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Top 10 Real Sauna Benefits That Sound Totally Exaggerated

Top 10 Real Sauna Benefits That Sound Totally Exaggerated

Generations of sauna bathers have continued the tradition knowing one thing: it makes them feel better, they like it, and they can’t imagine life without it (OK, that’s 3 things).  Many Finnish men will tell you that quantifying sauna benefits is not important, “if sauna caused cancer, I would still sauna,” sums up the attitude.

For many, quantifying health benefits is just not the point of a sauna, and distracts from the practice.  If that’s you, awesome.  It’s not necessary to understand the science and research to enjoy a sauna.  You will get the health benefits either way.

However, a consistent sauna practice is a big time commitment, and if you’re like us you could use a reminder of the amazing sauna benefits from time to time.  The sauna is the most enjoyable way to increase overall health and quality of life.  Let’s be honest: exercise, fasting, and eating healthy isn’t enjoyable for most of us.

We believe knowing these benefits that are backed by science makes it easier to carve out time for yourself, and that’s a good thing.

Heat exposure is now being considered the third pillar of physical fitness, right up there with exercise and healthy diet.  Here’s why…

Decrease In All Cause Mortality by 40%

Want to live longer?  Well, studies have shown people who sauna regularly actually die less compared to those who don’t.    With all the big claims in the sauna industry, the most sensational of them all is actually backed by solid research.

The most intriguing takeaway from the study?  The frequency you sauna seems to increase longevity.  So, should you sauna every day?  Well, if you want to live longer maybe you should according to the breakthrough study published by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Men who used the sauna 2-3 each week had a 24 percent decrease in all cause mortality compared to those who took one or less saunas a week.  Men who sauna 4-7 times each week had a 40 percent decrease in mortality.

These are incredible results that need to be further studied.  This study was done over a 21 year period with 2,315 Finnish men ages 42-60 when they started.

So there you have it, time spent in the sauna is not time wasted, since statistically you may get it back at the end of your life!  If that’s not enough to make you stop reading and find the nearest sauna, we’re not sure what is but we’ll keep trying.

What’s that? You don’t care about living longer but want to improve your athletic performance fast?  Well, sauna’s just happen to…

Improve endurance by 32%

Regular sauna use has been shown to radically improve performance in endurance athletes, especially when done after a workout.  One study shows that regular sauna sessions can increase a distance runners ability to run past exhaustion by 32%.

The increased endurance gained from regular sauna use is associated with increased plasma and red blood cells, which will have compounding benefits in overall health.

The best explanation for this may be from pro surfer Laird Hamilton.  He claims thermoregulation (heating up and cooling down the body) is the most demanding thing any athlete does.  “If you train in hot and cold you can actually build that system up and make that system stronger.”

The main idea is that the body gets very efficient at managing temperature, especially when the sauna practice includes a cold exposure component like ice bath or cold shower.

The heat exposure of the sauna trains athletes to regulate their core temperature and improve peak performance by not overheating during long, demanding activities.  When an athlete starts to deteriorate in performance it’s usually because they’re overheating, especially in endurance sports.

So saunas help improve peak performance, but what about helping with peak life?

Stress relief

If you’ve ever taken a sauna, a study showing that saunas relieve stress is like a study proving saunas are hot.  You already know that.

Nevertheless, there are clinical studies have shown that frequent sauna use does wonders for stress management and anxiety.  Researchers have contributed sauna stress relief to ‘forced mindfulness’ and the “release of endorphins and other opioid-like peptides.”  There’s also a likely connection between improved sleep quality, taking time out of a busy life, and maybe even the placebo of taking time for yourself on a stress relieving activity.

This highlights how the positive benefits of sauna use are compounding, and difficult to measure.  For instance, taking time out of your day for yourself, regardless of the activity, could be contributor to the decrease in mortality for sauna users.

Another sauna benefit that ripples through general health like a vegetable is…

Better Sleep

The sleep impact of skim temperature and thermoregulation is an under-appreciated but growing field of study.  Our brains are wired to take signals from skin that it’s safe to fall asleep, and to go deeper into sleep.

During daily activity, humans body temperature rises as our anthropological ancestors were hunting, gathering, and generally surviving.  One signal that the stress of daily activity is over is the decline of core body temperature.

The drop in body temperature signals to the brain that it’s time to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin.  This is why many of us find it harder to sleep on hot summer nights, and why it may be better to only turn the AC on at night.  One way or another, you want the body temperature dropping before bed for better sleep.

It just so happens that a sauna is the best way to achieve this without additional mental stimulation before bed that could backfire.

Combats Cellular Aging

There are certain proteins that play an important role in human lifespan and healthy aging known as FOX03 proteins, which have been called the “longevity gene” for good reason.  FOX03s regulate genes that combat cellular aging, and keep important proteins, DNA, and lipids healthy while protecting stem cell function.

FOX03s can also help repress tumors, repair DNA, and maintain a healthy immune system.

While there’s no FOX03 supplement, but heat stress like sauna use helps activate them and shifts their activities toward resistance.  It’s almost like waking up and activating a super protein that can have incredible effects on anti-aging.

Heat Acclimation

Did you know saunas are common in the Middle East, Mexico, and many other hot climates?  This is because sauna exposure greatly improves your ability to handle heat in your daily life or athletic endeavors.

The San Francisco 49es Football team recently trained for their game in Tampa Bay, Florida with a sauna tent at their practice field.  In this particular sauna study, the San Francisco 49ers won the game 31-17.

Mood and Depression

Sauna has been shown to reduce the symptoms of depression, thought he studies have very small samples. ‘Repeated Thermal Therapy Diminishes Appetite Loss and Subjective Complaints in Mildly Depressed Patients’ is notable but only has a 28 person sample size. 

Another study with 30 people showed regular sauna use improved depression over a 6 week timeframe.

Beta-endorphins and the opioid system provide plenty of theory on how sauna use can improve mood and cure depression.  Additionally, the community aspect of traditional sauna culture, along with the act of taking time for oneself are both likely to improve mental health.

More research needs to be done in this field but anecdotal evidence and popular opinion is pretty unanimous that sauna use can improve mood.

Reduces Inflammation

Acute inflammation happens when the body overreacts to minor injuries or infections with local redness, swelling, or fever.

It occurs on a cellular level in response to toxins or other stressors and is often “invisible.” It plays a key role in the development of many chronic diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

C-reactive protein, or CRP, one of several blood proteins often referred to as acute phase reactants, participates in the body’s inflammatory cascade. Elevated CRP is associated with the development of atherosclerosis, loss of arterial compliance, and incidence of cardiovascular events.[53] Sauna use, however, reduces blood levels of CRP. In a study of more than 2,000 men living in Finland, CRP levels were inversely related to the frequency of sauna bathing in a dose-response fashion, with lower levels linked to greater frequency.[54]

As described above, IL-10 is a potent endogenous anti-inflammatory protein. In a study involving 22 healthy male athletes and non-athletes who received two 15-minute sauna sessions at 98.2°C (208°F) separated by a 5-minute cool shower, the men’s resting IL-10 levels increased, and this adaptation occurred faster in the athletes. A slight increase in some of the HSPs was also observed.[55]

Cognitive Health Brain Speed Hormones Spike By Up to 900%

Attention span and mental focus have been shown to increase with regular sauna use, increasing the case for saunas in public schools and universities.

In fact, norepinephrine levels, a hormone associated with focus and attention spiked 310 percent in young men subjected to exhaustion in the sauna.  Incredibly, Prolactin levels – associated with brain speed spiked by 900%

Improved Cardiovascular Health by 50%

Doctors and health experts used to warn against any sauna use for anyone with a heart condition.  Today, that may be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Regular heat exposure helps kick in a protective biological response in the body that just happens to protect against cardiovascular disease and related disabilities.  These are similar biological responses that are kicked in and associated with regular exercise.

In both sauna sessions and moderate workouts, the heart rate and blood pressure spike during the activity but decline below their normal levels afterwords.  Consistently activating that response over a long period of time can improve blood pressure, blood cell health, heart function, and reduce inflammation.

There were incredible reductions in death from cardiovascular disease (CVD) associated with frequent sauna use.   Heart related death was 27 percent lower for men who took saunas 2 to 3 times a week and 50 percent lower for men who were in the sauna 4 to 7 times a week compared with men who indulged just once per week.

Studies have also shown that sauna exposure may be effective treatment for Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), Ischemic Heart Disease, Peripheral Artery Disease, Dyslipidemia, Hypertension, Endothelial Dysfunction, and Left Ventricular Dysfunction.

Additional Considerations About Sauna Benefits

A note about sample sizes, money, and the difference between pharmaceutical drugs and lifestyle treatments.

Repeated studies and research with adequate sample size is extremely expensive.  We have good research about drugs, new technology, and anything that is patentable because the benefiting company pays for it.  Sauna research is largely limited to grad students and researchers with limited budgets.

The fact that we have so many promising leads on sauna health benefits is extremely promising, and further research will likely show regular sauna use is better than conventional medicine in many instances.

Additionally, if sauna treatment were a pharmaceutical drug, it would be given to millions of people based on the research results.  Most people have been conditioned to want a simple drug instead of fighting disease with lifestyle choices like exercise, healthy food, meditation, and sauna bathing.

Given the research, if sauna were a drug, it would be a miracle drug.

What’s The Best Sauna For Achieving Health Benefits?

Infrared Sauna Health Benefits Vs. Traditional Sauna Health Benefits

There is a lot of noise out there regarding the health benefits of infrared vs traditional saunas.  For example, infrared saunas are touted to be weight loss agents and powerful detoxification treatments. Health claims can lead to confusion and misinformation.  The first part of the health series will aim to break down and explore the existing research comparing traditional and infrared saunas.

Most sauna research has focused on traditional saunas, which heat the air around you.  The actual health research on infrared saunas is unfortunately pretty limited but so far, at this point there doesn’t seem to be any additional health benefits with infrared saunas. Both forms of sauna bathing can involve rituals of cooling-off periods with rehydration with water prior to, between, and proceeding sauna bathing.  Both types of sauna experiences increase one’s cardiac workload about as much as a brisk walk.

Infrared saunas warm your body directly which penetrates the skin more deeply and can cause someone to sweat more vigorously at lower temperatures. Some people might find this more comfortable than traditional saunas but there are no known additional health benefits due to this.

There were two studies with low subject sizes that found improvement in chronic pain and chronic fatigue syndrome. The study assessing chronic pain studied 46 subjects with chronic pain.  All underwent four weeks of standard multidisciplinary inpatient treatment, but half of the subjects were randomly assigned to participate in daily 15-minute infrared sauna sessions. After two years, the sauna-bathing subjects were significantly more likely to have returned to work (77% versus 50%), had improved sleep scores, and scored lower in pain behavior and anger scores.  Scientists Masuda et al. wrote a case report about two patients with chronic fatigue syndrome who had 25 daily infrared sauna sessions. The two subjects experienced objective improvement in fatigue, pain, and sleep.

Researchers are very careful to state that sweating in general may be associated with detoxification of the body and its not very clear how well saunas rid the body of toxins or if there is any difference between infrared or traditional saunas.  There is inconsistent evidence that infrared sauna bathing of any kind leads to sustained weight loss, decreased blood pressure, or changes in blood sugar levels. Conversely, existing research suggests that traditional saunas bathing can lower of blood pressure and decrease risk of fatal heart disease. However, traditional saunas have been researched more and that might be why there is variation in the health benefits between the two types.

Infrared sauna bathers are less likely to experience the rare side effect of sauna-induced burns due to the lower temperatures needed. For now, there don’t seem to be any significant health risks associated with either infrared or traditional saunas.

Disclaimer:  If you have pacemakers, implants, diabetes or are taking medications, it is best to ask your doctor for medical advice regarding sauna use.

Dry Sauna Benefits Vs. Wet Sauna Benefits

Nearly all studies, especially Finnish studies were done in a wet/dry sauna that starts off dry until the bather splashes water on the rocks, creating steam.  Typical sauna temperature would be around 170 degrees F and 30 percent humidity.  See The Rule Of 200 for more.

Sauna Frequency For Maximum Sauna Health Benefits

Many sauna studies, including longevity studies had a dose dependent effect.  This is important for two reasons.  The first is that it gives credibility to the study, and shows sample size and selection likely isn’t a huge problem.

The second is that it gives us an answer to how often you should sauna to get benefits.  In most dose dependent studies, those who had a regular sauna practice of 5 times or more per week had the biggest benefits.  It certainly seems like the more frequently you can sauna, the better.

Sauna Health Benefits Conclusion

Whether you want to run further, be happier, live longer, or beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, regular sauna exposure is a good bet.  Sauna benefits can be hard to quantify, especially if you are enjoying it with family or using it as a time for self reflection or meditation.

So make sauna a part of your regular routine knowing that it can benefit almost every aspect of your life.  It would be hard to find more bang for your buck, whether time or money than a sauna.  What sauna benefits have you personally experienced?

References and Research Notes

Far-infrared saunas for treatment of cardiovascular risk factors

Beever, R. (2009). Far-infrared saunas for treatment of cardiovascular risk factors: Summary of published evidence. Can Fam Physician, 55(7), 691-696.  PMC2718593. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2718593/

KEY POINTS and SAUNA BENEFITS

  • Because infrared heat penetrates more deeply than warmed air, users of far-infrared saunas (FIRSs) develop a more vigorous sweat at a lower temperature than users of traditional saunas. The cardiovascular demand imparted by thermoregulatory homeostasis is similar to that achieved by walking at a moderate pace. As such, FIRSs might be of particular benefit to those who are sedentary due to various medical conditions like osteoarthritis or cardiovascular or respiratory problems.

  • Although the evidence is limited, it does suggest a number of benefits of FIRS use, including effects on systolic hypertension, New York Heart Association class and clinical symptoms of congestive heart failure, premature ventricular contractions, brain natriuretic peptide levels, vascular endothelial function, exercise tolerance, oxidative stress, chronic pain, and possibly weight loss and chronic fatigue. No adverse events were reported in any of the studies.

Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in sweat: A systematic review

Sears, M.E., Kerr, K.J., Bray, R.I. (2012).  Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in sweat: A systematic review.  J Envir and Public Hlth, http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2012/184745.  Retrieved from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/184745/

KEY POINTS and SAUNA BENEFITS

  • Sweating offers potential and deserves consideration, to assist with removal of toxic elements from the body, a well-known sauna benefit.
  • As toxic elements are implicated in many serious chronic conditions, research is needed in patients with select conditions to evaluate the body burden and to test the efficacy of source removal, dietary choices and supplements, interventions that induce sweating, and treatments with drugs, all to enhance excretion of toxic elements with the goal of clinical improvement.
  • Both biochemical and clinical outcomes should be examined in order to develop and monitor clinical interventions that are both safe and effective.

Hussain, J. & Cohen, M. (2018).  Clinical effects of sauna bathing: A systematic review.  Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2018, Article ID 1857413, 30 pages, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/1857413. Retrieved from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2018/1857413/

KEY POINTS

  • Regular infrared and/or Finnish sauna bathing has the potential to provide many sauna benefits, especially for those with heart-related and rheumatological disease, as well as athletes seeking improved exercise performance.
  • The mechanisms for these sauna benefits may include increased bioavailability of NO (nitric oxide) to vascular endothelium, heat shock protein-mediated metabolic activation, immune and hormonal pathway alterations, enhanced excretions of toxicants through increased sweating, and other hormetic stress responses.
  • Currently there is insufficient evidence to recommend specific types of sauna bathing for specific clinical conditions. While regular sauna bathing appears to be well-tolerated in the clinical setting with only minor and infrequent adverse effects reported, further data on the frequency and extent of adverse effects is required.

The effects of repeated thermal therapy for two patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Masuda, A., Kihara, T., Shinsato, T., Minagoe, S., Tei, C. (2005).  The effects of repeated thermal therapy for two patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.  J Psychosom Res, 58(4), 383-7.  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022399904006452?via%3Dihub

KEY POINTS

  • Repeated thermal therapy might be a promising method for the treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Studies and Further Reading for Cardiovascular Sauna Benefits:

  1.  a b   Haemodynamic and hormonal responses to heat exposure in a Finnish sauna bath European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology 58, no. 5 (March 1989): 543–50. doi:10.1007/bf02330710.
  2.  ^   Cardiac Responses to Thermal, Physical, and Emotional Stress BMJ 3, no. 5818 (July 1972): 71–76. doi:10.1136/bmj.3.5818.71.
  3.  ^   The blood pressure and heart rate during sauna bath correspond to cardiac responses during submaximal dynamic exercise Complementary Therapies in Medicine 44 (June 2019): 218–22. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2019.05.002.
  4.  ^   Waon Therapy for Managing Chronic Heart Failure Results From a Multicenter Prospective Randomized WAON-CHF Study Circulation Journal 80, no. 4 (2016): 827–34. doi:10.1253/circj.cj-16-0051.
  5.  ^   Effects of Repeated Sauna Treatment on Ventricular Arrhythmias in Patients With Chronic Heart Failure Circulation Journal 68, no. 12 (2004): 1146–51. doi:10.1253/circj.68.1146.
  6.  ^   Repeated sauna therapy improves myocardial perfusion in patients with chronically occluded coronary artery-related ischemia International Journal of Cardiology 167, no. 1 (July 2013): 237–43. doi:10.1016/j.ijcard.2011.12.064.
  7.  ^   Waon Therapy Improves Peripheral Arterial Disease Journal of the American College of Cardiology 50, no. 22 (November 2007): 2169–71. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2007.08.025.
  8.  ^   Waon therapy mobilizes CD34thplus cells and improves peripheral arterial disease Journal of Cardiology 56, no. 3 (November 2010): 361–66. doi:10.1016/j.jjcc.2010.08.004.
  9.  ^  DOI: 10.5604/17342260.1133107
  10.  ^   The effect of sauna bathing on lipid profile in young, physically active, male subjects International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health 27, no. 4 (January 2014). doi:10.2478/s13382-014-0281-9.
  11.  ^   2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults Journal of the American College of Cardiology 71, no. 19 (May 2018): e127–e248. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2017.11.006.
  12.  ^   Sauna Bathing and Incident Hypertension: A Prospective Cohort Study American Journal of Hypertension 30, no. 11 (June 2017): 1120–25. doi:10.1093/ajh/hpx102.
  13.  ^   Sauna exposure leads to improved arterial compliance: Findings from a non-randomised experimental study European Journal of Preventive Cardiology 25, no. 2 (October 2017): 130–38. doi:10.1177/2047487317737629.
  14.  ^   Repeated sauna treatment improves vascular endothelial and cardiac function in patients with chronic heart failure Journal of the American College of Cardiology 39, no. 5 (March 2002): 754–59. doi:10.1016/s0735-1097(01)01824-1.
  15.  ^   Acute Hemodynamic Improvement by Thermal Vasodilation in Congestive Heart Failure Circulation 91, no. 10 (May 1995): 2582–90. doi:10.1161/01.cir.91.10.2582.
  16.  ^   Thermal vasodilation as a treatment of congestive heart failure: a novel approach J Cardiol 27, no. 1 (January 1996): 29–30

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