Working up a sweat has been used to improve health in cultures around the world for thousands of years.
However, we’re not talking about exercise-induced sweat (although we all know how important that type is!). This sweat session is much, much hotter.
And, as it turns out, offers an unbelievable amount of benefits.
Welcome to the awesome world of the sauna.
While you may think sitting in a hot room is doing nothing more than increasing your circulation a little, or removing “a few toxins,” there’s actually much, much more going on inside your body during a session. Think increased collagen production, heavy-metal removal, immune support, and more!
Here we’re going to dive into these benefits and why I use saunas, but before we do, it’s important to know the difference between types of saunas.
Types of Saunas
There are four main categories of saunas:
- Traditional Saunas: Using a stove or hot rocks/coals to generate heat, these saunas maintain the highest external heat of the four categories. Unlike some other forms of saunas (steam or infrared) the only thing heating your body is the external temperature, which may be more uncomfortable than some other types, especially if you’re sensitive to dry heat.
- Steam Saunas: Using some form of humidification device or process, steam saunas pump heated moisture into the air to force you to sweat.
- Infrared Saunas: Unlike a traditional sauna, infrared saunas don’t heat the air around you. Instead, they use infrared light to warm your body from the inside out. These light waves penetrate several layers deep into your skin (don’t worry, you don’t feel anything!) which has significant benefits.
- Dry Saunas: A dry sauna also uses a device – be it a stove, electric heater, etc – to generate warmth, but with zero humidity. Here, the temperature is lower than a traditional sauna, but the dryness can cause you to flush more water (which can carry out more toxins) than steam saunas.
While some types offer different benefits than others, there isn’t necessarily a “best” when it comes to saunas. We’ll break down the benefits of traditional and infrared saunas below, so you can pick your ideal sweat.
Benefits of Saunas (Traditional and Infrared)
Boost in Circulation
An increase in body temperature equals an increase in heart rate, which equals an increase in circulation. Why do you want to improve your circulation? Well-circulated blood ensures fresh oxygen and nutrients are able to reach your organs, muscles, and skin more efficiently, which can lead to enhanced repair and growth.
Additionally, saunas also improve lymph circulation, which is an important fluid that transports toxins from your body.
Think of your circulation systems like a vacuum cleaner; if it’s emptied often, it picks up more dirt. If it’s never emptied, it can only pick up so much because it is backed up with debris. Sauna helps keep things moving!
Support Cardiovascular Health
This perk has been revealed by way of some heavy research, but essentially, the heat from saunas is a catalyst to vasodilation (dilation of your blood vessels), reduced arterial stiffness and blood pressure, and improved regulation of your autonomic nervous system. Ultimately, sauna can help your heart pump blood more efficiently through your body.
Can Improve Flexibility and Recovery
If you use your time in the sweat tank to drop into a few yoga poses or stretches, your heated (and therefore more pliable) muscles will respond with improved flexibility. In addition, the heat also flushes out lactic acid, which is responsible for delayed-onset muscle soreness (aka: the thing that makes it hard to walk the next day after a killer leg session).
Clears Your Skin
Like your vascular system, your pores also dilate in the heat. By hitting the sauna, you’re essentially making way for your skin to release all the dirt and toxins captured under closed pores, which is a cause of some types of acne.
Research shows that the heat from saunas can relax muscles and release endorphins – both of which can reduce stress. Not to mention, sauna-time is usually a quiet time where you escape from the world for 15-30 minutes, which can also reduce stress hormones.
Infrared light in general offers perks of its own, which is why so many yoga studios have swapped out traditional piped heating for the addition of infrared heating panels. Below are some of the reasons why:
Immune system boost
Infrared saunas, in essence, induce an artificial fever (which is what our body uses to kill off viruses). This boost in internal temperature makes our antiviral and antibacterial immune responses more efficient, while generating low levels of internal stress that our body uses to practice a healthy response to external stressors, and helps lead our body into deep sleep – another critical factor for having healthy immune response.
More collagen production: The combination of heat and infrared light boosts collagen production, which can reduce and prevent aging. In addition, infrared light waves can also reduce skin pigmentation (dark or brown spots) while also reducing fine lines.
Reduced inflammation: Research has shown the infrared light can help reduce inflammation by penetrating into the deep layers of tissues, muscles, organs, and even cells. This is fantastic news if you have inflammation caused by injuries, and can even help you recover faster from a killer session.
Even more flexibility: Check out this research, which suggests that infrared heat can boost flexibility even further, by up to 205% in one session!
Like with everything else, consult with your doctor before hopping into a sauna. The intense heat can create an adverse reaction if you have asthma, heart disease, low or high blood pressure and other health concerns or are pregnant or taking certain medications.
Further, you need to ensure you enter with proper hydration levels. Bring a huge bottle of water (or sip on a coconut water to replace lost minerals in sweat).
Benefits of Sauna Overview:
To recap, sauna can:
• Reduce inflammation
• Boost collagen production
• Increase flexibility and boost recovery
• Reduce stress
• Boost immunity
• Help clear skin
• Support heart health
Check online for a local sauna near you (most of them offer a free first session so you can try them out!) and get to sweating it out a few times a week or month!