‘One kind word can warm three winter months’ – Japanese Proverb
We’ve always known that warmth makes us feel better – a hot water bottle to ease back or stomach ache, a warm bath to soothe aching muscles, a hot cup of cocoa on a cold night or a hot tub session to de-stress are just a few of the ways we use heat to heal. But up until recently scientists thought that the benefits were largely psychological. Now, however, studies are increasingly showing that warming our bodies is genuinely good for our health.
Studies have shown that having regular saunas is so effective at increasing blood flow that it can halve the risk of cardiovascular disease. When we enter a sauna, not only do we sweat, but our pulse rate soars and out blood vessels become dilated which increases blood flow to the skin, helping us to look better too. The feeling of relaxation is brought about because the intense heat makes our sympathetic nervous system more active to maintain a temperature balance. This can increase feelings of comfort and happiness as well as relax muscles and make us less aware of any pain.
A session in a hot tub can provide many of the same benefits as a workout but with less strain on the heart. It opens blood vessels which improves circulation, increases heart rate and our metabolism which helps us burn body fat faster, lowers blood pressure and reduces inflammation and joint pain. On top of all this, a late afternoon or evening hot tub session helps us fall asleep faster and helps clear our mind.
Heat therapy in the form of a hot water bottle or heat pad is proven to help muscular pain because the heat helps blood circulation and improves the flexibility of tired or stiff muscles. It’s even possible now to buy body bottles which you can strap around yourself if it’s your stomach or lower back which is suffering. For neck or shoulder pain they can draped around your shoulders like a scarf. If you’ve got heated seats in your car, you could even try going for a drive and letting the heat soothe your back!
Heat compresses designed for the face are great if you have a headache or eye strain as they relieve pain in your scalp, temples, sinuses and eyelids. These are normally heated up in a microwave.
Then of course there are the wellbeing effects of warmth. Who hasn’t felt comforted by being wrapped in a warm blanket, getting into a cosy bed, having a cuddle where you share body warmth, or sitting by an open fire on a cold day? There are so many lovely things available to buy now including electric hand and feet warmers, heat pads and heated throws. Studies have shown that the comfort element of feeling warm and cosy can lower the risk of depression and set off the production of soothing brain chemicals which help us to feel calm and happy and to fall asleep faster.
Caution though! Always be careful not to have anything too hot. The ideal temperature for bath water is between 32-40 degrees C. Any hotter than this it can lower blood pressure and make us feel dizzy when we get out which could lead to an accident. It’s really important too to always use a cover with a hot water bottle so as not to risk burning the skin. If you’re worried about filling a hot water bottle, try one that you put in the microwave instead. If you’re using a sauna, remember to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water before and after and, if you have a medical condition, make sure that saunas are safe for you beforehand.
So the tiny tweak this week? Well, wherever you are in the world, whether it’s summer or winter, hot or cold, how could you use warmth? If you’re in the middle of a heatwave, this might seem strange but could you use heat to relax you, help you sleep, ease aches and pains? We can all remember to use warm words too. For me, with energy costs rising rapidly, I’m going to treat myself to a heated throw to wrap around me in the colder months so that I can turn the heating down a little. Whatever you do, I hope your world feels a little more cosy as a result!
Until next time xx
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