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11. Sauna effects on cardiovascular health >>

Reading time: approx 5 min 

10. Sauna effects on athletic endurance and recovery

Citius, Altius, Fortius

Faster, Higher, Stronger

 

At the establishment of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894, the founder and its second president, the French pedagogue and historian Charles Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, proposed the Olympic motto hendiatris, "Citius, Altius, Fortius", Latin for "faster, higher, stronger". From then until today, the world has changed in many ways. The approach to sports has also changed. Science and new technologies have entered through the front door and became an indispensable part of the sport, but Baron de Coubertin's motto remains the same. It is a constant and important driver and motive and seems even more so in modern sports.

In the pursuit of ever-improving achievements, athletes and other experts are looking for various ways to improve athletic ability. This multi-expert approach obviously works, as some of the results, which until recently seemed unimaginable, have already come very close to the theoretical calculation of human physiology's maximum capacity. One such example is the achievement of Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoga, who, in October 2019 at a special event in Vienna, was the first person to run a marathon (42.2 km / 26.2 miles) in less than two hours, more precisely in 1 hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds. This result is less than two minutes from the theoretically predicted best possible outcome for a marathon (1:57:58), calculated on a hypothetical person with extreme human body abilities. (1) That the fastest man in the world comes from East Africa is almost certainly not a coincidence. Athletes from Ethiopia and Kenya have been the fastest marathon runners for many years. (2) It would be interesting to find out why they are all from this part of the world. What's so special there, and why are people from those places such fast and enduring marathoners? Experts say that the environmental conditions are primarily the reason for East African runners' dominance in long- and medium-distance competitions. Marathoners mostly come from high-altitude regions and more remote places, which is why many of them regularly ran to school from an early age. (2,3,4) Due to geographical distance, the need for regular running, a higher altitude and a hot climate, their bodies are likely to use oxygen better and have excellent temperature tolerance. Both are extremely important for top athletic results.

And what does the sauna have to do with that? Each of us, at some point, probably realised that heat reduces physical abilities or represents an additional burden of physical exertion. At the same time, it has been long known that, by adapting to heat, it is possible to gain and improve temperature tolerance and thus reduce the physical loads that heat poses to the body. And not just temporarily, but long-term. (5) In other words, practising heat adaptation also makes it easier to tolerate. The practice of heat acclimatisation* triggers physiological adjustments/adaptations in the body. These adaptations improve thermoregulation, reduce physiological stress, reduce the risk of heat-related illness (such as heat stroke) and improve aerobic properties in warm places and potentially in temperate environments.

Adjustments include improved sweating, improved blood flow to the skin, lower body temperature, reduced cardiovascular load, improved fluid balance, altered metabolism, and increased cellular protection. (6) In short, a whole bunch of positive stuff occurs in the body (Figure 1). 

The intensity, duration, frequency and amount of heat exposure and environmental conditions (i.e. dry or humid heat) determine their extent. These aren't just essential adjustments for athletes but also for everyone else, especially the elderly, for whom endurance decreases over the years.

And the sauna is an effective tool for top athletes who want even better results and for all of us who can benefit from such adjustments in our daily lives.

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Note: In continuation, this chapter focuses on athletic ability; we will mainly discuss what science says about the impact of sauna's usage on athletic endurance and recovery.

Reading time: approx 5 min 

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11. Sauna effects on cardiovascular health >>