Looking for body help after a tough workout? Try adding a Sauna to your routine!
Sauna isn’t just a way to keep the snow out of your bones. Heat is a therapy that cultures world wide have used for millennia- from the sweat lodges of the Native Americans to the classic Swedish sauna. It’s filled with benefits related to detoxification, cardiovascular health, metabolism, and a host of others.
Conventional Sauna uses steam and ranges from 150-200 degrees Fahrenheit. The average temperature seems to be about 175 degrees. Infrared sauna works at a lower temperature to warm you more directly around using infrared radiation around 140 degrees. Most studies have been done using traditional steam sauna but there is good evidence emerging that infrared carries many of the same benefits. The predominant studies on sauna use are out of Finland and are observational studies. This is important to note arise other factors such as lifestyle and diet could also impact study results.
Sauna essentially mimics the benefits of moderate aerobic cardiovascular exercise. These changes can be seen even after one sauna session. Ways in which sauna mimics the physiology of cardiovascular exercise is an elevated core temperature, elevated heart rate, sweating, and lower heart rate/pressure after cardio. There is evidence that using a sauna alongside fitness improves endurance and ability. This has been shown with both saunas and athletes training in a sauna-suit. Even local heat applied to muscles has shown less loss of muscle mass in animals- in animal models around 40% less reduction in muscle mass across age. It’s been long known cardiovascular health is also closely correlated with brain health.
As well as reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, sauna also helps engage the parasympathetic nervous system. It has been found to help improve symptoms of depression and stress. One mechanism behind this benefit is by essentially resetting the way our body uses our endogenous opiates and endorphins, causing a greater sensitivity to our ‘feel good’ messengers. One study, which somehow managed to use a blinded controlled study, found a significant improvement in treatment resistant depression six weeks after just one sauna session compared to placebo! How convenient that they are also too hot to bring your electronics into!
One mechanism of benefit under consideration is activation of heat shock proteins. These proteins protect us in case of exposure to heat-stress. They have a protective effect over our cellular proteins, protecting them from deconstructing and forming plaques in our bodies. This helps to protect against the production of plaques in our brains as well. This mechanism among others may extend the total health span of one’s life to be longer.
The benefits from sauna are closely dose dependent. This means that duration and frequency spent seems to be one of the biggest factors in attaining the health benefits from heat. At 175d a sauna used approximately 4-7x per week around 19 or more minutes folks were 50% less likely to die from cardiovascular death. Folks who only stayed in the sauna for a shorter 11min were only 8% less likely to die from cardiovascular events. Four to seven sessions of sauna per week is correlated with approximately a 60% reduction in the risk of dementia compared with one time per week use (use 2-3x per week showed at 20% reduction in dementia risk). It was shown that sauna 4-7x per week was associated with a 47% reduction in cardiovascular events and a 40% reduction in all cause mortality. A 150 degree sauna for 30 minutes doubled the amount of heat shock protein in the blood stream prior to sauna. Benefits can be seen from just a single use but there are dozens of studies out now correlating more regular use with more benefits.
Many health clubs and fitness centers now have access to saunas in the Midwest. If you don’t have access to a sauna subbing a hot bath is a close mimic of the results. Sauna is a built in break and way to decompress from phones and stimulation adding to its meditation like qualities. If you choose to start using sauna, start low and slow and work your tolerance up for the heat. Remember to hydrate and listen to what your body is asking you for.
Ashley Steffensen, LAc.
*****Check with your doctor about the use of sauna with your particular health picture.
Seheult, B. (2022, April 16). Sauna Benefits Deep Dive and Optimal Use with Dr. Rhonda Patrick & MedCram. Medcram Blog. https://blog.medcram.com/uncategorized/sauna-benefits-deep-dive-and-optimal-use-with-dr-rhonda-patrick-medcram-found-my-fitness/