Ice, heat and 3 more shocking ways to live better
If it comes as a shock, it’s usually bad.
A massive electricity bill: shockingly high. Bad news: a complete shock! But what if a shock to the system is sometimes exactly what your body needs?
Scientists believe that shocking our bodies with controlled blasts of extreme hot and cold, or with new and unexpected experiences, can fight back against the aging process and maximize our longevity.
In Limitless, Chris and his brothers head to the Arctic to put these theories to the test, but you don’t have to go to extremes to unlock the benefits.
Important: Shocking activities can be good for you, but should be approached with caution if you have pre-existing health conditions. If you have high or low blood pressure or other pre-existing heart conditions, talk to your doctor before you hit the sauna or ice bath.
1. Feel the chill
There is growing evidence that one of the biggest benefits of cold therapy is reduced inflammation. Increasingly, inflammation is being linked to illnesses associated with aging, such as dementia and cardiovascular disease. Chronic inflammation that speeds up these processes has been dubbed “inflammaging”.
Come on in, the water’s… freezing.
Cold therapy also appears to have the ability to boost your immune system, but research is ongoing to truly understand the connection.
If you don’t have access to an ice bath, cryotherapy pod or snow, simply try a cold shower. One study found that people who took a daily cold shower were less likely to take time off work due to sickness. Research also suggests the cold can also improve mental alertness and have benefits for your mood and well-being.
We bet you’ve seen someone in a TV show splash their face with cold water when something stressful has happened. It’s not just dramatic license: the simple act of splashing your face in cold water can “activate the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system” which helps your body to relax.
2. Turn up the heat
In Finland, people have been enjoying saunas for thousands of years. But only recently has science begun to pinpoint the health benefits of shocking your body by sweating in the moist heat of a wood-lined room.
Regular saunas are linked to a lower risk of neurocognitive diseases.
Evidence has shown that sauna bathing has a positive effect on blood circulation, heart and immune function, thereby reducing the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. In your day-to-day life, research suggests it can also help to ease symptoms of flu, arthritis and headaches.
Regular saunas are linked to a lower risk of neurocognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s, but these protective benefits are not yet fully understood.
Don’t have a sauna in your backyard or a local gym? Go small scale and try having a hot bath at home, which research indicates can lower your risk of heart issues when done regularly.
Important: Keep the temperature of your bath to 105°F (40°C) or under. Pregnant women should avoid extreme cold or extreme heat where possible, as your temperature regulation system is less effective during pregnancy.
3. Try something different
Swear by heavy lifting, dedicated to yoga or have a hardcore HIIT habit? Doing the thing you love is great, but if you only ever train in one modality you could be missing out on the benefits of trying something your body isn’t used to.
With a little push from Tahl, Luke discovers the benefits of trying something new.
Injecting some variety into your training can help you spot muscle imbalances or weaknesses, prevent overuse injuries and round out your overall fitness.
But the benefits extend beyond the physical. Forcing yourself to try something that requires learning and practice is "one of the best ways to keep the brain healthy" and can improve cognitive functions such as recall, concentration and problem-solving.
4. Push the limits
You don’t have to smash yourself every time you step onto the workout mat, but your body can benefit from the occasional attempt to test your physical limits. Make sure you’re feeling good: well-rested and fed, with no soreness or injuries.
So what can you do to push your limits?
- Add a burner to the end of your regular workout to test your endurance and strength: Ingrid’s intense dumbbell challenge fits the bill.
- Aim to achieve peak intensity in a HIIT workout – you can measure ‘peak’ by your maximum heart rate (subtract your age from 220 to find your max bpm) or by aiming for “hard” to “very, very hard” on the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion.
- Attempt the yoga pose you usually skip.
Add Luke and Ingrid’s intense cardio finisher to the end of your workout to push your limits.
When you’re testing your limits, be sure to do it safely. Eat a pre-workout snack with carbs for easily available energy, do a full and thorough warm-up, drink plenty of water before and during your workout, stay focused on good form and always listen to your body.
Take your environment into account, too – the middle of the day in the height of summer isn’t the time to try your outdoor HIIT test, for example.
5. Give yourself a rush
Why does finding $10 in your pocket feel better than withdrawing it from the ATM?
Humans crave surprise, which causes a surge of dopamine (the feel-good chemical) in our brains, helping to focus attention and gain new perspective.
It may not be convenient for you to step under an ice-cold waterfall or go skydiving, but you can engineer surprises in your day-to-day life.
Always work out at home by yourself? Try putting yourself out there with a group class. Do something where the outcome is uncertain, like asking a co-worker to grab a coffee or auditioning for a local theater production. Be more curious: read a book by an author whose views you disagree with or see a foreign film even though you usually avoid subtitles.
Anything you can do to mix up your routine and introduce surprise into your life can have unexpected benefits.
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