The 411 on Saunas and Sauna Benefits
Whether you’ve tried it out at your gym, have one installed in your home or you’ve just looked in as people clothed in towels relax and lounge inside you probably have some type of experience with a sauna. But did you know that a sauna can come in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles?
There are your standard hot air saunas, infrared saunas, infrared body wraps and steam saunas, each of which provide similar, yet slightly varying sauna benefits.
It has been documented throughout human history, heat can be an effective treatment for healing, pain relief, detoxification and more. Sweat lodges, bath houses and heat therapy tools are used all over the world, but the type of heat generated is not always the same. Many say the European, Nordic or Finnish people made the use of saunas popular because they used them for warmth, medicinal reasons and wellness benefits. Ancient cultures employed heat therapy to induce sweat, soothe the muscles and promote deep relaxation, if you think about it that way, not much has changed! Since ancient times sauna culture has spread and people worldwide are using saunas, infrared body wraps and heat acclimation to achieve wellness and performance results.
Are Infrared Body Wraps Exactly like Saunas?
We’ve talked about the differences between a traditional infrared sauna and an infrared body wrap before, but two of the most important factors are session length and heat proximity.
A sauna session usually tops out at about 20-30 minutes because the body cannot handle breathing in the hot air for much longer. Furthermore, an infrared sauna requires the heat to pass through much more space to penetrate the body. Infrared body wrap sessions are often about one hour and allow for the participant to relax and breathe room temperature air. Many of the benefits are often achieved within the last half hour of the session because it takes the body a bit of time to raise its temperature and begin sweating. Thus, infrared body wraps are significantly more effective.
What about steam saunas you ask? Steam room benefits may have some similarities, but are a different style. A steam room fills the space with moisture and hot air, leaving the participant damp and not able to withstand a long exposure. A sauna, specifically an infrared sauna is a dry room (or body wrap!) and though the heat produced is dry it does penetrate the body and trigger the participants sweat glands to provide benefits that only infrared heat can deliver.
Benefits of a Sauna
- Deep Sweating can be achieved during sauna bathing and this allows for toxin flushing, calorie burning and skin cleansing. Regular detoxification through sauna use can reduce the effects of toxic overload which include fatigue, joint and muscle pain, recurrent sickness, mood swings and more.
- Heat Acclimation increases blood flow to skeletal muscles, reducing the body’s dependence on glycogen stores. Glycogen is the fuel our muscles use for energy production and when we can optimize our glycogen stores it’s typically a good thing. Heat acclimation can also help you sweat sooner and more than you may be used to. Those who are active and conditioned to sweat may convert chemical energy to work energy faster, allowing them to experience more benefits from their workouts.
- Improved performance in endurance sports is a sought-after sauna benefit that is related to heat acclimation. Regular exposure to infrared heat can increase the heat tolerance threshold allowing the participant to feel less fatigue when playing their sport.
- Increased blood flow to the heart as well as the skin can improve a variety of health and skin conditions. This increased blood flow is also excellent for activating the nervous system, which can allow you to start sweating at a lower core body temperature. This means you may see the results you desire faster.
- Pain relief is often noticed with the use of infrared heat, especially in the body wrap form. The soothing heat can relax the muscles, soothe body pain and act on aggravated nerve endings to calm them down. Infrared is especially helpful for those with arthritis, fibromyalgia and chronic pain.
- Weight loss happens because of the increased perspiration the body experiences during sauna use. Each gram of sweat burns around .586 calories and the more sweat we produce the more calories we can burn.
- Relaxation makes a HUGE difference in our health. Dealing with high-stress situations day after day without a release can cause numerous health problems, prevent weight loss, alter sleep patterns and negatively affect mood.
- Skin improvements and anti-aging effects are also a common sauna benefit. The sweat produced while your body is warm can help to clean the pores, improving acne, breakouts and dry skin concerns.
While there are tons of benefits, some of which we didn’t get to list here it is important to know the results can vary. For any type of sauna, infrared, body wrap or heat therapy use we always recommend drinking enough water for your body and checking with your doctor if you are unsure about your health conditions. As long as you are hydrated and in good health regular infrared exposure can improve your quality of life and assist you with reaching your health and wellness goals.
- Hyperthermic Conditioning For Hypertrophy, Endurance, And Neurogenesis. YouTube: Rhonda Patrick, PH.D., 2014. video.
- Boston, Gabriella. “Sweat Not Only Keeps You Safe During A Workout, It Improves Performance”. Washington Post. N.p., 2015. Web.
- Dr. Mercola. “The Many Health Benefits Of Sauna Bathing”. Mercola.com. N.p., 2016.