Get Sweaty – Benefits of Sauna Use
When people think of the word “sauna” they have a flashback to pouring water on rocks and sitting in the release of steam. From American Indian or indigenous sweat lodges to Finnish saunas, usage has been around for over a thousand years. Recently, the use of infrared saunas has become mainstream. Infrared saunas use infrared heat to accomplish the same outcome as traditional saunas without the steam or moisture. So, what’s the deal? Why is sweating such a hot topic, and should it be on your radar?
Why use a Sauna?
One of the primary purposes of the sauna is to increase blood flow (1). As the core body temperature begins to rise, blood vessels dilate and increase blood flow and release sweat. When our blood is flowing, we get proper oxygen and nutrient delivery to our tissues (2,4). As blood flow increases, heart rate increases. This increases circulation of oxygen to muscles and brain, allowing faster recovery of sore muscles, improved athletic performance and improved brain function due to growth of new brain cells (2,4). In addition to toxin excretion via the liver and kidneys, sweating via the skin is a primary mode of detoxification. Sweat has been shown to release heavy metals, like arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury that we come into contact with on a regular basis(3).
Other Sauna Benefits
With consistent use of a sauna and sweating, additional benefits include:
- Improved blood pressure (5)
- Increased growth hormone (5-6)
- Increased insulin sensitivity (7)
- Boost HPA axis function (5,6, 8)
- Increased Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) (9)
- Enhanced memory, focus and mood (6, 10, 11 )
- Increased detoxification on chemicals like phthalates and BPA (12-13)
- Improved appearance of skin (15)
What to look For
Prior to purchase, you want to make sure you’re investigating the quality of a sauna unit. Units that use toxic glues or plastics can end up leaving you feel worse. Additionally, the type of wood impacts the quality, as some woods, like hemlock, are very porous and can create skin and respiratory issues (14). Alternatively, basswood is hypoallergenic and a much better wood for sauna use. Cedar is another good option as long as you’re not sensitive to the smell. You don’t want to get into a sauna for the health benefits to find that you’re inhaling environmental toxins.
Sauna manufacturers should also be able to tell you or provide proof of EMF, or electromagnetic field output, of their infrared heaters. While there is no EMF-free unit, there are companies that take additional steps to keep the microns low. Lowest EMF output is ideal, as we don’t know all the repercussions of long-term exposure to electromagnetic fields.
Brand recommendations include: Clearlight by Jacuzzi, High Tech Health and Sunlighten.
There are many types of saunas that raise the core temperature and induce sweating. These include dry saunas and steam rooms, but infrared saunas take the sauna game up a level. To make things more confusing, there are also different wavelengths of infrared; far, mid and near. It’s impossible to have all three wavelengths going off one heater, so be cautious if you’re being sold that message. An infrared sauna won’t get as hot as some people expect, but that’s part of the beauty. Don’t get wrapped up in that surface temperature and assume, “I’m in sauna, I should be on fire.” It will still be warm and you will sweat because you’re raising the core temperature of the body, not just heating the surface of the skin.
Infrared light is the invisible part of the sun and can penetrate through human skin. We get all three of these wavelengths in nature (another reason to step outside).
- Far infrared is the longest wavelength of infrared heat and it reaches the deepest tissues.
- Mid infrared is a shorter wavelength and focuses on the soft tissue of the body (like where body fat is stored).
- Near infrared is invisible to the naked eye. It helps boost mitochondria and cellular repair.
- Maximum sweat is achieved after 15-20 minutes of sauna use. Beginners may choose to start slow and work their way up to a comfortable level of time in the sauna.
- Best recommendations are 3x per week at 30-60 minutes, but you’d want to work up to that.
- Take a bottle (or three!) of water into the sauna and hydrate hydrate hydrate!
- Towel off the sweat as it rises to the surface. You want to remove the sweat (WASTE) from your skin.
- The more clothing you wear, the more infrared that is blocked. To maximize your sweat and benefits, minimize your clothing. In a public sauna, loose shorts and tank might be appropriate.
- Take a book or some other reading material! Make this your “me” time. If you have a hard time sitting still, this will make the time go quickly and have you anticipating your next session to finish your reading.
- Never drink alcohol before sauna use.
- As usual, those with a recognized medical condition, like high blood pressure or heart issues, or pregnant women should consult their physician prior to sauna use.
Life is stressful, so why not protect yourself from negative impacts and start on a cellular level… it might be the most relaxing and health boosting thing you’ve never tried!