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:
- Significantly improve lung function with respect to Asthma, Bronchitis, COPD, and other obstructive pulmonary diseases
- Decrease the risk of heart disease
- Improve hemodynamics and cardiac function for those experiencing congestive heart failure
- Reduce hypertension
- Decrease coronary risk factors (due to improved vascular function)
- Decrease the risk of myocardial infarction
- Decrease symptoms of depression
- Decrease rheumatic pain
- Decrease complications created by autoimmune disorders
- Decrease the severity of chronic fatigue symptoms
- Reduce anorexia
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Decrease the risk of dementia
- Decrease all-cause mortality risks by up to 40%
- Elevate growth hormone and growth hormone releasing hormone levels
- Lower cortisol levels
- Decrease symptoms of psoriasis
- Increase endorphin sensitivity
- Did you see #18?
- #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.
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.
Antidote – 2319 Timberloch Place, Suite F, The Woodlands, TX 77380 – (281) 803-9930