Monday, December 29, 2008

The North Wind Doth Blow

It's cold here in Southern California. Yes, I am a wuss. Yes, it is warmer than it was in the UK. But it's still cold. The house's solar panels are useless at this time of year, and the sun himself isn't doing much of a job. The house cools down overnight, and the world outside is in the mid-forties by morning.

At times like this I'm glad I have a gym membership. I'd stopped going a while ago. The exercise hadn't worked, in the sense that I'd lost bone mass according to my last bone density test (I have hyperparathyroidism) and I couldn't be bothered to keep it up. After the bone density test last September I never went back, not even to see if the famous blocked drain had reached its one year anniversary last October.

But at $9 a month (the low price a benefit of getting memberships on the ground floor of a new gym) it's always worth keeping the payments up, and I did. So the past few days I've been going to the gym to sit in the dry sauna.

This is a little wooden room that's usually at abot 160 F, though recently it's been at 170 F. It's a dry heat and this temperature's no problem for a living body. If you took a steak in on a metal tray it would cook in 30 minutes. No sizzle, mind, but it would cook all the way through. A human body doesn't. Superb homeostasis mechanisms kick in to keep the body temperature exactly the same. At least, most people's do. My own body forgets how to sweat if I don't do it regularly and it takes a few minutes to kick in.

When I first joined the gym, twenty years ago, someone told me about the carry-a-towel-at-all-times rule and I was mystified. Why a towel? Was it some secret sign, like a Mason's apron? What would be the possible use of a towel? To wipe down sweat, I was told. After about three weeks of working out, I finally needed the towel. I guess my body just doesn't like sweating. The first time back at the sauna this week, it took about ten minutes of actual burning before my arms started to sweat. Today I did it in five. Go me. Fast learner. (Maybe next time I can teach my body to listen to the other feedback mechanism and not produce so much parathyroid hormone?)

Anyway, going from the cold air to the sauna is a profound warming experience. That, along with the subsequent exercise, lifts the metabolic rate and keeps me comfortable for the rest of the day. One of the small delights in life in winter.

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