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Found: An MD's 3-Step "Longevity Circuit" For Optimal Well-Being

Hannah Frye
September 8, 2023
Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
By Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.
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Image by domoyega / Istock
September 8, 2023
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On a recent episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, board-certified surgeon and longevity specialist Darshan Shah, M.D., shared his go-to "longevity circuit." This routine includes high-tech tools for those who want to go above and beyond, but you don't necessarily need access to this well-being technology to reap similar benefits.

His circuit: "I do a 30-minute heat sauna session, go under red lights for 30 minutes, and then I do a cryotherapy session." And yes, all of these steps can be done at home (without any fancy gadgets). Below, he describes each tech-forward routine, plus their longevity benefits.

Step 1: Sauna

Research has shown that stepping into a sauna can help you work toward longevity in many respects.

Specifically, a study out of Finland showed a link between sauna bathing and reduced risk of developing dementia1. It's also been associated with improved immune system2 and improved skin health3.

In terms of frequency, research has shown that sauna bathing four to seven times per week enhanced longevity by 40%5. In that same study, sauna bathing two to three times per week was associated with a 23% increase in longevity (so a higher frequency may help you reap more benefits).

Now, if you have access to a sauna at your local gym or well-being space, then you can totally start there. If not, you may consider investing in a portable sauna or sauna blanket so you can complete this step in the comfort of your own home. These tend to be an investment, but they're a one-time purchase as opposed to a recurring sauna membership

Shah spends 30 minutes in the sauna, but of course, everyone's body is different. Depending on your sauna experience, the temperature of your sauna, and your personal tolerance, half an hour may be a bit long, so make sure to listen to your own body. You can check out our full guide to saunas here if you'd like to learn more.

Step 2: Red light therapy

Next, Shah spends 30 minutes under therapeutic red lights. "Almost everybody should consider red light therapy," he says. "It induces the production of nitric oxide right underneath the level of your skin. It also improves hormone function and testosterone production6. It also resets your cellular biology." (It does this by activating mitochondria7). 

Red light works via a phenomenon called photobiomodulation—while the exact mechanisms of photobiomodulation are not completely understood, the effects have been clinically studied8.

Many red light devices out there focus on the face, as regular exposure to therapeutic red light can improve skin complexion9, tone, and texture9, as well as reduce redness and inflammation.

There isn't one minimum or maximum time limit for red light therapy, so just read the directions on your device before setting the timer—30 minutes may work for some, but not for everyone. 

Here, find our list of the best red light devices so you can shop smart.

Step 3: Cold therapy

Longevity experts often praise cold therapy, and for good reasons: Brief yet intense cold exposures (like a cold plunge or cold shower) have been associated with a balanced inflammatory response10, improved sleep11, enhanced muscle and joint health12, and mood support13

Cold therapy acts as a hormetic stressor—a short and brief burst of stress—which "stresses the cells just enough so that they go into repair-and-rejuvenate mode," says Shah. As a result, it helps your body become more resilient to future stress, thus enhancing longevity. 

The best part? It's a quick and easy step to add to your routine. "Even just three minutes in cold water, cryotherapy chamber, or even a cold shower really does induce a physiological change," says Shah. "Mitochondria get healthier. The endorphin and dopamine release is beneficial as well."

And you don't need to spend 20 minutes in freezing water—just a few minutes as often as you can will do the trick.

Just make sure cold therapy is the last step of your routine, says Shah. "A lot of the hormetic effects of cold therapy happen not just while you're in the cold but in the time period of getting back to your normal core body temperature," he explains. "So if you're going into heat right afterward, it doesn't give your body that extended 20 to 30 minutes of warming itself up. That's why doing the cold last is important." 

The takeaway

Shah's go-to "longevity circuit" includes three sessions, starting with a 30-minute sauna, then 30-minute red light therapy, and ending with a quick cold plunge. Remember that these treatments are extras and should not be the core of your longevity-supporting routine. Consider them add-ons to a healthy diet, consistent exercise, and quality social connections (the basics for a longer, healthier life). More from Shah on the podcast episode below.