Dry Sauna: 20 Peer-Reviewed Reasons to Use It

sauna

Looks relaxing, doesn’t it?

 

It is one of the least used and least understood pieces of equipment in the average health club, but there are a number of reasons why adults and children should be making its use a regular priority. Given the number of benefits it provides, it is definitely more important than the squat rack that’s always taken by guys doing bicep curls (it should be mentioned, the squat rack is not for bicep curls).

You need to be using the dry sauna. Regularly

Most of my clients make a sour face when I say that. Why would anyone honestly want to go into a tiny wooden room to sit and sweat for an extended period of time? It’s disgusting. It’s boring. It takes too much time. I know. Read on.

It works. I’ll be addressing the aforementioned sanitary issue in an upcoming post on sauna etiquette (preview: Shower off the axe body spray or everyone will hate you. Heat increases the evaporation rate of the known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors Axe contains. If that doesn’t bother you, congratulations! You’re a terrible, inconsiderate person that does bicep curls in the squat rack), but for now you can rest-assured in knowing that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.

Studies have consistently shown that regular sauna use can:

  1. Significantly improve lung function with respect to Asthma, Bronchitis, COPD, and other obstructive pulmonary diseases
  2. Decrease the risk of heart disease
  3. Improve hemodynamics and cardiac function for those experiencing congestive heart failure
  4. Reduce hypertension
  5. Decrease coronary risk factors (due to improved vascular function)
  6. Decrease the risk of myocardial infarction
  7. Decrease symptoms of depression
  8. Decrease rheumatic pain
  9. Decrease complications created by autoimmune disorders
  10. Decrease the severity of chronic fatigue symptoms
  11. Reduce anorexia
  12. Improve insulin sensitivity
  13. Decrease the risk of dementia
  14. Decrease all-cause mortality risks by up to 40%
  15. Elevate growth hormone and growth hormone releasing hormone levels
  16. Lower cortisol levels
  17. Decrease symptoms of psoriasis
  18. Increase endorphin sensitivity
  19. Did you see #18?
  20. #18 means sauna use will make you feel good, and then make it easier for you to feel good in the long-term.

There are contraindications, of course. Specific heart conditions, acute phases of certain respiratory conditions, high-risk pregnancies, etc, but it is important to note that sauna is safer on the heart than most daily activities for almost everyone. It is safe during normal pregnancy in healthy mothers, doesn’t decrease fertility in men or women, and is safe and well tolerated in healthy children.

It is also important to note that all of the studies related to the detoxifying effects of sauna use were radiant-heat saunas, as infrared saunas typically don’t reach the same temperatures as radiant-heat saunas. Infrared heat doesn’t penetrate as deeply either; with near infrared being the deepest tissue penetration of IR heat, infrared only acts primarily on the cutaneous nerves and vessels (making it great for the circulatory system).

Most of the studies I reference were conducted using Finnish saunas with temperatures ranging between 80-100° C (176-212° F) at 10-20% humidity. Most gym saunas in the US are capped (arbitrarily) at 82°C (180°F). In my experience, hotter is preferable (shout-out to Vōda Spa in West Hollywood with the giant, scorching banya).

The takeaway from all of this, though, is that sauna use can be good for you, even if you have health problems. If you don’t have health problems, regular use of the sauna has been proven to decrease your risk of ever getting them. You have a membership at a health club to stay healthy, fit, and perform at your best, so do it.

hockey-sauna

“Is this heaven?” “No, this is Finland.”

And athletes, I didn’t forget about you. The performance benefits cannot be overstated, but you have to use it right. Sauna increases skin temperature, cutaneous blood flow, heart rate, and cardiac output. Important to consider for exercise and performance, though, is the fact that it does NOT increase blood flow to the muscles or internal organs. Why is that important?

Sauna is not an effective warm-up. A warm-up for sport, competition, activity, etc, is designed to increase blood flow to the muscles and connective tissues surrounding the joints that will be used to prepare the body for intense activity. Awkward stretching or Floyd Mayweather style shadowboxing right before a workout seems right because we’ve seen other people do it, but it doesn’t make sense if your goal is a better workout. Skip the sauna before (or directly after) your session.

To achieve the best results from your time spent sitting in the heat, it is best to use it as a separate session altogether like, say, a massage or mobility session, or one of your two-a-days (think about the growth hormone/cortisol relationship). The sauna is a tool for recovery as much as it is for general wellness. Its short-term influence on growth hormone can also significantly reduce the symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness and other soft tissue injuries like sprains and tears.

Just as with your exercise routine, you will need a well programmed and planned sauna routine that works as a complement to what you do in the kitchen and the training room. What is your goal? The general recommendations only work until they stop working—then you need to get specific.

I’d love to help you design a good protocol that works, but you have to consult your healthcare provider first. Since I’m not a doctor, I would love to share with you the peer-reviewed research that I have found and you can discuss that with your doctor. Knowledge is power.

 

 

For more information, you can contact me here, here, here, here, here or here:

Antidote – 2319 Timberloch Place, Suite F, The Woodlands, TX 77380 – (281) 803-9930

 

“Non-Responder”

When I was a personal trainer at VillaSport, I ran into this “nonresponder” problem quite a bit. The place has a magnificent cardio floor, occupied day and night by the young and old, male and female, endlessly burning calories. You could even set your watch by some of the dedicated. Some are still up there, these years later, and some, fortunately, have changed it up and seen their bodies change as a result.

 

We have a lot of triathletes in The Woodlands, and running is incredibly popular here because of it. Unfortunately, through no fault of its own, it is the most visible of “healthy” exercise choices, mainly due to the fact that scores of generally thin, toned people crowd the sidewalks and roadways, pounding the pavement, at any given time of day. For the newly dedicated to fitness, this may seem to be the most efficient path to reaching their goals, no matter what they are.

 

“Tough Mudder? There’s running in that so I might as well start there.”

“Weight loss? Yeah, you gotta burn calories to lose weight.”

“Something new? Yeah, I’m running a half-marathon this year.”

 

Dedication is absolutely necessary to achieving any goal. Unfortunately, when it comes to exercise, that isn’t the only variable that is involved. “The Biggest Loser” is a fantastic example of this, as most contestants have a rebound weight gain shortly after the show ends. You have to create a good base of training, otherwise the short-term “honeymoon phase” will be just that, short term, after which you find yourself with unrealized expectations and potential, looking for something else fulfilling.

 

Long-term success with any fitness routine requires that it be analytical and harmonic, adapting with the needs of the individual on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis. You can be as dedicated as you want to a specific modality and spend countless hours doing it, but unless it causes your body to continually adapt, you’re just going through the motions. In the best case, you’re wasting time, in the worst case, you’re injuring yourself and making the work harder, later.

 

How does your training affect your body’s primary energy systems? Are those energy systems being recruited to their full potential? What about the muscles in your kinetic chain, do you have them all? That is to say, do you possess the cortical map (brain power) to actually cause the right muscles to fire given the right circumstances? What about your joints? Can you move your toes? That sounds ridiculous but a great majority of my clients can’t differentiate between their big and little toes. That affects rotation of the foot, which affects the knee, which affects, among others, the hip, SI joint, shoulder, and head.

 

This is not a post designed to bash running, I truly believe there is a fundamental human joy in being able to do it. What I am trying to convey, however, is the importance of thinking about the end goal. If you want to lose weight, for example, why choose running as a modality? If you want to run marathons forever, why start with running? Why not create, through training, the best foot, then the best ankle, then the best knees, hips, etc. It doesn’t take long at all when you substitute the right exercise for the wrong exercise.

 

Foundational to manipulating a training regimen for specific goals is knowledge of the rules that dictate the body’s isolated structures and their global relationships. The NYT article I shared recommends trying all sorts of modalities out for a month to see how you respond to each, to find the one that “works for you.” I recommend you find yourself a coach that knows about the body. A personal trainer will happily guide you through endless “whatevers” (as I call them)—miles, sprints, wall ball slams, box jumps, jump-around-like-a-jackass’s— but a good coach will set you up with a program that builds you a base wide enough to support whatever lofty goals you may have today or whatever new goals may come tomorrow.

 

Contact Antidote, 2319 Timberloch Place, Suite F, The Woodlands, TX, 77381, 281-803-9930