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Discovering The Hot and Cold Of It All

How extreme hot and cold temperatures could hold the key to your best body

Confession: I’m sort of obsessed with wellness. Okay, fine, remove the “sort of.” Anyone who knows me well doesn’t blink twice when I cancel cocktails in lieu of a workout class. Coworkers are used to the fact that I store gym clothes in my desk drawers, and I never leave home without a pair of running shoes, because—well, just in case. I also own more sports bras than regular bras, but that’s a whole other story for another time. That being said, it may come as no surprise that I cure a hangover with a trip to the sauna, and in the rare instance that I do get a massage, it’s deep tissue or bust. Because of my love for fitness, I also find myself constantly looking for ways to recover and keep my body functioning in peak form. As more infrared saunas and cryotherapy treatments began popping up around the country, I was inspired to do a deep dive into the benefits of each and the science behind them.

Infrared Saunas

On family vacations when I was growing up, we would arrive at our hotel, and my wellness-junkie father (whom I’m convinced my aforementioned obsession stemmed from) would immediately ask, “Does this place have a sauna?” And if the answer was yes, that’s where he’d head instantaneously. Oftentimes, he would stay in there well past the recommended time and come out so beet red we were worried we’d have to take him to the local hospital. “Tom, you’re only supposed to stay in there 10 minutes!” my mother would shriek. Then the entire family would burst into laughter, because he’s always doing ridiculous things like that.

During my past eight years living in NYC, I’ve also adopted quite an obsession with saunas, particularly infrareds. After a marathon injury left me limping around town for several months, I found myself signing up for more infrared sessions to keep myself far away from the treadmill while I healed. I experimented with my first cryotherapy session during this time, too. I felt amazing after both but found myself wanting to know more about their benefits. So I turned to Dr. Alejandro Junger, a cardiologist who is also trained in functional medicine and created the Clean Program 21-day detox.

When our systems are overtaxed, they begin to break down in a multitude of ways, Dr. Junger says: Allergies, headaches, depression, fatigue, weight gain, and insomnia are just a few of the symptoms that can result. The majority of these common ailments, he says, are the direct product of toxin buildup in our systems that has accumulated during the course of our daily lives.

The Infrared Skinny: Infrared saunas heat the body differently than traditional saunas, achieving deeper levels of detoxification, says Dr. Junger. They use infrared light that penetrates deeper in our bodies (one to three inches) than radiant heat (traditional saunas), which merely heats the surface of our skin. Additionally, he says, most people can stay in infrared saunas longer due to the light’s lower temperatures.

The Benefits: Dr. Junger says that infrared heat yields significant benefits. Beyond its incredible relaxation effect (it’s been shown that endorphin levels increase after a sauna session), it’s proved to be beneficial for musculoskeletal ailments, heavy metal detoxification, increased blood flow, and boosting the immune system’s cell activity. The penetrating heat can help loosen muscles and relieve joint pain. Also, it improves sleep and weight loss. Because infrared heat penetrates deeper, it mobilizes and burns fat, which not only helps with weight loss, but with detoxification as well, since many of the toxins we absorb are surrounded and trapped by fat. It stimulates your metabolism, too, by elevating your heart rate much like exercise, so expect to burn off anywhere between 200 and 600 calories per session, he says.

How Often It’s Recommended: “I try to get in the sauna every day [for about 15 minutes] until I break a sweat,” he says. Longer sessions of 30 minutes three to four times per week are also a great plan. In general, do it as often as you can, he says. “Sweating is fantastic for the body!”

Cryotherapy

The first time I stepped foot inside a cryotherapy machine, it was one of those bone-chilling January mornings when it’s too cold to get out of bed, let alone subject yourself to subzero temperatures in the buff. But I threw on a down coat, dragged my shivering self to SoHo, and stripped down to try it out. Now, truth be told, going into a cryo machine in the middle of a sweaty July day sounds like ecstasy. Standing inside a metal contraption, wearing only socks and gloves (and nothing, I repeat, nothing else), that’s pumping out minus-200 Fahrenheit nitrogen gas on that particular winter day was not the smartest move I’ve ever made. My three-minute session felt like an eternity. But afterward, I felt like a million bucks. And clearly so do others who do it, hence the demand for more cryo studios around the country. I tapped John Hoekman, founder of Quick Cryo in Tribeca, who discovered the therapy through his own struggle with injury, to get the scoop on why it’s becoming such a thing in the wellness world.

The Cryo Skinny: This type of cold therapy was developed by a rheumatologist in the ’70s who was looking for an effective solution for multiple sclerosis patients, or those with other autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Lyme disease, etc., says Hoekman. He surmised that by stimulating the flight response in the body, the attendant surge of norepinephrine in the body would trigger a domino effect of anti-inflammatory factors…and it worked. Although cryo does not necessarily work the same for everyone, in most cases the therapy results in a reduction in pain due to inflammation. People doing this on a regular basis found, among other things, that they were sleeping better, had more energy and stamina, developed firmer skin and an improved complexion, and were losing weight.

The Benefits: Less pain, better sleep, more energy, faster recovery, new PRs (personal records), weight loss, migraine relief, skin tightening, psoriasis relief…and the list goes on, he says. All told, you could restore your muscles, reduce inflammation, and supercharge your circulation to improve blood flow and detox in just three minutes. The fast release of endorphins and improved blood oxygenation will leave you feeling fresh and invigorated. This sensation lasts all day and can improve your mood and your sleep.

How Often It’s Recommended: Clearly, there are people who need cryotherapy, like those suffering from an autoimmune disease or professional athletes who stress their bodies daily, and then there are those who want to do cryo to help with recovery from exercise or to accelerate weight loss, Hoekman says. For some, using whole-body or local cryo to recover from exercise might be a once-a-week routine, and others find that because it has such a positive impact on both mind and body, they come every day (and sometimes twice a day). “For people who are working to accelerate training or weight-loss goals, or looking to boost metabolism and immunity, we would suggest every other to every third day.”

Burn off fat, sweat out toxins, and cure inflammation at these hot (er, cold) spots.

COLD SWEAT

This summer, Brrrn, the world’s first cool-temperature (45°F to 60°F) boutique fitness concept and lifestyle brand, opened a 3,000-square-foot studio with an industrial-chic lodge aesthetic in New York City’s Flatiron neighborhood. Founders Jimmy T. Martin and Johnny Adamic say that pairing the benefits of routine cool-temperature exposure (referred to as mild cold stress) with exercise optimizes the fitness experience and provides other perks, including additional calorie burn.

GET DOSE’D

At New York City’s Higher Dose, clients can book 30- or 60-minute dose sessions inside the infrared saunas to detox the entire body. Each sauna also has chromotherapy (color therapy), a treatment growing in popularity for anti-aging and anti-acne.

FEEL THE BURN

Tribeca’s Quick Cryo offers three-minute whole-body cryotherapy treatments to burn calories, promote collagen, and reduce inflammation. “I opened what is essentially the Four Seasons of cryo, with a luxury look and feel to every aspect of the space and a staff that is unsurpassed in customer service,” says Quick Cryo founder John Hoekman.

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