Those Annoying Fitness Posts on Instagram Might Actually Be Good for You

Unless you play team sports, working out is a usually a solo activity. You might browse #fitspo posts on Instagram, but at the end of the day, it’s just you alone in the gym. However, a new study shows that our workout habits might be influenced by our surroundings more than you think.

The five year study by the MIT Sloan School of Management analyzed the exercise patterns, locations and social networks of more than one million people and found that comparing our workout results causes you — and your friends —  to actually exercise more.

While having a real life workout buddy is helpful, the benefits are there whether you physically work out together or not. Just seeing your friend’s progress online is enough to motivate you to get off the couch.

The key to workout motivation seems to be triggering our competitive side. If we see on Facebook or any other social media platform that our friend had a particularly impressive workout, we subconsciously take that in and push ourselves to exercise harder and faster.

On the flip side, the study also found that our lazy friends can also impact our workout. Co-author of the study Sinan Aral explained to The Cut, “people who are less active influence people who are more active with a greater magnitude than the other way around. Couch potatoes influence marathoners more than marathoners influence couch potatoes.”

Interestingly, researchers also found that while men were influenced by both male and female friends, women were only influenced by other women.

Overall, the study’s message is who you hang out with matters. So while your friends constant gym selfie and Fitbit stats might be annoying — they’re actually making you healthier.

Study Finds That Regular Consumption Of Marijuana Keeps You Thin, Fit And Active

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Here’s a new health-related adage to consider: Regular consumption of marijuana keeps you thin and active.

According to researchers at Oregon Health and Science University, people who use marijuana more than five times per month have a lower body mass index (BMI) than people who do not marijuana.

The researchers concluded:

“Heavy users of cannabis had a lower mean BMI compared to that of never users, with a mean BMI being 26.7 kg/m in heavy users and 28.4 kg/m in never users.”

The study also suggested that people who consume marijuana on a regular basis are more physically activity than those that use it sporadically or not at all.

Of course, this is not the first time scientific studies have reached this conclusion:

  • A study published last year in the Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics suggests that regular consumers of cannabis have a lower BMI than those who do not use the drug.
  • A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that cannabis consumers have 16 percent lower levels of fasting insulin and 17 percent lower insulin resistance levels than non-users. The research found “significant associations between marijuana use and smaller waist circumferences.”
  • And data published in British Medical Journal in 2012 reported that cannabis consumers had a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes and a lower risk of contracting the disease than did those with no history of cannabis consumption.

In the 2016 study, lead author Isabelle C. Beulaygue from the University of Miami concluded:

“There is a popular belief that people who consume marijuana have the munchies, and so [they] are going to eat a lot and gain weight, and we found that it is not necessarily the case.”

Researchers have not identified the reason behind the findings. But some suggest that those who consume cannabis regularly may be able to more easily break down blood sugar, which may help prevent weight gain.

How Can Tech Make A Bigger Impact On Our Health?

Look at the wrists of people as you walk along the street, and chances are you’ll see one or two fitness trackers in the mix. They sell well, but are they actually successful in delivering behavioral change? The evidence is decidedly mixed, and even if the person whose wrist you’re ogling looks in great shape, that’s half the problem: the kind of person who buys a fitness tracker is already motivated, and that bare wrist on the man next to them may once have had a band, before he lost interest.

If there was an overriding theme running throughout ActiveLab Live – a one-day event where fitness-industry professionals came to discuss how technology can make people fitter – that was it. Why is this enormous install base having a limited impact on the actual health of the world? Among the delegates were also 12 health startups vying for £25,000 of seed funding – a high-stakes 60-second pitch would prove life-changing for one company.

But before they got to pitch, they would first hear plenty of discussion about the current problems with health trackers. “Just providing someone with information on what they did yesterday and today isn’t necessarily enough to empower most people to change their behaviour,” argued Charlotte Bearn, head of startup ventures at the Behavioral Insights Team. To that end, when looking to make a change, they recommend making sure interventions and actions are easy, attractive, social and/or timely. Ideally all four.

Lara Clements, audience and evaluation lead at the Wellcome Trust, agreed with this analysis. “We know self-monitoring works, we know reward feedback loops work, but something that often gets neglected is remembering the wider context in which people work,” she explained. “People’s motivations ebb and flow, and people’s decision making isn’t very rational, so instead of giving them rational facts, it’s about making things meaningful and personal to them.”

We’re surprised that people’s length of stay in the fitness industry and adoption of exercise is not that strong, but then you do all this exercise and you can’t walk for four days afterwards! There aren’t many parts of that journey that are particularly positive.” Gamification and social elements have worked for MyZone (and others), but there’s still the problem of how to overcome that initial unpleasant feeling that many get from exercise and healthy living.

One interesting case study was shared by Samsung Europe’s head of corporate communications, Mark Hutcheon. “There was a nice experiment done by Adidas when they were developing miCoach,” he recalled. Half the participants were asked to take a photo of themselves post-exercise and were then shown the previous day’s picture before the notification came to run again. “Those that got photos of themselves endorphined up, looking great, were four times as likely to complete the programme and do it at a better, higher level. That’s a very simple thing to do – you don’t need artificial intelligence to remind someone that it’s enjoyable.”

Did someone say artificial intelligence? Yes, although the simple change above doesn’t require AI, it’s the view of Hutcheon that it’s this that will take fitness trackers to the next level. “We’re at the first generation of wearables, and while they sell bucketloads, I don’t think they’re that effective,” he explains. “I think the really interesting second phase is AI-based cognitive machines that will coach you. Whatever the wearable give them in terms of data – how you’re feeling, energy levels or performances – it will coach you, motivate you and encourage you. That’s where I think all the gaps will start to get filled in.”

Of course, the future of fitness doesn’t have to be wearable – in fact, in some ways thinking inside that particular box limits how wide the blue sky is, if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphors. With that in mind, there were 12 companies looking to pitch for an impressive £25,000 package from the event’s sponsors, including 30 hours’ free PR from Playbook, ukactive Strategic Partner Group membership and five days of sales lead generation from JMB Partnership. I can’t imagine the pressure on the speakers who had to somehow get their whole business across in a 60-second pitch followed by just a 90-second Q&A.

I spoke to a number of them beforehand, fortunately, and was pretty impressed with the clever thinking at work. There were several promising-sounding companies on display. Take ShapeLog, for instance – a bit like Chromecast for gym equipment. In other words, it makes old, dumb gym equipment smart, and they claim it can track individual gym users with 96% certainty thanks to a cunning dose of AI. That means that without wearing anything or logging in, gym visitors can expect a tailored report delivered to their phones providing stats and info about their session before they’ve even left the car park. Neat.

[youtube id=”X735j4JjJ-Q” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Then there’s iPrescribe Exercise: on the surface of it, a familiar-sounding iPhone app, in that it logs heart rate through the camera and provides a fitness program. The clever part is that it uses your heart rate, weight, height, date of birth and up to 20 different medical conditions to provide a customized workout without needing a doctor to intervene: it’s all done via the data. Smart enough for a recent appearance in Harvard Health.

[youtube id=”QxJkhL1BKNI” width=”600″ height=”350″]

While some – such as a Swiss-ball style controller for VR headsets – were high-tech, others were admirable in their simplicity: a site for connecting pensioners to take on sports and tackle loneliness, and StepJockey – plaques that can be installed at the bottom of office staircases showing the estimated calorie burn, and allowing employees to scan their phones as they pass them for inter-company competitions and prizes.

[youtube id=”GspLQzer4tE” width=”600″ height=”350″]

The eventual winner took a different approach: instilling good habits when young. Imoves works with more than 500 schools and provides active lesson plans beyond PE, with dance elements. With the extra support, maybe the company’s desire to be part of every school in the UK will help make this the next generation of fitness tracker-enthusiasts – the type who’ll always use them, rather than leave them in a drawer, uncharged.

Exercising Regularly Can Decrease the Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence

Weight gain is common for those undergoing breast cancer treatment, but putting on pounds can be extremely dangerous for patients with breast cancer. According to a review published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, exercise and avoiding weight gain is the strongest method to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence.

Researchers found that women who gained more than 10 percent of their body weight during or after breast cancer treatments were more likely to be at risk for breast cancer-related death. Possible reasons for the increased risk include the rise of circulating insulin-like growth factor, sex hormones and proinflammatory ctyokines caused by obesity.

The review included 67 published articles studying the impact of different lifestyle choices such as diet, weight and smoking habits on breast cancer survival. While no specific diet has been proven to improve breast cancer survival, the review authors recommend at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, including 75 minutes of vigorous exercise and around two sessions of strength training to build up muscle.

Healthy lifestyle choices can also lead to mental benefits as well. Authors Julia Hamer and Ellen Warner wrote that “making positive lifestyle changes can also be psychologically beneficial to patients by empowering them, since the feeling of loss of control is one of the biggest challenges of a cancer diagnosis.”

Hamer and Warner emphasized that these recommendations are not guaranteed to stop breast cancer recurrence, but regardless if exercise changes the prognosis, patients can benefit from improving their overall health.

People With Gym Memberships Really Are Healthier

It’s a common enough trope — the hapless loafer who swears they’re going to change their life around any minute now by signing up for the gym, only to leave an untouched membership card discarded in the rubble of months-old pizza boxes a week later. It may come as a surprise then, according to a new study published this month in the journal PLOS One, that people with gym memberships actually do seem to be much healthier than the rest of us schlubs.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Iowa State University teamed up and studied 405 generally healthy volunteers, mostly recruited from the Iowa State faculty and staff. Half were active members of a health club for at least a month or longer, while the others weren’t. Not only did health club members report exercising more often than non-members, but their cardiovascular fitness, measured via a physical, was better as well.

The study, while not the only one to show a win for gym membership, is the first to demonstrate it via objective tests of cardiovascular health, according to the authors. And its findings point to a relatively easy way of getting people to stay active, an ever-important priority given that as little as 10 percent of Americans may be getting enough exercise.

“Ideally more people with active memberships would result in increased physical activity and more favorable health and fitness, as well as reduced sedentary time, which is an important and independent emerging risk factor for cardiovascular health and premature mortality,” the authors wrote.

All told, three-quarters of gym members met both the level of aerobic and resistance exercise recommended by the U.S. Health Department, compared to less than a fifth of non-members. Women seemed to benefit more than men from membership, as they were more likely to meet activity levels, as did longer-term members. Also importantly, gym members reported being just as active outside of the weight room or basketball court as non-members — meaning they weren’t compensating by being lazy on the weekends.

Strange as it might seem at first glance, gym members actually weren’t noticeably thinner than non-members. Research, however, has shown time and time again that even regular exercise doesn’t lead to significant weight loss. On the other hand, gym members were less likely to be obese, especially the longer they kept at it.

Unfortunately, the study wasn’t designed to pinpoint what sorts of exercises people were doing to stay fit. And the very nature of it can only point to a strong link between gym membership and health, rather than show a direct cause-and-effect relationship. That could mean that instead of someone becoming fit because they joined a gym, they just joined a gym because they were already fit. To know for sure which direction the link flows, we need more studies that keep track of people over a long period of time as they either join or leave a gym, the authors explained. Including a more diverse crowd of volunteers, as opposed to typically wealthier, white college employees, would also be important for future research.

Still, considering that gym memberships are getting cheaper over time and more workplaces are offering them to their peons as part of a benefits package, they do think there should be a stronger public health push to sign people up.

Currently, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, around a quarter of adult Americans, or 64 million, worked out at a health club in 2015, with 55 million having an active membership.

Enjoy Your Workout More By Cutting Out The Long, Slow Jog

Your office buddy’s CrossFit obsession may actually have a bit of science behind it, apparently.

According to a recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE, people may get more joy out of short, high-intensity workouts than in slogging away on the treadmill.

To reach this conclusion, researchers recruited 12 regularly active men and women to exercise on a bike in two ways: in eight, 1-minute-long bursts at 85 percent of their maximum workload, and at a  breezier 20-minute-long bike ride at 45 percent of their capacity. Predictably, the volunteers felt more tired and had higher heart rates during the more intense cycling session, but nearly everyone also rated it as more enjoyable than the longer bout of biking. All told, over 90 percent of the volunteers said they preferred the high intensity interval training (HIIT) exercise as well as enjoyed it more.

The sample size of 12 people was very small and consisted mostly of active people, but the authors believe their findings support an “increasing integration of HIIT into the regular exercise routine of healthy, active individuals” as a worthwhile strategy to coax people into staying fit — especially since people’s often don’t go to the gym because they don’t have the time.

When asked why they preferred the HIIT routine, the volunteers said that they just felt more bored by the longer cycling. The researchers also speculated that the greater effort spent may have made people feel more accomplished and self-confident. But interestingly enough, they also reported feeling more negative during the HIIT session than they did during the longer session. This seeming contradiction might be explained by something called the dual mode theory of exercise, the researchers said.

Basically, exercise tends to make us happier afterwards, but during it, our level of enjoyment can vary depending on a number of factors, including how hard it is. Past a certain point of physical exertion, we start feeling crummy about what we’re doing. That obvious reality has made people doubt that HIIT could ever be made popular to the average sedentary person.

But people often stop exercising soon after starting, having trouble fitting in the routine. So while HIIT exercises might not catch on for everyone, particularly those in less shape to begin with, their greater enjoyment could convince some to stick to an active lifestyle, the researchers hope.

Leaving Exercise For The Weekend Could Be As Effective As Regular Workouts

Cramming all your exercise into a couple of days could almost as effective for your health as spreading it out more evenly throughout the week, researchers have found.

An analysis of more than 60,000 people revealed that ‘weekend warriors’ who met their exercise quota over just one or two days still significantly lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, and an early death – but engaging in any exercise at all could be the most important takeaway from the study.

“The weekend warrior and other physical activity patterns characterized by one or two sessions per week … may be sufficient to reduce risks for all-cause, CVD, and cancer mortality,” explains one of the researchers, Gary O’Donovan from Loughborough University in the UK.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that anyone aged 18 to 64 should do at least 150 minutes of “moderate-intensity aerobic activity” per week, or at least 75 minutes of “vigorous-intensity aerobic activity” a week.

As a rule of thumb, if you can hold a conversation while exercising, it’s considered moderate; if not, it’s vigorous.

But what exactly are the effects if those minutes are spread out over the week?

To find out, O’Donovan and his team collected the fitness data of 63,591 adults (average age: 59) over an 18-year period, paying special attention to the 8,802 individuals who died during the course of the study.

Those who died were split into four categories: people who met the WHO exercise targets with regular workouts throughout the week; so-called weekend warriors who met them in one or two days; people who exercised but didn’t hit the WHO targets; and those who didn’t exercise at all.

Of the weekend warriors identified in the study, 56 percent were men and 44 percent were women. Fifty-five percent of that group divided their activity over two days, and 45 percent fitted it all into a single day – which is one way to spend a Saturday.

As you might expect, any kind of exercise was associated with a lower death rate, but a regular routine was only slightly more beneficial than a weekend blitz.

Those who spread their exercise out over the week were linked to a 35 percent lower death rate, while bursts of exercise over only one or two days still resulted in a 30 percent drop.

And engaging in any exercise at all looks to be the key to warding off ill health. Even those who didn’t meet the WHO exercise time targets were still found to have a 29 percent lower death rate overall than those who didn’t do any exercise at all.

So it’s well worth getting off the sofa, even if it’s just for one or two days a week, and not for as long as you’d like.

“The novel finding is that it appears the duration, and possibly the intensity, of leisure time physical activity is more important than the frequency,” Ulf Ekelund from the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, who was not involved in the research, told The Guardian.

There are some limitations to the study to keep in mind: 90 percent of the participants were white, and the average age of respondents was 59, so it’s not necessarily representative of other ethnic groups or younger people.

Plus, the respondents were all self-reporting their exercise routines, which could reduce the accuracy of the results.

The results don’t give us evidence of causality either – in other words, they don’t prove that it was the exercise patterns that directly influenced the participants’ death and diseae rates.

Still, the fact that there appears to be a trend here should be encouraging news for those of us who don’t have our workouts planned across the whole week, or who try to exercise, but don’t quite meet the suggested WHO exercise targets.

“My take-home message is that the greatest risk reduction and the greatest gain for the individual and for public health is if those who are physically inactive [to] take up some activity,” Ekelund said.

10 Surprising Fitness Hacks For Your New Year Routine

Why even pretend otherwise: January fitness is a mix of holiday self-loathing and goals for a fresh start to the new year. That annual tradition of maybe trying this year and requesting workout gear for presents never seems to crack the formula. Trying the same strategy sans fitness hacks again this year isn’t persistence, it’s madness. If you didn’t kind of suspect that, you wouldn’t be reading this article.

Don’t worry—this is a shame-free zone. We’re here to help. Follow these 10 fitness hacks and this year, just maybe, you’ll break the rut.

Develop A Routine

A common mistake about returning to exercising is that should include some discomfort. No pain, no game, right? So you lock yourself into the gym for two hours a few times a week, staying until it hurts. Here’s a better approach: Small routine. Just 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity five times a week can do wonders. Don’t kill yourself just to live healthier.

Prepare Your Clothes

Are you the type of person who likes working out first thing in the morning? But then you wake up and you’re cozy in your jammies and maybe just hit snooze once more. One habit of fit people: Sleeping in their workout clothes. This creates an expectation. This is also why you should carry a gym bag around all day if you plan a lunch break run or post-work gym session.

Plan Ahead With Your Jams

A study from Harper’s Fitness concluded that men waste about 21 minutes on non-exercise activities for every hour spent at the gym. Meanwhile, the same survey found that 55 percent of participants wasted time from their workout to pick the perfect song or playlist while working out. Don’t drag out the process. Choose ahead and plan a playlist that lasts exactly as long as you want to work out.

Make Fitness Entertaining

Before I seriously dove in, I considered running a dull, monotonous activity. I’m just jogging with nothing to occupy my brain begging me to quit? Then I discovered podcasts and it unlocked everything. Explore some of your topics of interest or find a great audiobook and promise only to listen while working out.

Gamify Your Workout

It’s pretty easy to poke fun at Fitbits and Apple Watches and every fitness app out there. But tracking your exercise with firm data points allows you to track the progress you’ve made and set up future goals. In short, they work.

Experiment With Ginger

Exercise is a lifestyle. How you prepare and supplement your workout matters almost as much as the workout itself. A study in the Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness shoed that consuming a single teaspoon of ginger daily can help you lose about 4.1kg of body fat, over 10 weeks, if it’s combined with strength training. Remember: ginger is your friend.

Weights First, Cardio Second

Most of us think about hitting the treadmill or bike as a warm-up before working out. But as celebrity trainer Lacey Stone told Daily Burn, “It’s vital that you lift before your cardio workouts, because you will have the most power and the most strength to lift heavier loads, which in turn will make you stronger.” That muscle will help you burn more fat and your cardio afterwards won’t suffer from the weight training.

Shorter Breaks

If your goal is to burn fat, then maintain a higher heart rate is key. As Men’s Fitness writes, “The first method is simply to burn as many calories as possible, in which almost continuous exercise with little to no rest between sets (such as circuit training) is ideal.” The magazine also suggests alternating sets that work different parts of the body.

Set Goals, Then Reward Yourself

As much as we pretend otherwise, working out for health benefits alone isn’t enough to get most of us off the couch. So instead of wasting money on an expensive gym membership, save the money you would’ve spent to buy yourself that will keep you going when you otherwise wouldn’t.

Dance, Dance, Dance

It isn’t just a fun activity to participate in while at the club. “Dancing provides physical, psychological, and social benefits galore,” as Berkeley Wellness concluded. The publication added, “It has been shown to reduce depression, anxiety, and stress and boost self-esteem, body image, coping ability, and overall sense of well-being, with the benefits lasting over time.” So if everything else isn’t working, the answer is simple: dance, dance, dance.

Researchers Might Have Just Made A Drug That Mimics The Benefits Of Working Out

Researchers from Australia have developed a pill that can produce ‘exercise-like’ results on muscles and metabolic health in mice.

With further study and human trials, the team says the new drug might provide a way to combat heart disease by triggering the body to burn fat and improve cardiovascular health – but it doesn’t seem to promote weight loss.

“Heart disease is still the biggest killer of people with diabetes and obesity, with little in the way of treatment,” said team member Sean McGee from Deakin University in Melbourne.

“We have identified a drug that makes the body respond as if it has exercised, with all the fat burning and cardiovascular benefits, which opens up exciting possibilities for future treatments.”

To develop the drug, the team first looked at how exercising caused the mice’s bodies to burn more fat. In the end, they found that the mechanism inside mice’s muscles that turns on the systems responsible for fat metabolism is all controlled by a single protein.

Knowing this, the team genetically manipulated this protein, giving them the ability to turn fat metabolism off and on and found that – even without moving – the mice’s muscles appeared to have been exercised and their metabolisms sped up as well. This gave them the idea to see if they could induce this state with a drug.

As McGee says of the findings:

“We then identified a drug that acted in a similar way to what the genetic modification was doing and when we introduced it to mice not only did all the genes that are normally responsive to exercise turn on, the mice ran much longer on an exercise treadmill, burned more fat, had a decline in blood lipids (fats), some of which are associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and their blood glucose levels reduced as well.”

The weird thing about the drug, the team says, is that it caused the cardiovascular health of the mice to improve, though it didn’t have any effect on weight. Instead, possibly because of the increased metabolic rates, the mice ate more food than before.

“The mice actually tended to eat a little bit more which isn’t really surprising because we know that exercise alone is not that effective at making you lose weight, which is more associated with dietary changes,” McGee added.

“What we do know is that the mice that received the drug over extended periods were metabolically much healthier than those not taking the drug.”

This means that if the drug passes human trials and performs the same way it did in mice, it would provide some of the major benefits of working out, such as improved cardiovascular functioning and a high metabolic rate, but wouldn’t be a weight loss pill or appetite suppressant.

With that in mind, the drug will likely be aimed at people who either cannot work out due to physical issues or are at risk of heart disease. Basically, they hope that the new drug might offer a stepping stone for people with health issues to get back into workout shape.

“This could be for frail people who can’t exercise but are at risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes or metabolic disease or patients with obesity who struggle to exercise, where the drug would allow them to find that initial exercise program easier to get into,” McGee said.

It’s important to explicitly point out, though, that the team’s current findings are strictly based off how the drug has worked on mice, meaning that it might not work with humans in the same way. The team hopes to move on to human trials in the near future to verify their results, but only time will tell whether it works as well for us as it does for rodents.

The team’s findings were published in the journal Cell Reports.

The Surprising Benefits of Training in the Heat

One of the highest sweat rates ever recorded was that of marathon runner Alberto Salazar at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. In the months leading up to the games, which were expected to be oppressively hot, the marathoner was put through a regimen of temperature acclimation training with the goal of helping him adapt to running in the heat. While Salazar placed only 15th overall, the program was deemed a success, physiologically speaking—vitals taken after the race found that Salazar’s hormonal and thermoregulatory systems were completely normal. His body had compensated by causing him to sweat at an incredibly high rate—about three liters per hour, compared to the roughly one liter per hour for an average human.

Researchers have been looking at the effects of heat on athletic performance for decades, and their results have been consistently surprising. Studies have found that, in addition to an increased rate of perspiration, training in the heat can increase an athlete’s blood plasma volume (which leads to better cardiovascular fitness), reduce overall core temperature, reduce blood lactate, increase skeletal muscle force, and, counterintuitively, make a person train better in cold temperatures. In fact, heat acclimation may actually be more beneficial than altitude training in eliciting positive physiological adaptations, says Santiago Lorenzo, a professor of physiology at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and a former decathlete at the University of Oregon. “Heat acclimation provides more substantial environmental specific improvements in aerobic performance than altitude acclimation,” he says. And in contrast to the live low, train high philosophy, we more quickly adapt to heat stress than we do to hypoxia. In other words, heat training not only does a better job at increasing V02 max than altitude, but it also makes athletes better at withstanding a wider range of temperatures.

Athletes can adapt to heat in one of two ways. The first is through incremental improvements in tolerance over time—work out in the heat a little bit every day, and eventually your body will dissipate heat more effectively. The second way is through thermotolerance, which is a cellular adaptation to an extreme heat experience, like suffering such severe dehydration after a run that you need an IV. Essentially, if you shock your system, your body will be able to withstand greater temperature stresses later on. But successful heat adaptation is difficult—and clearly dangerous—to achieve outside of controlled settings. Lorenzo explains that performance gains are possible only when athletes elevate their core body temperature, and without careful monitoring, it’s possible to elevate your core temperature to lethal levels.

When performed safely, however, heat training can have extraordinary effects. This phenomena fascinates Chris Minson, a professor of human physiology at the University of Oregon, who studies heat acclimation responses in athletes. According to his research, heat training can expand blood plasma volume, but Minson says there also seem to be inexplicable changes to the heart’s left ventricle, which helps to increase oxygen delivery to the muscles. In addition, he says that athletes who train in warm temperatures generally get better at regulating heat by sweating earlier, as Salazar did, or developing a colder resting body temperature.

A 2011 study by a group of researchers in New Zealand also found that overall volume of blood plasma increased at a greater rate when athletes did not drink water during exercise. While some coaches are carefully experimenting with dehydration, Minson and Lorenzo are not because it adds too much additional stress. However, they do say that this type of training can be beneficial because it produces a higher number of “heat shock” protein cells.

Ahead of Western States this June, ultrarunning coach Jason Koop worked on heat training with Amanda Basham and eventual winner Kaci Leckteig. Koop believes this type of acclimating is a good example of blending an academic concept with real-world training. But, says Koop, “at a certain level, you have to compromise training quality for the heat acclimation. Acclimating to the heat is additional stress [on the body], just like more miles or intervals, so you can’t simply pile it on. Something on the training side has to give.”

One method of heat acclimation that Minson uses with his athletes is to do hard workouts on colder days or earlier in the morning, and then start training in hotter conditions with less intensity. He is also looking into adding heat in ways that wouldn’t require an athlete to train in high temperatures at all—using hot tubs, for instance.

All this being said, not everyone responds to heat at the same rate or with the same physiological gains, which makes it similar to altitude training in that it might make a high-performing age grouper, college athlete, or elite a little better, but it won’t compensate for intelligent, consistent training.

How to Incorporate Heat Acclimation into Your Training Schedule

When acclimating to heat, you’ll be forced to compromise training quality, says Koop. While he understands the benefits of heat acclimation, he still prioritizes smart, solid training. But if you want to incorporate heat into your workouts, here’s how he recommends doing it safely.

1. First, pick a protocol (sauna, hot bath, or exercising in the heat) that minimizes the impact on training, both physically and logistically.

2. Koop most commonly recommends that his athletes use a dry sauna immediately after running. “It doesn’t impact training nearly as much as running in the heat, and the effects are similarly positive,” he says. He often tells his athletes to not drink water during these sessions to enhance the effect. Koop recommends spending 20-to-30-minutes in the sauna, depending on tolerance.

3. Koop says that when he has his athletes exercise in the heat—either naturally or by wearing extra clothing to simulate the experience—it will be on a long, slow day for 60 to 90 minutes. The time completely depends on the athlete’s tolerance and previous experience. But he stresses to not do this on a recovery day, because heat training is an added stress on the body. Koop recommends drinking 30 to 40 ounces of an electrolyte drink per hour during these sessions  And for safety, he advises using low-traffic sidewalks and bike paths—not trails.

4. Despite the benefits of heat training, Koop reminds his athletes that running in the heat is extremely difficult and usually replaces a hard day. “You are substituting one potential gain for another one,” he says. In other words, use it carefully.