths.

“The advantage we have is you don’t get wet and anyone who has ever tried to get in an ice bath – that is a mental challenge of its own,” Jack tells nutrition coach and personal trainer Luke Hines on The House of Wellness TV.

“And you would probably need to spend a good 10 to 15 minutes in an ice bath to get the same benefits we get in three minutes.”

Jack says people “sleep a lot better” after cryotherapy and also feel better.

“You do get a big dopamine rush because that is what’s being stimulated … your body just feels really invigorated.”

As for Luke’s verdict after giving whole-body cryotherapy a go?

“That was the best energy-giving, life-inspiring, day-motivating thing you could possibly do,” he enthuses.

The extreme heat of saunas

In a sauna, the exposure to extreme heat (up to 90C) boosts your heart rate, dilates your blood vessels and raises your core temperature.

Research has found that regular sauna bathing can reduce the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary diseases and mental health disorders, while alleviating skin diseases, arthritis and flu.

Another study has found it can reduce the risk of stroke.

What are more benefits of thermal therapies?

Exposing the body strategically to extreme heat and cold helps the body optimise naturally occurring processes such as activating blood vessels, which is like “a bicep curl for your vascular system”, Prof Cohen says.

“(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.

He adds it can also strengthen our mindset.

“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’.”

For more on alternative therapies for your wellbeing:

Written by Tania Gomez. Updated by Melissa Hong, July 2023.