My New Favorite Bio Hack :: The Infrared Sauna
Disclaimer: The author of this not a Physician, and therefore this post is not intended to provide medical advice. The information provided in this post is based off personal experience, reading through research, and information gathered from Physician and researcher led podcasts. You should always consult your physician before beginning sauna use if you have concerns.
Ever since my early teen years, I have been interested in optimizing my health. Not necessarily for any reason other than longevity of life. In part I attribute this to my grandmother. She grew up on a farm, raising her own food, making her own soaps and cleaning supplies, and learning about natural remedies for common ailments. She later went on to become a nurse, but remained holistic in her overall approach to health and wellbeing. All that to say, she taught me a lot about the importance of researching ways to optimize wellness on a cellular and physiological level.
That desire to learn about how optimizing physiology continued to grow, and I went on to pursue a career in Physical Therapy, as well as becoming a self proclaimed nerd. For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed learning about the body. I find the inner workings of our cellular function, anatomy and how it self regulates to be fascinating. So much so, that I willingly listen to hours long podcasts about those very things. The topics in these podcasts can range anywhere from the importance of sleep, to how various foods, supplements, and chemical compounds impact our overall function.
In my later years, I got sucked into the world of Crossfit, and have since come to enjoy competing in local competitions. So, optimizing my performance has become equally as important as optimizing my overall health; which means I’m always looking for scientifically supported ways to level up. This desire for constant improvement has led me to purchase things like the WHOOP (a advanced wearable health metric tracker), eliminate alcohol, track my meals, prioritize certain vitamin and mineral intake, and learn more about how to utilize my menstrual cycle to my advantage. But the most recent addition to my “wellness routine” has been the infrared sauna.
Sweating For A Cause
It’s long been known that sweating is a great way to detox our bodies. After all, the skin is our largest organ, and the most exposed to environmental toxins. So, that part of the sauna made sense to me. But as I listened to podcast after podcast on the subject, I quickly realized that the health benefits of the sauna went way beyond just body detoxification. While I’d love to think everyone would enjoy those podcasts as much as I did, I realize that hours worth of educational podcasts are not for everyone. So, I’ve compiled a summary of some of the most significant benefits of the infrared sauna below.
- Improved Heart Health: That’s right! The infrared sauna is typically set at anywhere from 110 degrees to 150 degrees. While some can get even hotter than that. This is a typical range. This means that after only a few minutes in the sauna, your body begins to sweat your heart rate begins to rise, and your blood vessels dilate to increase blood flow, mimicking exercise equivalent to a very brisk walk. One study done over the course of 20 years even found that men who used the sauna a few times a week lowered their risk of cardiovascular event by anywhere from 30 – 50% dependent on the number of times a week they used the sauna.
- Reduction of Muscle Soreness: The increased blood flow that occurs from the sauna can increase the speed of recovery of sore muscles by reducing lactic acid and other chemical by products of muscle breakdown.
- Reduction of Chronic Pain: While there is still more research that needs to be done on this subject, one 2 year study found that people with chronic pain reported decreased overall pain with exposure to the sauna a few times weekly.
- Improved Relaxation and Sleep: Without getting into too much nerdy detail, the Sauna increases your body’s release of serotonin and dopamine. Both of these neurotransmitters are considered our “happy hormones.” So increased production of these can improve relaxation, decrease feelings of anxiety and depression, and ultimately improve sleep. The improved sleep is further promoted by the fact that the increased serotonin is converted to melatonin, which is the hormone that alerts our body that it is time to sleep.
- Boosted Immune System: That’s right! The Sauna helps reduce oxidative stress, which ultimately helps boost our immune system, and makes us more resistant to conditions like cardiovascular disease, the common cold, cancer, and other degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
- Potential Increase in Athletic Performance: This is due to several factors including improved blood flow, reduction in the stress hormone cortisol (which can contribute to muscle weakness), and increased release in human growth hormone (HGH). This release is due to the release of certain heat shock proteins that send stress signals to the brain, and the brain then releases the HGH. In layman’s terms, your body recognizes the heat spike, and adapts accordingly. All of these things ultimately lead to improved recovery, which typically means improved performance overall. So, if you’re an athlete this may also be an important benefit of the sauna for you.
That’s great. Now where can I use the sauna?
Now that you know some of the benefits of the sauna, your probably wondering how you can try one. While there are some gyms and fitness facilities that have infrared saunas, many of them are still the old school steam saunas, which are not the same. However, there are several boutique type places that have opened that are strictly for the infrared sauna. In the NOLA/Metairie area there are places like Hotworx, Melt, and NOLA Cryo to name a few. There are also in-home saunas you can purchase, but those can get a bit pricey. Most in home saunas range anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Either way, there are many options for adding the infrared sauna to your weekly routine.