Research shows, visiting the Sauna/Steam room regularly is more than just a tiny and relaxing spa session. These sessions add benefits to your life across the board. Here's 10 reasons why you should add them to your weekly schedule.
How Does Heat Help? As with many stress methods of inducing benefits (ie. exercise, ice baths, fasting etc.), prolonged heat exposure prompts the body to release endorphin's that effect our mood, recovery and over all health. It also activates heat shock proteins that, when activated, prevent a specific type of damage that accumulates in our cells and causes aging. Lastly, heat opens up pores and vascular highways throughout our body making it easier to transport nutrients, waste and more.
Give Me Some Reasons! The effects of hyperthermic conditioning (heat exposure) provides value to your mind and body in the short and long term. Here are some specific benefits listed because people love lists for some reason:
1. Endurance –Studies show a 32% increase from baseline after just 3 weeks of participants using saunas twice a week at 30 minute sessions. Long aerobic workouts will raise your core body temperature and, simply put, a sauna acclimatizes your body to this raise in temperature. It improves your systems ability to perform under these hotter conditions.
2. Cardiovascular - It improves the cardiovascular system and vascular flow which leads to an increase in longevity and improved blood flow. This increases your body’s ability to transport nutrients, oxygen and hormones to various organs, including muscle groups and the brain. An increase in blood flow also translates to a healthy heart as studies show massive reductions in cardiac death.
3. Muscle Growth & Recovery – If your willing to get in a Sauna for an hour it's been shown to increase growth hormone production by up to 16 fold! Although this is extremely uncommon for the average Joe it's truth. So just do it once and you'll get MASSIVE! Just kidding! That's bro science and isn't acceptable here BUT that result did reveal increases in growth hormones across a spectrum of use. So a 20 minute session still provides this benefit with in a couple hours of working out. You remember from above that heat shock proteins get released by exposure to heat? Well these have an added benefit of "reducing degradation of proteins in our body, helping them maintain structure and function" (Pg. 5, Dr. Rhonda Patrick). Basically, the protein in your body breaks down and wears out naturally and the heat reduces this depreciation.
4. Brain function – Turns out heat release a variety of neurochemicals (such as Norepinephrine) that improve focus, memory, ability to learn and the overall speed our brains can function. Studies have also shown that not only does heat exposure increase Norepinephrine but it also improves your ability to store it. A cherry on top is the added blood flow to our brains from #2 above.
5. Longevity - In a study that took place (with men) across 20 years using the sauna 20 minutes 2 - 3 times a day reduced mortality (non-accidental) across the board by 24% and 40% for those who had 4 - 7 sessions per week. At this point you may be asking yourself; why not just go to the sauna right now? And my answer is because there's still 5 to go so sit tight...
6. Skin Care - The skin is the largest organ of our body and it takes a ton of abuse from the sun and our daily routines. Deep sweating, like that experienced in a sauna, increases the rate at which our old dead skin cells are replaced by new ones keeping our skin soft and moist. Ever wonder why you see people getting swatted by branches in spas? "A natural bristle brush, loofah or rough washcloth, on a dry body helps to remove dead skin cells, allowing the sauna to penetrate the skin in a more efficient manner. In Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, bunches of green branches are often used, whereby the skin is gently swatted to activate blood circulation and to slough off waste before entering the sauna" (The Dry Brush Technique, Michelle Kadison).
7. Improves Sleep - Researchers have found that a sauna can help provide a deeper, more relaxed sleep, most likely due to a release of endorphins. I listen to a podcast called JRE where I first heard of a routine I still apply because it feels so sensational. Once you finish your session in the sauna (mine are 20 minutes) jump into an ice cold shower. It's a fantastic feeling before you sleep (Cold showers already are) and helps trigger a deep slumber.
8. Detoxifying - The skin's main gig is detoxifying our body. Sweating in a sauna improves our skins ability to do this. In a study completed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) they found 212 chemicals in people blood and urine. These toxins accumulate and become burdens on our body so sweating them out takes some of the work off our skins' daily grind.
9. Improves Immune System – Studies have shown that post sauna sessions, our white blood cell count increases as well as other cells that stimulate the immune system. This helps prevent and recover from seasonal illnesses.
10. Builds Mental Toughness - Try to sit in a sauna for 15 minutes your first time and you'll need to apply some mental toughness as it's not easy. If you're a regular, go for longer. The time counts down slowly especially at the end and you start going a little crazy. Anything we can add to our routine that challenges the voice in our head that wants to quit every chance it gets helps in many facets of life.
Not only can you receive these positive benefits over prolonged sauna use, it feels great and it offers some valuable quiet time without cellphones, TVs or social media. It's an addition to your schedule that's positive and puts you through a little bit of hell (good stress) which is always great. Find yourself a local sauna/steam room and include it into your weekly routine.
PS. The references are in no particular style. It's more important to me to acknowledge the research & work I used to gather this information than to do it in a formal way. Dr. Rhonda Patrick released an entire report on the benefits of sauna use on her website which helped form the basis for this list. Ben Greenfield's blog also presented a ton of info. Lastly the the research has been referenced in article.
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