Sauna is a Finnish word. In fact it is actually the only Finnish word in the modern English Dictionary.
So when a team of scientists from Finland published their findings from a 20 year long study, the world began to take notice of what people from Finland and Estonia have known for (literally) thousands of years.
It’s not just about the sweat!
A sauna is one of the best tools you have in your arsenal for better health and wellness.
When done properly and in a safe way, putting your body under small amounts of physical stress provides triggers that the human body requires in order to produce a lot of the chemicals it needs to function properly.
Sauna heat is a perfect example of that exact type of stress the body needs.
Taking charge of your own health is what we are all about at OkBlog and the list of sauna health benefits is long, so we have put together what we think are The Top 7 Reasons You Need an Infrared Sauna.
- Physical Recovery & Pain Relief
- Mental Performance
- Reduces Stress
- Skin Health
- Heart Health
- Physical Endurance
- Examples of Personal Sauna
Some of the content in this article gets technical at times. If you have any questions, leave a comment below and we will help. Don’t forget to Join our Forum for more group discussions.
How does an Infrared Sauna work?
Infrared is electromagnetic radiation. Scary sounding, right? Why would we sit in radiation if we are trying to get as healthy as possible?
Don’t worry. All objects in the entire universe emit electromagnetic radiation, including human bodies. We’re not talking about Chernobyl when we say radiation, but actually describing a wavelength of light invisible to the human eye, that we feel as heat. Everything from your TV remote to your toaster to your houseplants to you, yes you, emit this type of radiation.
The heat we feel from this invisible light travels through waves to get deeper into the cells of our body than traditional dry saunas are able to and begin to vibrate the molecules of water in each cell. That vibration allows the cell to separate from the toxins within it so they can be expelled from the body. Detoxification of the cells stimulates your metabolism and the rejuvenation of cells. Infrared heat provides all the healthy benefits of natural sunlight without any of the dangerous effects of solar radiation.
20 minutes in the sauna triggers a release of dynorphin. Dynorphin is a chemical associated with negative emotional states. Ew, again, who wants that? Well the amazing design of the human body to the rescue. The body’s answer to dynorphin is to release beta-endorphins, the same chemical released whenever you dance or laugh. Using the sauna gives you similar after effects of having just had a great laugh with your friends, because these two chemicals compete while you’re in the sauna, but once you get out, dynorphin drops but the beta-endorphins do not. Mood is listed as the first benefit because each of the subsequent items in this list also contribute to better mood.
PHYSICAL RECOVERY & PAIN RELIEF
The body responds to the stress of heat by producing heat shock proteins. Heat shock proteins are known as molecular chaperones and like any good chaperone, they kick out the troublemakers. The troublemakers in this case are free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive and unstable molecules that are produced in the body naturally as a byproduct of normal metabolism, or by exposure to toxins in the environment. Free radicals have a lifespan of only a fraction of a second, but during that time can damage DNA, sometimes resulting in mutations that can lead to various diseases, including heart disease and cancer, inflammation and more.
Another response to heat is growth hormone. The body releases growth hormone that lasts for hours after the sauna. Human growth hormone (hGH) is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the pituitary gland. It’s important for growth, cell regeneration, and cell reproduction. It can promote recovery for workouts, aging and a wide range of injuries such as tendon damage and arthritis.
Why infrared saunas work so well on chronic pain has everything to do with how our bodies are built. An infrared sauna works on the fascia, which is the web-like connective tissue inside our bodies. As one part of the fascia is relaxed, so does the rest. Infrared therapy in general tends to penetrate up to 2 inches deep into the body, stimulating a relaxation response providing the muscles and tendons opportunity to release tension.
The heat from an infrared sauna also raises core body temperature which essentially tricks your body into thinking you have a fever. This forces the body’s immune system to activate, producing more blood cells. Capillaries and arteries dilate, blood flow increases and more oxygen-rich blood travels to areas where there’s tension and pain.
Two important brain chemicals responsible for cognitive and mental function are
- norepinephrine- a hormone and neurotransmitter produced in the brain
- prolactin- a hormone released by the pituitary gland
Norepinephrine enhances focus and attention, while prolactin promotes myelin growth, which makes the brain function faster, a critical feature in repairing nerve cell damage.
Myelin is the sheath around your nerves that protects them and allow the nerves to transmit properly. Better protection = better function.
In a study where young men stayed in a sauna until subjective exhaustion, their norepinephrine levels increased by 310 percent and their prolactin levels increased by 900 percent. Similarly, in a study involving women who participated in 20-minute sessions in a sauna twice a week experienced a 86 percent increase in norepinephrine and a 510 percent increase in prolactin after the session.
During sauna use, nerve cells release brain derived neurotrophic factor proteins (BDNF) that jumpstarts brain stem cells to produce new neurons. Neuromotors make your muscles listen to your brain and as we age our muscles atrophy due to neuromotor degradation. BDNF helps the brain continue to communicate with muscles by preventing this degradation.
The sauna helps the brain to keep communicating with the body the way it was meant to.
The saying “Stress is a Killer” used to be thought of figuratively, but science has proven that phrase to be quite literal. The effects of long term stress on the body have been proven to be linked with health issues like high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and anxiety.
Using a sauna helps to lower stress by reducing raised levels of cortisol.
Cortisol is a naturally-occurring steroid hormone that plays a key role in the body’s stress response.
While it is often called “the stress hormone”, it also contributes to many of the body’s processes. It’s secreted by the adrenal glands and involved in the regulation of the following functions and more:
- Blood pressure regulation
- Glucose metabolism
- Immune function
- Inflammatory response
- Insulin release
If your cortisol levels are too high it affects all of these functions negatively. Lowering cortisol levels to the appropriate levels with sauna help with overall stress reduction and better body function.
Saunas stimulate the sympathetic nervous system.
The sauna produces a very mild sympathetic stimulus-response, allowing the user to relax the body and release the fight/flight response brought on by some types of stress, thus preventing burnout and minimizing sleep troubles. This really helps people under stress ‘come down’ after stressful events.
The stress referred to in this section is long term and is not to be confused with the controlled stress referred to in the rest of the article.
The body is designed to handle short term stress and in many cases requires it to thrive. The body is not designed to handle longer term chronic stress.
Using short term stress on the body (eg.sauna) is a proven way to reduce long term stress (eg.financial, relationship or work)
Collagen is the protein that gives our tissues and organs strength and elasticity. The heat in the sauna enhances collagen production, thereby strengthening and rejuvenating the complexion. The heat also helps the skin get rid of dead skin cells, promoting the growth of newer and healthier ones. The heavy sweating induced in a sauna has a cleansing effect on pores and glands, flushing out toxins and impurities. The result is a healthier skin, less prone to acne, blackheads and pimples because saunas are like exercise for your pores.
Again we come back to improved circulation. Your skin is your body’s biggest organ and improved blood flow means more oxygen, which we know improves function. Increased blood flow and circulation from the heat opens up your pores. The sweat flushes out the toxins that were hiding in those pores. Fewer toxins mean fewer clogged pores, which mean smoother skin.
Sebum is a naturally occurring, healthy moisturizer that has the consistency of wax. While sebum is vital for keeping your skin moist, it also provides your skin’s cells with important nutrients.
When the wax-based sebum, dead skin cells, dirt, or bacteria get lodged in your pores or glands, this leads to acne. Going to a sauna and sweating through your pores is an excellent way of filtering out these impurities and restoring your sebum to its peak functions.
Studies have shown that frequent sauna bathing is associated with
- 50% lower risk for fatal heart disease
- 60% lower risk for sudden cardiac death
- 51% lower risk for stroke
- 46% lower risk for hypertension
Just a single sauna session has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve heart rate variability, and improve arterial compliance(a change of volume and pressure on demand) by reducing their stiffness.
Benefits of the sauna on heart health are similar to the physiological changes that also occur in your body during physical exercise like jogging. For example, there is a 50-70% redistribution of blood flow away from the core to the skin to facilitate sweating. Heart rate increases up to 150 beats per minute just like moderate physical exercise. Cardiac output (which is a measure of the amount of work the heart performs in response to the body’s need for oxygen) increases by 60-70%. Immediately after sauna use, blood pressure and resting heart rate are lower than baseline similar to physical activity.
Researchers in the 20 year long study of over 2300 participants found that sauna bathing led to a reduction in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol along with an increase in blood plasma volume after 10 sauna sessions, which means enhanced athletic performance and stronger cardiovascular fitness. Overall, researchers concluded that the positive effect of saunas is similar to the effect that can be obtained through a moderately intense workout.
While a sauna is no substitute for exercise, it is definitely a routine you want to add to your life.
While in the sauna your kidneys will produce more EPO (erythropoietin) a hormone responsible for the production of red blood cells. More red blood cells means more oxygen in the blood. More oxygen in the blood means more efficiency and more power. EPO is so powerful that supplementing it is commonly referred to as “blood doping” and is banned by all major sports as a performance enhancing drug. By training and by using the sauna, you can increase your levels naturally.
Hyperthermic conditioning also trains your body to be heat tolerant so you can work harder for longer periods of time before your body needs to take a break from the heat.
Two sessions per week of 30 minutes in duration increased endurance by 32% in runners over a three week period.
While in the sauna, the energetic needs of our mitochondria go up and they respond by using oxygen in the blood more efficiently. This process is called oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS). In one study, repeated exposure to heat stress for 6 days increased mitochondrial function by 28%, among other advantages.
The boost in mitochondrial health (and energy production) allows the cells to do more work. The resulting performance gains include better reaction time, support against chronic inflammation and balanced testosterone.
A Journal of Science study shows that using a sauna for 30 minutes 2 times a week increased the subjects time to exhaustion by 32%
Nearly a third more longevity in active performance!
EXAMPLES OF PERSONAL SAUNA FOR IN YOUR HOME
There is no shortage of brands and styles to choose from when it comes to finding the right sauna for your needs. The goal is to heat your body up and they all do just that. Its about finding what fits your budget and what fits your taste. Here are a few to show you the spectrum of options.
The Budget Friendly Sauna Blanket
The Full Size Relaxing Retreat
The sauna giveth and if you’re not careful, the sauna taketh away.
We are huge advocates of the benefits of saunas, but this is a serious piece of equipment that can and will hurt you if you do not practice safety at all times.
Exposing the body to controlled stress is risky if you’re not paying attention to the details of safety.
If you aren’t sure about whether or not you are safe to use a sauna, consult your doctor first.
Hydrate before, during and after sauna use. It is not advisable to use a sauna after a workout unless you are a very experienced user. If you use a sauna after a workout make sure to hydrate more than you usually would otherwise.
Severe dehydration is a medical emergency. You should leave the sauna immediately if you feel dizzy/lightheaded, have a headache, or get very thirsty.
Complications of severe dehydration include:
- low blood pressure
- heat exhaustion or heat stroke
- kidney failure
- hypovolemic shock
Consult your doctor before using a sauna if you have any medical conditions or are on medications that can have adverse reactions to heat.
Saunas are known to decrease male fertility. Consult your fertility doctor before using a sauna.
If you use the sauna everyday you will need to monitor your zinc levels from loss of zinc through sweat. Increasing foods with zinc or supplements should be considered.
Saunas may cause discomfort for those with sensitive skin. This is because people with sensitive skin often have sweat with a higher concentration of salt in it, and this can lead to irritation. People with rosacea may not be able to recover from blushing as rapidly. Skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis may also be irritated by saunas, so if you have any of these check with your dermatologist before trying out a sauna.
The practice of deep breathing exercises is not advised and experts like Wim Hof himself have stated that it is not safe. Breath work or shamanic breathing in a sauna should only be done under the supervision of a professional. Serious injury or death can occur if you don’t know what you’re doing.
The take away – when practiced correctly, the time spent in a sauna is awesome, so be safe and enjoy them. Taking good care of ourselves isn’t always easy or fun, but the sauna is the exception.
Don’t forget to comment below if you have questions or want to share a story about your experiences with saunas.