Saunas have been around for a long time and when used properly, they can provide amazing health benefits. Like exercise, heat is a stressor and has a strong effect on many body systems. The key to getting the benefits is to understand that correctly applied stress stimulates a positive adaptive response to the stressor. Traditional Finnish hot saunas have a long history of use and an incredible amount of scientific research backing up their benefits. For example:

Did you know that a sauna visit 4 to 7 times a week reduces the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 50 percent?

Did you know that sauna use 4 – 7 times a week reduces the risk of premature death from preventable diseases by 40 percent?

Did you know that a study showed that people were 66% less likely to develop dementia, 67% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and 77 percent less likely to develop psychotic disorders regardless of what they ate, how much they exercised and their social status?

Read on to learn about different types of saunas – their benefits and how they produce such amazing results!

Different types of saunas

The most popular type of sauna are the traditional Finnish hot saunas (temperature 180-200 degrees Fahrenheit). These saunas heat your body by increasing the air temperature and heating your body from the outside.

The other type of sauna that is quickly gaining popularity is an infrared sauna that works by projecting infrared rays into your body and heating it from the inside. These saunas are preferred by many because the air temperature is much more comfortable and quality units produce heat deep in the body tissues.

Which type of sauna you choose will depend on how well you tolerate heat and whether you prefer the lower temperature of an infrared sauna versus a traditional hot sauna.

There is a growing body of science supporting the benefits of infrared saunas, but there is a tremendous amount of science supporting the benefits of traditional hot saunas, often referred to as Finnish saunas.

Cardiovascular adaptations to traditional Finnish hot saunas include:

Increased plasma volume and blood flow to the heart with increased stroke volume (stroke volume is the amount of blood your heart can pump with each contraction – when it increases, the heart rate can slow down)

Increased red blood cell count, resulting in increased oxygen supply to the muscles.

Increased blood flow to muscles and other tissues, resulting in increased nutrient delivery and removal of cellular waste products.

Reduced rate of glycogen depletion that significantly improves endurance training performance.

Lower body temperature during workouts and heat exposure.

One study showed that a 30-minute sauna session twice a week for three weeks after exercise increased the time it took study participants to run until exhausted by 32% compared to baseline!

Sauna and the brain

Heat stress has been shown to increase expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)

Increased BDNF causes the growth of new brain cells, improves your ability to learn and retain new information, and improves certain types of depression and anxiety

Increases the storage and release of norepineferine, which improves attention and focus.

Increases prolactin, which improves myelination and helps repair damaged neurons.

Causes a sharp increase in dynorphin, which results in an increased sensitivity to endorphins.

Heat stress from heat exposure in a dry sauna has been shown to cause a powerful increase in beta-endorphin levels, even more than exercise alone.

The bottom line is that Finnish saunas have a powerful mood-boosting effect that lasts for hours after a sauna by increasing the production of endorphins while increasing the brain and body’s sensitivity to endorphins.

Sauna and muscle hypertrophy and growth hormone

Sauna use causes an enormous secretion of growth hormone and an improved insulin sensitivity.

Growth hormone has many beneficial effects, including deceased body fat, increased lean body mass, improved energy levels, improved skin texture, thickness and elasticity, and a better overall quality of life.

Studies have shown that traditional use of a hot sauna can increase growth hormone up to 16 times its basal level.

Saunas also activate the MTOR pathway responsible for protein synthesis

Saunas reduce protein breakdown by inhibiting FOXO activation

Saunas trigger the release of heat shock proteins (HSPs) that reduce muscle breakdown

HSPs prevent cell damage by directly scavenging free radicals and by supporting the cells’ antioxidant capacity through their effects on maintaining the body’s primary endogenous antioxidant glutathione.

HSPs repair misfolded, damaged proteins, ensuring that proteins have their correct structure and function.

HSPs persist for up to 48 hours after a sauna.

Saunas and detoxification

Just like exercise – saunas increase sweating and significantly increase metabolism. Sweating helps to clean the pores, expels toxins and kills viruses and bacteria that cannot survive high temperatures.

There have been studies that have shown the value of sweating to increase the excretion of toxic heavy metals.

Sauna use and Covid-19 risk

Covid 19 is destroyed at a temperature above 158 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 minutes or more.

A study published in The Lancet Microbe looked at how temperature affected high levels of SARS-CoV-2 in lab media. The researchers found that the virus was killed after 5 minutes at 70°C (158°F).

A study in Applied Physics Letters used mathematical modeling to predict the effect of different temperatures on SARS-CoV-2. The model estimated that the virus would be killed after an average of 2.5 minutes at 70°C (158°F).

Saunas and pain relief

Saunas have shown tremendous benefits for those suffering from fibromyalgia and Lyme disease by reducing pain and discomfort. Similar benefits have been shown in arthritis.

Safe sauna use

It is critical to drink plenty of water before, during and after using the sauna, and overuse can cause heat stroke. A good rule of thumb is to drink 1 liter of water every 20 minutes of sauna use.

DO NOT drink alcohol and DO NOT use a sauna if you drink alcohol.

Use of the sauna is contraindicated for pregnant women and for both sexes if they are trying to conceive. Elevated temperature can seriously damage a developing fetus.

Sauna use is also contraindicated for people who have recently had a heart attack or stroke!

For maximum benefits based on the research, slowly build up to 20 minutes using traditional Finnish sauna 4 times a week with an air temperature of 180-200 degrees Fahrenheit. This particular dosage has been proven by multiple long-term studies to maximize the life extension and health benefits of sauna use.

Keep in mind that saunas are for relaxation, you do NOT have to be a teeth grinding experience! Start with fast shutter speeds and gradually build up the time. If you’re already starting to feel dizzy – time to get outside!

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