Saunas have been in use for thousands of years, and may very well be one of the oldest known forms of self care. Many ancient societies understood the benefits of traditional saunas: they were a staple in Roman times, and were used as communal places. In fact, the Laconicum, or Roman steam room, sometimes used dry heat, as infrared saunas do today.
Romans and Scandinavians weren’t the only cultures to appreciate the benefits of a good sweat season. Many indigenous tribes also used saunas, steam rooms, or sweat lodges, for purification and healing.
Steam sauna use has always been particularly popular in Scandinavia. In fact, nearly every house and apartment building in Finland includes a sauna, whether private or communal.
Like so many other everyday items, the sauna has gotten a modern makeover. Rather than using steam and rocks, as the old-school Finnish saunas did, many newer saunas utilize infrared light. The incorporation of infrared heat retains the benefits of traditional sauna, but also elevates it, incorporating new benefits. More and more research is finding that infrared saunas– sometimes called ir saunas or dry heat saunas– can help with many health conditions.
Here are some key benefits of an infrared sauna session:
Infrared Sauna Treatments Help The Cardiovascular System
While there is certainly more research to be done on the health benefits of infrared sauna therapy, one area where it is particularly helpful is in improving cardiovascular function. Given that heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, this is definitely something to sit up and take notice of.
Infrared saunas use a very similar infrared light to those used to warm premature infants in neonatal beds. These lights radiate infrared light heat, which penetrates more deeply into the body than the hot air in traditional saunas. This causes the heart to respond by pumping faster. That increased heart rate offers similar benefits to exercising moderately.
Several studies have found a correlation between sauna use and improved cardiovascular health. The sauna use was linked to several improvements, including reducing arterial stiffness and lowering blood pressure.
Better Blood Flow
One of the most remarkable effects of a good sauna session is its facilitation of better blood flow. Sitting in a sauna can cause one's internal body temperature to rise by as much as 3/5 degrees Fahrenheit. Like many other materials, blood vessels constrict in the cold and expand or widen in the heat. That helps promote good blood circulation, just as unclogging a drain would release a clog.
The increased blood flow after infrared sauna therapy also offers several benefits in and of itself, aside from simple improved blood vessel function. Opening up the blood vessels improves circulation, which then helps oxygenate cells and muscles, providing fuel for them. And, because blood carries waste back to the kidneys and liver, infrared sauna heat also helps with detoxification. (More on that later.)
Getting rid of that excess waste can also help reduce pain and soreness and in general, promotes better tissue health and overall facilitates better organ function.
Another Way Infrared Sauna Benefits The Body: Detoxification
Detoxification is one of the most well-known health benefits of sauna bathing. When you step into a sauna, one of the first things the body does in reaction to that high temperature is start to sweat.
Sweating cools the body down, and also helps remove toxins. As you may know, the liver and kidneys are the body's main 'cleansing' organs, so to speak. However, sweat glands also release toxins, via the body's largest organ: the skin. Fat cells tend to carry more toxins than other cells but don’t function properly when they are carrying high levels of toxins. Studies show that sweat produced from sauna sessions contained various heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury.
(Note: Have you ever been in a sauna and asked yourself ‘Why don’t I sweat in my infrared sauna?’ If you aren't sweating in your infrared sauna, it may not be hot enough. If the temperature is high enough to where you should be sweating, but aren't, consult your doctor.)
Like Steam Saunas, Infrared Sauna Therapy Helps With Pain Relief
Spending time in hot environments, whether heated by water, steam, or infrared heat, immediately affects nerve endings and can slow or decrease the pain signals those nerves send to the brain.
The scientific findings on this one are impressive. A 2018 study in Korea found that 70 percent of participants reported that regular sauna use was successful in reducing their low back pain. Another study, this one from Japan, revealed that patients with chronic pain reported that their pain scores decreased drastically.
Nasa also did some research on this, and determined that infrared heat deeply penetrated the cells, triggering cell growth.
Last but not least, a 2003 study also revealed that infrared heat increased the production of white blood cells, which reduced inflammation and reduced swelling.
Infrared Sauna Therapy Can Lead To Reduced Stress
Spending time in saunas is also great for stress relief. The heat is just naturally very relaxing, as anyone who has ever wanted to unwind with a hot bath or shower can attest to.
Relaxing shouldn’t be something one considers a luxury: it’s important to personal health! Stress has been linked to several harmful conditions. It not only is a huge risk factor for strokes and heart attack, but it also contributes to weight gain, headaches, muscle tension, depression, anxiety, and impedes cognitive health.
One common question first-time sauna users ask is: Can I bring my phone in a sauna? It's really not recommended. Even though phones today are hardier than ever, they're still electronics, and generally just don't really do well at extreme temperatures.
That said, even if you can bring your phone into the sauna, that doesn't mean you should. After all, infrared saunas are a place to relax, rewind, and unplug.
Many infrared saunas have Bluetooth capacity. Consider leaving your phone outside, and pulling up a playlist for the infrared sauna Bluetooth speaker instead.
Both Infrared And Traditional Saunas Relieve Joint Pain
Another benefit of using infrared saunas is that they can help soothe joint and muscle pain.
This is because the heat of a sauna helps boost circulation, pushing blood through the body. Better circulation means increased cell oxygenation. This in turn helps reduce inflammation and relieve swelling, both of which are often factors in chronic pain. Many studies have shown that sauna sessions can help ease symptoms of arthritis and joint pain. Athletes also enjoy increased recovery time after a hard workout.
Like a traditional sauna, infrared saunas have been used to relieve pain not just in the low back, but also from rheumatoid arthritis, headaches, chronic pain, muscle soreness, and soothe symptoms from rheumatic disease.
Infrared Saunas May Help Lower Blood Pressure
Regularly using an infrared sauna may also help reduce blood pressure. Improved circulation and other cardiovascular effects are one reason for this. High BP is also often closely tied to stress, which is another thing that infrared sauna sessions may help with.
High BP has been linked to many harmful conditions, but it's particularly bad for the heart, and increases the risk of stroke and cardiac arrest.
Not one for the gym? Don’t worry: Intense workouts aren't the only option for burning calories. Sauna sessions offer the same exercise benefits as a brisk walk or another type of moderate exercise, such as yoga or Pilates.
While for most of us, lower BP numbers would be a good thing, this is something for people with low numbers to be aware of, as it would be recommended that they consult their doctors before using an infrared sauna.
Want More Energy? Suffering From Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? IR Sauna Therapy May Help
The things listed above—improved cardiovascular health, increased blood circulation, improved blood pressure, reduced stress, and better immunity—all have a direct effect on your energy levels.
There are several reasons for this. After an infrared sauna session, your cells won't be fighting to release toxins or fight viruses, as the sauna session will have given you an overall boost. Plus, relieving pain can also increase energy in and of itself. After all, if you're feeling sore and tired, you probably aren't going to be up for much more than watching TV. It's not uncommon for those with chronic fatigue syndrome to just feel more rested after an infrared sauna therapy session.
It's worth pointing out that sometimes people report feeling tired after using a sauna. The reason for that is often simple dehydration. Because you will sweat so much in an infrared sauna, it's important to stay properly hydrated.
In case you are wondering 'Should I drink water in the sauna?' … yes, absolutely! It's best to drink a lot of water before and after your sauna session as well.
That raises another question: Is it better to do infrared sauna in morning or night? That's really a matter of personal preference. Some people enjoy using an infrared sauna as a way to wind down and relax after a busy day and/or a hard workout. Others may find that a morning session in the infrared sauna is a great way for them to center themselves and 'charge' up for the coming day. There really is no wrong time!
Infrared Sauna Treatments Boost Immunity
Saunas have long been thought to benefit the immune system. But is there any truth to this?
It turns out, there is scientific support for this belief.
One study monitored 50 users over the course of several months. Half of them used saunas: the other half did not. The sauna users reported half as many colds as those who did not use saunas. That's pretty impressive!
The reasoning may be much more familiar than one thinks. Heat—in this case, heat from an infrared sauna—causes the body to react as though defending itself from a virus.
We all know that one of the body's immune system responses for fighting illness is to raise the core temperature … or, as we commonly call it, spike a fever. This is a helpful defense because many viruses cannot survive high temperatures. It also prompts the body to release white blood cells, which battle viruses and germs. Sauna bathing imitates that fever, though the raised temperature is done artificially.
Exposure to high temperatures can prompt the body to release heat shock proteins. As the name suggests, these proteins are released in response to high heat conditions. They assist with a number of cell functions, including immunity responses and the destruction of toxins.
Those harmful toxins, which are essentially cell waste, damage cell structure, and have even been linked to aging. In large numbers, they clump together. This has been linked to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Heat shock proteins help repair cells, which may reduce the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Infrared Light Helps With Weight Loss
You may have heard that infrared sauna therapy only causes you to lose water weight, which returns quickly. It is true that water weight loss can be temporary. However, several studies have shown that infrared sauna therapy does help with weight loss, and not just a temporary pound or two.
The heat in an infrared sauna raises your core temperature, which means your heart has to work harder to maintain proper circulation. Sauna bathing may increase the heart rate by as much as 30%. That in turn speeds up your metabolism, which is the rate at which your body burns calories.
Studies show that spending time in a sauna can burn as many as 600 calories an hour. That translates to about 300 calories in a 30-minute session, or 400 calories in 40 minutes, which is the maximum recommended time for most people. It's also the equivalent of doing a moderate workout. In fact, researchers have determined that spending time in an infrared sauna session is roughly the same as walking at a moderate pace.
Sauna use seems to be particularly effective in burning belly fat. In addition to the increased metabolic rate, the relaxation and stress relief provided by infrared sauna therapy may also play a role.
Stress has been closely linked to the hormone cortisol, also not-so-affectionately known as the belly fat hormone. Cortisol isn't the only link between increased stress and belly fat, however: stress can also trigger junk food binges and poor eating choices, and can cause a lowered metabolic rate.
Here's a question many people may want answers to: do infrared saunas reduce cellulite? The short answer is yes, they can help. Cellulite happens when water, fat, and toxins build up in the subcutaneous layer of the skin.
Because saunas cause pores to open, they can help expel those toxins that are stored in fat cells. In fact, infrared saunas may have the traditional sauna beat on this one, because the light of infrared waves penetrates deeper beneath the surface of the skin than steam heat does.
Health Benefits of Infrared Sauna Therapy
Many people think of saunas as something to occasionally pamper themselves with. However, more and more studies are showing that infrared sauna benefits can help with several health conditions.
That isn't to say that ir sauna therapy is a cure-all that will heal every possible condition. However, as one can see, there are many health benefits to sauna use, and very few risks.
Final verdict? Infrared sauna sessions are not only enjoyable and relaxing, they are also good for the body, mind, and soul.