Dr. Kevin Sprouse is trained in both emergency and sports medicine, making him one of the most sought after physicians working with some of the top athletes around the world. His patients have included many elite, Olympic and professional endurance athletes, including...
What is a Sauna?
Heat therapies have long been used for healing and wellness, dating all the way back to the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Mayans. The sauna is simply a small or large room designed specifically to help you sweat. What’s more, science stands behind saunas, and modern medicine has proven 10 clinical health benefits of saunas that will leave you wanting to get your own sweat on soon.
Different Types of Saunas
Today, saunas are an everyday part of many cultures, from the Finnsh outdoor saunas to the Swedish batsu, the Korean jjimjilbangs, and Japanese sento. Variations of the dry and steam (or wet) saunas, as well as the latest infrared saunas, all offer a variety of health benefits, even after only a few minutes a day of use. Users report that a deep, healthy sweat generally relieves stress, reduces muscle tension, and delivers an overall sense of relaxation and well-being.
Over the ages, various types of dry and wet saunas have been invented, along with the latest infrared saunas that deliver direct heat to the body versus heating the air and room temperature.
Here’s a look at the types of saunas to consider as you evaluate incorporating them into your health regimen:
- Dry saunas are heated with fire, hot stones, gas, or electricity
- Steam saunas generate steam by applying water on the heating element
- Infrared saunas use infrared heaters to emit light that delivers radiant heat that’s absorbed by the surface of the skin
Infrared saunas are further broken down into the following types:
- Near infrared saunas
- Far infrared saunas (FIR)
- Full spectrum infrared saunas
Infrared saunas deliver direct heat via the infrared light and at lower temperatures versus dry and wet saunas that heat the air to increase the room temperature.
What Happens in the Body?
Whatever type of sauna therapy you choose, and regardless of the humidity level, the effects on the body are similar and create a variety of well-documented health benefits, such as releasing the ‘feel good’ endorphins, in addition to widening the blood vessels to improve circulation and blood flow.
Depending on the duration of sauna use, you will see circulation improvements that are similar to the effects of moderate exercise. Your heart rate may increase to 100 to 150 beats per minute while the growth hormone release increases by as much as 200 to 300%. Sauna use can also help improve athletic performance and stamina due to that increase in circulation.
Still not convinced? Then let’s dive into a few more proven health benefits of sauna use, and how to accurately measure the effects.
10 Proven Clinical Health Benefits of Sauna Use
- Supercharge your cell power. Heat has been proven to positively impact your mitochondria, the ‘batteries’ powering your cells, helping your body naturally produce more energy and stay fit.
- Slow down Father Time (aka: aging!). Cell regeneration means you slow the aging process. And if you’re not quite convinced, check out the 20 year study of Finnish men that links two to three sauna sessions per week with a 23% decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
- Detoxify heavy metals and chemicals. Everyday exposure to potentially toxic heavy metals through a variety of sources means even the most health conscious people still have toxins in the body. Regular sauna bathing helps excrete toxins such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury.
- Make your heart happy and healthy. A 2018 study found that sauna bathing four to seven times per week reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by as much as 58%.
- Reduce blood pressure. Sauna heat helps widen blood vessels and improve circulation, which reduces blood pressure.
- Optimize athletic performance. Blood flow improvements from hyperthermic conditioning (heat conditioning) sends more blood to the heart, leading to an increase in plasma and red blood cell volume. That process delivers more oxygen throughout the body, fueling athletic performance.
- Improve muscle function and recovery. As more blood flow and oxygen is delivered throughout the body, muscles increase in size and muscle breakdown is diminished. One study showed that two, one-hour sauna sessions for seven days straight increases production of the human growth hormone (HGH) by two to five times.
- Fuel weight loss. Regular sauna use is shown to regulate the appetite, increase metabolism, and improve oxygen utilization, helping to fuel weight loss along with a reduction in body fat.
- Boost brain function. The brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF increases with regular sauna use, activating the growth of new brain cells, better maintaining existing cells, and improving neuroplasticity, the brain’s process for forming new neural connections.
- Ignite your immune system. Heat exposure from sauna use increases the heat shock protein, stimulating antigen-presenting cells, along with releasing cytokine, thus stimulating the body’s natural immune system.
- BONUS BENEFIT: improve emotional health and mood. When your body and brain are healthy, detoxified, and destressed, and you’ve boosted endorphins, your overall mood and emotional health improves.
Who Should Sauna, and Who Shouldn’t…
Due to the extreme heat, certain people should avoid sauna use of any type, including pregnant women and those with specific health conditions such as low blood pressure and heart conditions. As with anything, it’s always wise to consult your medical practitioner before beginning sauna treatments.
How to Track Your Sauna Health Benefits
Everyone is unique and may have very different outcomes from sauna use, so track your key metrics before and after use, as well as over a period of time, to understand specifically how sauna use is impacting you.
For example, the Heads Up app gives you a way to enter the type of sauna you’re using, the room temperature, date, and duration. From there, you can check health stats such as blood pressure, heart rate, and more. You may even see improvements in the quality of your sleep over time.
Ready to get started?
If you’re ready to ‘dive into’ sauna bathing of any kind, grab a 30-day free trial of Heads Up first and decide on some of your goals for sauna use, then monitor your key health metrics before and after. You may also want to monitor various durations and frequencies, and the correlated effects on those same metrics to determine which type of sauna and frequency level is right for you. And as we always say, be sure to consult your health practitioner before starting any new health regimen!
😊 Namaste my friends!