Benefits of Sauna
Sauna use is gaining popularity right now but what are the actual benefits of sauna use and is it really good for everyone? We recently got an infrared sauna and I LOVE it. I have always loved the heat of a sauna, after a workout or on a cold winter day. I remember back to my childhood, sneaking into the sauna at the local YMCA after swimming and gosh, on a freezing midwest winter day, there is truly nothing more enjoyable. Fast forward, I still love getting in the sauna to get warmed up but also because of its health benefits! Let’s dive in to the benefits and potential risks of heat therapy.
When we talk about heat therapy, most of the research has been done on sauna use, and more specifically, on dry sauna which can reach temperatures greater than 200 degrees fahrenheit. The newer infrared saunas generally don’t get nearly as hot, measuring in typically around 120-140 degrees fahrenheit but still hot enough to break a sweat and get some health benefits. Saunas have been used in Scandinavian cultures for centuries and in fact, much of the research on the health benefits of sauna comes from Finland, where there is widespread use of saunas (aka not just used by those looking to up-level their already healthy lifestyles).
What are the benefits of sauna therapy?
Most of the research has been focused on the effects of sauna use on cardiovascular disease showing improved blood pressure, endothelial function and arterial stiffness, which is a huge benefit! Studies have also shown reduction in all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality and stroke. Recent studies have demonstrated a reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. There may also be benefits of routine sauna use on improving mood and mental health. It is widely known that sweating is great for detoxification of many harmful environmental chemicals and metals, so sauna is a great way to induce sweating and get rid of toxins. Further, it has been proposed that sauna may be one strategy to employ for increasing healthspan and lifespan (for more on longevity, read here!). A bonus – Sauna use in the evening and before bed can promote better sleep!
What about infrared sauna?
First, what is an infrared sauna? Infrared saunas have light panels that heat up the sauna in a completely different way than dry saunas. These infrared lights focus on a penetrating heat that acts directly on the body. Infrared heats the body up from the inside out, compared with traditional dry saunas that feel super hot and heat us up from the outside in. Many people find infrared saunas to be more comfortable because they don’t get quite as hot, but don’t worry, you’ll still break a sweat! There is less research looking at the newer infrared saunas but we are starting to see more. There are studies that show similar findings in terms of cardiovascular benefit, such as improved blood pressure and lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Preliminary studies are also showing that infrared light may improve a variety of chronic pain conditions. Infrared light helps cells regenerate and repair, it also improves circulation which promotes faster healing and decreased pain. Infrared sauna may also help with recovery from exercise.
What are the risks of sauna use and heat therapy?
For a long time, many people with cardiovascular disease were advised to avoid heat therapies like sauna and hot tubs. It is now considered safe (and more likely beneficial) for those with stable cardiovascular conditions to use heat therapies. People with unstable or symptomatic cardiovascular symptoms should avoid sauna use due to the stress of the heat. Concurrent use of alcohol with sauna poses risk for lowering blood pressure to unstable levels and risk of injury from falling due to alcohol paired with heat. Heat is generally advised against during pregnancy but interestingly, sauna is commonly used during pregnancy in Finland. It is very important to start slow and stay well hydrated before, during, and after sauna use.
What if you don’t have a sauna?
While the benefits of sauna are so great, obviously not everyone is able to have one in their home, so what can you do? Join a gym! Many gyms have saunas for their members to use and you get two for one benefits – exercise and heat therapy! There are also stand-alone sauna studios that you can pay a monthly membership for to use their infrared saunas. Before we had a sauna, I went to Perspire. You can also utilize a hot bath for 20-45 minutes to get similar effects!
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