Temperature is nothing new to wellness therapy. The use of hot and cold to treat conditions like illness, muscle soreness, stress, and tension is a common practice dating back hundreds of years. People have often found comfort, relaxation, or relief in saunas or ice baths, so why is it that thermal wellness is suddenly a new fad term full of promise.
Much of the hype surrounds the advances in science and technology that allow for temperature manipulation, meaning that people can change their body temperature to achieve specific mental and physical health goals with a wearable device. However, before diving into the efficacy of such technology, it is crucial to review the science.
Efficacy of Thermal Therapies
Before discussing how extreme temperature fluctuations can affect the body, it is necessary to understand the difference between positive and negative stress responses. A positive stress response helps improve muscle recovery, reduce inflammation, and reduce pain; a negative response works counter to those results.
Exposure to extreme temperatures in controlled settings is said to be a positive stress response. For example, cryotherapy is the process of exposing the body to subzero temperatures for only a few minutes at a time. The sudden and extreme exposure causes rapid and tremendous constriction of blood vessels. The constriction is followed by equally substantial dilation when the body is removed from the cold, improving oxygenation and circulation throughout the system. You can think of saunas and other infrared heat treatments as equally and hypothetically beneficial but working in reverse.
It is necessary to state that evidence to support the theories of extreme temperature treatments is limited. While supporters and even some physiologists see the potential and understand the likelihood for results, the actual body of research is slim, especially when considering these methods as treatments for inflammation, chronic pain, and vitality.
Modern Advances in Technology
While there is insufficient evidence to support extreme temperature therapies, researchers know that temperature plays a vital role in human processes. Newer tech is focusing on subtle temperature fluctuations, only a few degrees in any direction.
For now, the primary focus is on improving the quality of sleep, as most adults do not get adequate rest. The devices range from full-size mattresses to wearable devices for the wrist.
By manipulating the body and brain into perceiving a room or bed to be hotter or colder than it is, tech brands claim to enrich sleep quality. If true, the tech is sure to be a great success but does research support the idea?
Wearable Tech and Temperature Manipulation
While there is plenty of enthusiasm around temperature manipulation, it is not something most people need to concern themselves with. As long as your body can maintain an average temperature between 97° and 99°, there is no profound benefit to deliberately putting stress on your body. For those suffering from heart or lung disease or who are pregnant, most physicians do not recommend putting any additional stress on the body because of the risk to your health.
While thermal manipulation or wellness is an interesting topic, it still requires research to prove the physical benefits. That being said, if you enjoy the sauna or feel that temperature changes improve your wellbeing, go ahead and try. However, always talk to your primary care physician before starting any new program or routine.