We know now all the many benefits from the cold exposure, whether it is reduced inflammation, improved brain function and health, better athletic performance, increased resilience to stress and more. I can’t help but think of all those cold exposure benefits without wondering.. is it the same with heat exposure?
In most modern houses or buildings there is a temperature control device, aircon or heating system that regulates what is the acceptable heat or cold variation we are ready to endure. It turns out that as well as enduring extreme cold we can also adapt to high/extreme hot temperatures and enjoy a whole new set of benefits .
So whether it is from a sauna or a steam room these benefits have been used for centuries for relaxation, stress and muscle soreness relief as well as to rid the body of toxins and boost the immune system.
Heat exposure benefits
Inflammation and pain relief
With heat exposure you get the activation of a heat shock protein HSP’s which have several effects on the body. Proteins in the body have many functions such as communication between cells, delivery of oxygen, catalyst in chemical reactions and they are a huge component in our immune system and more.
Our cells create proteins and sometimes they get denatured from the stresses of the body. HSPs help to clean up all these damaged, deformed and misfolded proteins. Our ability to perform this clean up declines with age so preventing proteins from clumping or remaining misformed is of the upmost importance for the prevention of diseases like Alzheimer’s( accumulation of beta amyloid protein) Parkinson’s, Dementia, Huntington’s and cardio vascular disease. This HSPs protein has been found in higher amounts in people that can live to 100 and more, regardless of heat exposure, so it should be of no surprise that having more HSPs increases your lifespan. Heat exposure increases by 300 percent the production of norepinephrine which is another anti inflammatory by product. Some patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis who undergo frequent sauna sessions have had a significant reduction in pain. So it seems plausible that the sauna use is reducing their pain via the production of norepinephrine. As well as norepinephrine, the body releases other anti inflammatory hormones like adrenaline, cortisol and IGF-1 all of which help in relieving pain.
Many benefits are immediate and probably due to tissues made of collagen like tendons and fascia becoming more flexible when exposed to increased temperatures, but some of these benefits can last for months.
Sauna therapy has been effective at lessening the pain experienced in some fibromyalgia and at managing some cases of rheumatoid arthritis.
Sauna use can also cause the release of endorphins, opiod-like chemicals which act as a natural pain killer.
Improve brain functions
As we have seen above, one of the body’s responses to heat exposure is the production of HSPs. Beyond it’s anti-inflammatory and longevity properties, HSP protects the brain especially in times of Ischemia, such as traumatic brain injury or during a stroke. Heat exposure has also been shown to increase the levels of BDNF brain derived neurotropics, which are a powerful regulator of brain development, memory, learning abilities and neuroplasticity. So the time spent in the sauna is very valuable for helping the brain to develop new neural tissue and preserve the integrity of the existing brain cells.
Heat exposure and in particular sauna use benefits your brain by producing brain derived neurotropic factor BDNF, which in turn promotes neuron growth. This is particularly important as with age we loose neurons in many parts of the brain and sauna bathing can be a strategy to slow down some diseases from appearing ( Alzheimer or Dementia ) or even prevent your brain from aging. In this study
Going back to the norepinephrine we see additional benefits beyond just inflammation reduction. This hormone acts to help the brain promote attention and focus.
Improves cardiovascular performance
Researchers have found that frequent sauna baths were associated with reduced risk of fatal cardiovascular disease (CVD) events (such as heart attack and stroke) and all-cause mortality. The heat from the sauna relaxes the body’s muscles, improves circulation and stimulates the release of endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s all-natural “feel good” chemical and their release provides a truly wonderful “after sauna glow.”
This heat also increases plasma volume which improves blood flow and reduces the strain on the heart . The fact that the heart doesn’t work as hard lowers the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Studies have also shown that this effect improves your endurance whether you are a trained or untrained athlete. It raises blood flow to your muscles helping with an effective supply of nutrients and oxygen. This increased blood flow also makes your muscles more efficient at removing metabolic wastes like lactic acid which in turn increases your muscle endurance.
Sweat it out
Detox deep sweating can be achieved via sauna use where the core temperature begins to rise. As the heat from the blood begins to move toward the skin’s surface the body’s nervous system sends signals to millions of sweat glands and once stimulated they start to produce sweat which is 99% percent water. This mechanism helps in keeping your core body temperature from rising too high. This profuse sweating that you experience in a sauna not only regulates your body temperature but also gets rid of toxins that have accumulated in your body. Those toxins, like lead, copper, zinc, nickel and mercury are all absorbed just from the interaction with our daily environment. Our liver is the main detoxifying organ and normally does a fine job at getting rid of the toxins that we store in our body. However, when these toxins cannot be removed by the liver they are stored in our fat cells and other organ tissues. Thankfully one of the most robust forms of detoxification is sweating, either via exercise or sauna use. This temperature rise makes the liver and the kidneys increase their metabolic activity and leading to a higher removal of toxic substances via circulation to the skin. This is a tremendous help for the liver and the kidneys. So in essence sweating enables you to kill two birds with one stone by eliminating both toxins and fat cells.
Increase muscle mass
Sauna use promotes muscle growth. During a sauna session, your body releases huge amounts of heat shock protein HSP and this helps prevent oxidative stress ( cause of muscle breakdown). This massive release of HSP has been shown to repair damaged protein that otherwise would be destroyed by the body. IGF-1 is a hormone that promotes muscle growth, and its production also increases with heat exposure. The increased insulin sensitivity from sauna use can also lead to muscle mass growth. Sauna bathing improves the body’s blood flow to muscles and more blood equals more glucose, essential fatty acids and oxygen. This results in less glycogen depletion during workouts.
Increases longevity and happiness
Right, this is what this website is all about and any information I find that increases longevity and happiness I will share it with you. We spoke about the production of HSPs by the body whilst sauna bathing and we have also discussed the benefits. This HSP protein has been found in higher amounts in people that live to 100 and more, regardless of heat exposure, so it should be no surprise that having more HSPs increases your lifespan.
Saunas are warm and quiet places where the heat relaxes the muscles, improves circulation and releases endorphins away from all distractions of everyday life. Perfect to relieve you from your daily stress. They can really help people that struggle with depression. Because of the hormetic stress that heat causes to the body, your brain produces and releases more euphoric hormones to cope with it. Since studies show that all these changes are semi permanent, it is safe to say that regular sauna use will end up making you a happier person.
Sauna use increases the hormone BDNF( brain derived neurotropics factor). Studies have shown that a rise in BDNF is an effective way to combat anxiety and depression.
As mitochondria are the energy generators in our cells they are a very important part of our levels of energy production throughout the day. So if they are not working properly your body’s ability to generate energy is impaired. Well guess what! Sauna use also helps biogenesis. This mitochondrial biogenesis process gets rid of the old ones and creates new ones therefore being a huge contributing factor in making you feel energized all day long.
Going back to the hormone norepinephrine, it also acts as a mood modulator by promoting happiness. For this reason regular sauna use could be a helpful tool for those who suffer from occasional anxiety or depression. Although it may not be enough to replace traditional therapies, certainly adding some sauna use should lend a helping hand in regulating your mood.
Traditional vs Infrared
Traditional ones use hot rocks or heating elements to warm the air between 150 and 200º F, which then warms your skin. On the other hand, the infrared ones use non visible light to directly heat the user with less heating of the air around you. Infrared ones cause more sweating because of their deeper penetration (generally 2-6 inches). So they are touted to be better for detox.
I personally use the ones at my local gyn they are traditional sauna and steam rooms (or Turkish bath, where the temperature is high in both and the humidity almost 100 percent in the later one ), I use them on a daily basis after my workout and keep alternating between sauna and steam room. On average I would use them 15 to 20 minutes per day and start sweating profusely after only 10 minutes. But I recently tried an infrared one at a friends house and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.
An infrared sauna heats your body much the same way as the sun does. This makes it vastly different to more traditional saunas where the air is heated to a high temperature and the air, in turn, heats your body.
There are two types of infrared saunas: Far infrared and near infrared saunas. The question is, what is the difference? It mainly has to do with the light spectrum.
- Near infrared
About half of the sun’s energy is released in the near infrared spectrum. Our bodies use this energy to make vitamin D in order to be healthy. Near-infrared saunas are great for the skin, gives relief from pain, raises the core temperature of your body, and helps to improve your body’s circulation.
- Far infrared
Far infrared works just like near infrared except that it works on a different wavelength. Besides the benefits of near infrared, far infrared also helps relieve stress, boosts your immune system, helps with weight loss, increases your metabolism, and detoxifies your body.
Here is a selection of saunas from the traditional to the infrared ones.
DISCLAIMER: The material on this blog is for informational purposes only. As each individual situation is unique, you should use proper discretion, in consultation with a health care practitioner, before undertaking the protocols, diet, exercises, techniques, training methods, or otherwise described herein. The author and publisher expressly disclaim responsibility for any adverse effects that may result from the use or application of the information contained herein.