Imagine a way to boost your body’s natural defenses, improve your overall health, and even accelerate your post-workout recovery — all while indulging in a relaxing and therapeutic activity. Sounds perfect, right? That’s exactly what heat shock proteins (and saunas) offer.
In this article, we’ll dive into what heat shock proteins are, how they impact the body, their numerous benefits, and how to activate them.
By the end, you’ll understand the science behind these proteins and discover how incorporating sauna sessions into your routine can be a game-changer for your health and vitality.
What are Heat Shock Proteins (HSPs)?
All plant and animal species synthesize heat shock proteins (HSPs), including bacteria and archaea. HSPs are a group of specialized proteins that play a crucial role in protecting our cells from stress and damage. They get their name from their response to heat stress because they are activated in response to other stressors like infection and inflammation. However, any thermal stress can result in heat shock protein production, like free radicals, UV light, toxins, and even exposure to colder temperatures.
HSPs were discovered in 1962 by Ferruccio Ritossa, though they didn’t receive the name heat shock protein until 1974. HSPs are classified based on their molecular weight, structure, and function and fall into six major families:
- HSP40 (J-proteins)
- HSP20 (small HSPs)
What Do Heat Shock Proteins Do?
HSPs assist with maintaining proteostasis, or protein homeostasis, and repair and refold damaged proteins, ensuring our cells maintain their structural integrity and function under adverse conditions. This helps prevent protein damage and misfolding, which can lead to various diseases, including neurodegenerative disorders and cancer. HSPs also enable us to maintain physical, mental, and emotional health, hinder apoptosis, and help prevent chronic autoimmune disorders.
Heat Shock Protein Benefits
From the sulfurous volcanic hot springs to the Finnish saunas and Japan’s heated onsens, many cultures have valued heat over the years — and with good reason. From bolstering your immune system to reducing the risk of chronic diseases, HSPs have much to offer regarding health and well-being.
Improves Your Brain’s Health
Heat shock proteins play a protective role in brain health. Research shows they help prevent protein misfolding, which is associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. In fact, when 2,000 middle-aged adults had sauna therapy at least twice a week, their risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease dropped. Heat shock proteins also help those impacted by strokes and traumatic brain injuries.
Improves Your Heart’s Health
HSPs can boost your heart’s health by helping your heart’s cells adapt to stress. Specifically, HSP70 and heat shock cognate (HSC) 70, its protein homolog, help prevent heart disease and protect cardiomyocytes from stress. At the same time, a different study found that being immersed in water up to the waist for 30 minutes at 42°C was more effective at reducing arterial blood pressure than spending 30 minutes on a treadmill.
Supports a Healthy Immune System
HSPs can enhance the function of immune cells, activating dendritic cells, macrophages, and lymphocytes. Additionally, HSPs can activate specialized antigen-presenting cells, leading to the subsequent release of cytokines and the expression of cell surface molecules.
Faster Post-Workout Recovery
Beyond general wellness, heat shock proteins can accelerate your post-workout recovery. HSPs play a pivotal role in facilitating the synthesis of essential proteins necessary for the construction of fresh muscle tissue following exercise while also ensuring the accurate folding of these proteins. Furthermore, they assist in directing glucose and amino acids toward the areas of muscle damage, accelerating the recovery process following a workout.
How to Activate Heat Shock Proteins
Activating HSPs can be a powerful strategy to enhance your overall health and well-being — and the good news is that learning how to activate heat shock proteins isn’t difficult. Everything from exercise to a sauna session can help you harness the benefits of HSPs. Common methods of activating heat shock proteins include:
When using saunas, your body is exposed to elevated temperatures, typically between 160°F (71°C) and 212°F (100°C), which triggers a protective response in your cells. As your body temperature rises, sauna heat shock proteins are produced to combat the cellular stress caused by the heat.
Exercise is a fantastic way to boost cardiovascular fitness, increase muscle strength, improve flexibility, manage weight, and even enhance mood— but that’s not all it can do. Exercise also activates heat shock proteins, as your body will experience increased temperature and cellular stress during a workout, signaling your body to activate HSPs.
This is especially true for high-intensity exercise, such as:
- HIIT Routines: High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by brief rest periods. The intensity and variability in HIIT workouts create significant cellular stress, leading to robust HSP activation.
- Aerobic Exercises: Running, cycling, or swimming at moderate to high intensity can also elevate body temperature and induce HSP production.
- Resistance Training: Weightlifting and resistance exercises, which place stress on muscle fibers, are another excellent exercise for activating HSPs.
Hormesis is a biological principle where a mild or moderate stressor, toxin, or challenge can result in beneficial adaptations and increased resilience. Achieving hormesis involves subjecting the body to controlled and manageable stressors, and it’s a valid way of activating heat shock proteins. This is because your body will respond to hormetic stressors by triggering responses that fortify cellular defenses, including HSP synthesis and activation. You can harness hormesis and activate HSPs by exposing your body to heat, cold, or other stressors.
Activate Heat Shock Proteins with an At-Home Sauna
Heat shock proteins hold the key to a host of health benefits, spanning from improved cognitive and cardiovascular function to a fortified immune system and speedier post-exercise recovery. What makes HSPs even more intriguing is the accessibility of their activation through diverse methods. By incorporating these strategies into your lifestyle, you bolster your cellular defenses and fortify your body’s resilience against a wide range of stressors and diseases, paving the way for a healthier and more vibrant life.
An at-home sauna is the perfect place to activate your heat shock proteins because of its convenience and comfort. Regular sauna use has also been associated with numerous other health benefits, including improved cardiovascular function, reduced inflammation, enhanced detoxification, and stress reduction.
Plunge’s at-home sauna can heat up to 230°F and comes equipped with an ergonomic backrest, is easy to assemble, and has flip-up benches, providing plenty of space for everything from hot yoga to heat training. Not only can you preheat your sauna from a distance, but you can also control the lighting from your phone.See our sauna product page to find the perfect sauna for your home, or explore our financing options today!