Although a staple in many fitness centers, saunas are often underestimated in terms of health benefits and anti-aging effects. New research has focused on the specific benefits of infrared saunas, which have similar, but enhanced features compared to traditional saunas.
While a traditional sauna is simply a small room or separate building that is used as a place to experience high levels of heat, infrared saunas include the use of light to efficiently heat up your body without heating up the air around you. While much of the research has focused on traditional saunas, infrared saunas appear to offer the same health benefits with more precision and energy efficiency.
It’s rare to find a single wellness practice that is as functional and efficient as sauna use in improving health, which is why infrared saunas are growing in popularity among biohackers and health enthusiasts are a rapid rate.
I would include myself in that statement, because I own a lovely 3-peron mPulse infrared sauna from Sunlighten that offers all three wavelengths of infrared technology, including near infrared, mid infrared, and far infrared.
In general, it’s well established in scientific literature that adding regular sauna use to your health and fitness routine can pay massive dividends in terms of health outcomes and prevention of disease. Indeed, regaular sauna use has been shown to reduce mortality from any cause by an astounding 40%!
Below are 11 profound health benefits of infrared sauna use, backed by science.
1. Sauna Use May Mimic Effects of Physical Exercise
Sauna use may function as an adaptive health and wellness tool for individuals who struggle with independent exercise. Since inflammation is a hallmark of many significant healthcare complications and chronic health conditions, it is often recognized as a predisposing factor for disease. To this point, many interventions either intentionally, or as a secondary effect, serve to reduce inflammation.
Sauna use has been shown, like exercise, to reduce inflammation and improve metabolism, thereby globally reducing health risk. For individuals with a limited capacity to exercise, this could be a helpful alternative, and a good addition to anyone’s fitness routine.
Another important benefit to consider is that sauna use can upregulate growth hormone release. Growth hormone is important for development throughout adolescence, as well as for physiologic maintenance throughout the lifespan.
2. Sauna Use Prevents Neurodegeneration
Although the mechanism of this interaction is not currently established, multiple studies have found that regular sauna bathing is correlated with lower incidence of common neurodegenerative conditions associated with aging. Many of these studies are conducted in Finland, where sauna use is prevalent, however it’s possible that these findings can be generalized to most populations.
In one study, researchers evaluated the effect of infrared light (similar to sauna conditions) on mice genetically modified to exhibit Alzheimer’s disease. In mice exposed to infrared light for 5 months, there were increased levels of nerve growth factor and brain-derived neurotrophic factor protein – both markers of brain health and neural development and regeneration.
One prevailing hypothesis is that exposure to heat increases blood flow to the brain, which may directly oppose the pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s and dementia. While results from animal studies cannot be directly extrapolated, it seems possible that infrared sauna use could have similar effects in humans.
3. Sauna Use Can Facilitate Detoxification
Perhaps one of the more obvious benefits of prolonged heat exposure is the opportunity to rid your body of toxins via sweat. Although this is a reasonable assumption, what does the research say? Sauna protocols have been used to assist in detoxification in the case of substance misuse to facilitate faster reduction of withdrawal symptoms.
Although there is not much available data, individuals that participate in this detoxification process through sauna report high levels of satisfaction and reduction in symptoms.
Importantly, sauna use is also being explored as an emerging method for detoxing from heavy metal loads, such as lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium.
4. Regular Use of Saunas Can Improve Cardiovascular Health
If you aren’t convinced yet, decreased cardiovascular risk is another profound reason to start using the sauna more frequently. Not only does sauna use improve cardiac outcomes, but this study also found that increased frequency of sauna use resulted in even greater reductions in cardiovascular risk.
Specifically, how often and how long you use the sauna is directly related to reduction in fatal cardiovascular disease events studied in both males and females.
Another group of researchers discovered that sauna use directly effects cardiovascular function through its dilatory effect, as well as regulation of the relative flexibility of arteries, changes in the types of fats present in the blood, among others.
As cardiovascular disease is of one of the major causes of death, sauna use presents an important option for holistic management and risk prevention for a massive individual and population health crisis.
5. Sauna Use Can Increase Growth Hormone Levels
How experts recommend you implement saunas in your health and fitness routine depends on what goals you hope to achieve. One recommended sauna protocol specifically intended to increase growth hormone levels includes four 30-minute sessions in a single day, once a week, with cool-down breaks in between sessions. This article recommends doing 2 of the 4 sessions early in the day, and 2 sessions later in the day to break up the time.
Alternatively, if you plan on using the sauna to improve your general health, 1 hour a week, broken up into smaller sessions, is thought to be sufficient.
Recommendations for sauna use vary, and ultimately how you incorporate this strategy into your life should depend on your individual preferences. No matter which protocol you choose, remember to stay hydrated and listen to your body.
6. Regular Use of Sauna May Enhance DNA Repair
There is some evidence that regular use of sauna can activate certain DNA repair and longevity pathways in the body. One study found that regular sauna use was associated with longer telomere length, which is a marker of cellular aging and longevity.
Another study found that sauna use was associated with increased levels of heat shock proteins (HSPs), which are involved in DNA repair and cellular stress resistance. HSPs are known to play a role in longevity and may help protect against age-related diseases.
Overall, the research suggests that regular sauna use may have beneficial effects on DNA repair and longevity pathways in the body. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings and understand the underlying mechanisms involved.
7. Sauna Use Appears to Reduce Stress Markers, Like Cortisol
A study conducted with a group of young, physically active males found that regular exposure to high temperatures via sauna use, combined with intermittent exposure to cold, resulted in less serum cortisol. One possible interpretation of this study is that the alternating hot and cold exposure reduced the biologic stress levels of the participants, through a reduction of the stress hormone, cortisol.
This could have profound implications as stress is a risk factor for virtually every acute and chronic health condition or disease.
A consistent reduction in stress could be extremely helpful in long term avoidance of adverse health outcomes, and to ameliorate to downstream implications of the constant exposure to stressors we experience as modern-day humans.
8. Sauna Use May Promote Weight Loss
Infrared saunas may promote weight loss by increasing the body’s core temperature, which in increases heart rate and may impact metabolism. This can lead to the burning of calories and the breakdown of fat cells. The deep heat of infrared saunas also promotes sweating, which helps the body eliminate toxins and excess water weight.
Additionally, the relaxing and stress-reducing effects of infrared saunas can help to decrease cortisol levels, which is a hormone that is linked to weight gain.
9. Sauna Use May Promote Pain Relief
Saunas can improve pain relief through several mechanisms. The heat and moisture in the sauna can help to relax tense muscles and increase blood flow, which can reduce pain and stiffness. The high temperatures can also stimulate the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. Additionally, the sauna can help to reduce inflammation, which can alleviate pain associated with chronic conditions such as arthritis.
Infrared saunas have been shown to be effective in reducing pain in some cases of orthopedic pain. The heat and deep tissue penetration of infrared saunas can help to increase blood flow and relax muscles, which can reduce pain and stiffness in joints and muscles.
Some research has also suggested that infrared saunas can help to reduce inflammation, which can further alleviate pain.
However, it is important to consult with a healthcare provider before using an infrared sauna for orthopedic pain, as it may not be suitable for everyone and may not be effective for all types of orthopedic pain.
10. Studies Suggest Sauna Use May Improve Depression
An increasing number of clinical studies are finding evidence that regular sauna use may improve depression. The medical term that describes the technique of using heat as a therapeutic modality is “hyperthermia”. The term hyperthermia means to elevate one’s body temperature above normal levels.
Thus, protocols that use traditional or infrared saunas to elevate a person’s core body temperature are called hyperthermia interventions. Presently, a search of the PubMed.gov database of scientific journals finds 546 research studies and papers that are exploring the correlation between hyperthermia and depression.
The primary assumption is that this effect occurs because sauna use causes the human body to produce more endorphins, which are neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of our pleasure and happiness. Sauna use also helps to reduce stress and tension, both of which can contribute to feelings of depression.
In addition, the heat and steam of the sauna can help to improve circulation, which can improve overall mood and mental clarity. Finally, sauna use is widely known to promote relaxation and feelings of well-being, which may play a role as well. After all, it can be a hit tricky to measure the emotional and mental benefits of well-planed and diligently adhered to “me time.”
Overall, regular sauna use can be an effective way to improve symptoms of depression and promote overall mental health.
11. Sauna Use May Improve Skin Health
There is some evidence that sauna use may improve collagen production. Regular sauna use may increase the body’s production of heat shock proteins, which are important for maintaining and repairing collagen in the body.
Additionally, the heat from the sauna can help improve circulation and deliver essential nutrients to the skin, which may promote collagen production.
Perhaps most importantly, certain brands of saunas, like Sunlighten’s mPulse Infrared Sauna line, incorporate near, mid, and far infrared frequencies. Near infrared, in particular, has been shown to improve skin health by:
- Increasing circulation and oxygenation in the skin, which promotes the production of collagen and elastin, leading to firmer, more youthful-looking skin
- Stimulating the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the energy source for cells and is essential for cellular metabolism and repair.
- Reducing inflammation and redness in the skin, which can help to calm and soothe irritated or inflamed skin.
- Boosting the immune system, which can help to protect the skin from harmful bacteria and viruses that can cause infection and irritation.
Put simply, near infrared light can help to improve the health and appearance of the skin by increasing its oxygen and nutrient supply, reducing inflammation, and stimulating cellular repair and regeneration.
Why Use an Infrared Sauna?
The bottom line? An infrared sauna can provide a number of benefits including improved cardiovascular health, increased circulation, enhanced immune function, detoxification, stress relief, and improved skin health.
Infrared saunas use a specific type of heat that penetrates deeper into the body, resulting in a more intense and effective sweat than traditional saunas.
This allows for a deeper detoxification and relaxation experience. Additionally, infrared saunas are generally easier to tolerate for those who may find traditional saunas too hot or uncomfortable.
If you have access, implementing a consistent regimen of sauna use is likely to improve your physical and mental health. Because infrared sauna technology is a newer but rapidly growing trend, it is likely that more and more scientific publications and trials will continue to explore the health benefits regular infrared sauna.
Personally, I’m also really excited to see future studies exploring the types of sauna protocols we should be using to more efficiently and effectively achieve all of the health benefits described above.