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Monday, February 7, 2011

Warm Up to Limber Up, Cool Down to Slim Down

Betcha didn't know how important a role temperature plays in your fitness and health?

Have you heard of Hot Yoga? This is yoga done in a room heated to about 35 celcius. My first reaction was that I would NEVER survive such a class. Remember, I HATE being hot. Like I wouldn't set foot in a sauna or hot tub...I don't even like summer. At all.

But as a fitness professional, I decided I had to see what all the hype was about. I first tried a Bikram class (the original hot yoga) and although I didn't hate it, I didn't love it either. One thing besides the heat though, was that I wasn't too fond of the Bikram series of exercises.

Nevertheless, last week we had a bitterly cold day, my hamstring was killing me (I've regressed a bit for some reason) and I had a free pass to a hot yoga studio. No way I would do it in warm weather, so I thought I'd try again. This time, it was a hot hatha class, however, the instructor actually did ashtanga poses. While I don't love dripping sweat on my yoga mat, I have to say my hamstring felt much better afterwards and I felt wonderfully "cleansed" and energized.

There is actually good science behind the therapeutic benefits of hot yoga. First off, it is better to stretch warm muscles, and second, having a good sweat can be healthy. BUT don't mistake this for a cardio workout! It doesn't matter how much you perspire, you are not getting any significant cardiovascular benefits, nor are you burning many calories. This is my problem with this type of yoga - people misunderstand and misuse its benefits.

If you are trying to lose weight or decrease body fat, you are better off exercising in the cold. Researchers speculate that one factor contributing to the growing obesity epidemic is our increasing reliance on artificial climate control. When you are cool, your body shivers, which increases your metabolic rate. Exposure to cold can also maintain brown fat cells, which we are born with, which are more metabolically active and less harmful than white fat cells. So keeping your home cooler can help you maintain a healthy weight. Exercising in cold also uses more energy because it takes your body more effort to warm up. So even though exercising in heat FEELS harder, it does not help you burn more calories.

It is also better to sleep in a cool environment. A drop in body temperature assists the body's natural ability to sleep. Researchers have also linked body temperature dysregulation with insomnia. I believe this just from personal experience. As Adam always teases me, I am a human radiator at night. Even in the dead of winter, I sleep in almost nothing and sweat profusely. If the room is not chilly, like really chilly, it is virtually impossible for me to sleep.

So the bottom line is: If you enjoy the heat, go ahead and use it as a way to improve flexibility and/or "detoxify", if you are into that. Otherwise, turn down the thermostat.

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