Sweat It Out in the Sauna

Sweat It Out in the Sauna

You’ve got nutrition and exercise covered, but what about the spa portion of your wellness and longevity plan?  Spending anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes 2 to 3 times a week sweating it out in the sauna can significantly increase your lifespan and quality of life.  Sauna bathing has been linked to heart, brain, and skin health, and is a relaxing way to help detoxify your body of heavy metals such as cadmium, arsenic, and lead.

Health Benefits of Saunas 

The skin is the largest organ of the body, and sweating is one of your body’s primary means of detoxification.  Sweating in the sauna helps to cleanse your pores and clear up any blackheads, whiteheads, or acne.  Sauna bathing improves blood flow, alleviates mental stress, and promotes muscle relaxation.  At temperatures above 98.6° F, the sauna can help kill bacteria and viruses that cannot exist in such high temperatures.  Soaking in a sauna can even help you burn calories because it raises your metabolic rate.  In fact, one hour spent in a sauna (not recommended unless you’re in a low-temp sweat lodge designed for prolonged use) can burn nearly as many calories as one-hour spent biking!

Yes, Saunas Do Detoxify 

Studies suggest that sweating can help you eliminate toxic elements that have accumulated in your body.  A systematic review published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health demonstrated that cadmium, mercury, arsenic, and lead were all more highly concentrated in sweat than in plasma or urine concentrations.  So, let’s sweat those toxins out!

Reduce Pain and Increase Longevity

Infrared saunas aren’t as hot as traditional high-heat saunas are, but they lower your body temperature quicker and are able to seep into your tissues with infrared rays.  It’s easier to spend more time in infrared saunas depending on how well you tolerate the heat.  Infrared saunas have been studied for their effects on pain reduction.  One study showed athletes undergoing intense training sessions recovered faster when they used infrared saunas.

Sauna bathing has also been shown to be an effective pain management therapy for people with rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and lyme disease.  A small-scale study made up of 13 patients revealed that patients with fibromyalgia or lyme disease enjoyed a decrease in pain after the first sauna session, and a reduction in pain of 20-78% after 10 sessions.  A second study of 44 fibromyalgia sufferers indicated a 33-77% reduction in pain, and 6 months after the study’s end, pain reduction was still at 28-68%.
As for longevity benefits, a 2015 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine points to some very positive benefits of sauna bathing on cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.  Researchers followed more than 2000 middle-aged men from Finland for 20 years and concluded: “This study provides prospective evidence that sauna bathing is a protective factor against the risk of SCD, fatal CHD, fatal CVD, and all-cause mortality events in the general male population.  Our results suggest that sauna bathing is a recommendable health habit, although further studies are needed to confirm our results in different population settings.”

Sauna Safety Tips 

Spending too much time in a sauna and not hydrating with enough water can put you at risk for heat stroke and even possible death.  Raising your core body temperature should be eased into and practiced with caution.  Here are a few safety tips:

  •  Only use public saunas that follow strict cleaning guidelines.  You and your sauna buddy are eliminating toxins, and you don’t want to absorb toxins from other people!
  • Stay hydrated.  Guzzle water before, during, and after your sauna session.
  • Do not drink alcohol before, during, or just after sweating in a sauna.  Doing so can greatly increase your risk of a cardiovascular event.
  • Gradually build up your resistance to the heat.  Don’t try to compete with the sauna marathoner who is a tri-weekly pro.  Try staying in the sauna for just 5 minutes… then 10… gradually building up your heat tolerance.
  • Take a cool rag or bag of ice in with you.  Place the ice bag or rag on your forehead or under your neck to chill out in the heat.