Sauna Science: 5 Incredible Reasons To Get Hot Today
Most people know that the occasional sauna session is healthy, but fewer people know why. You’ve probably already heard the sauna detoxifies the body of heavy metals and harmful chemicals, however, this is just one of several benefits associated with sauna use. We will explain five more scientifically proven reasons why you should embrace the heat.
Will using the sauna actually make you live longer? The science says yes. One study published in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that sustained use of the sauna is associated with longer living. The study followed over 2,000 middle-aged men for about 20 years and made some significant discoveries.
According to the study, men who used the sauna two to three times per week had a 24% lower risk of all-cause mortality compared to men who used the sauna just once a week. Furthermore, men who used the sauna four to seven times per week had a 40% lower risk of all-cause mortality compared to men who used the sauna just once a week.
What is all-cause mortality? It means that for the participants being studied they had 40% less mortality from all causes than other people of a similar age not being subjected to the conditions of the trial.
- Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and many other countries. In fact, the CDC reports approximately 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year: 1 in every 4 deaths! Improving heart health is in the interest of everyone and you’ll be glad to know the sauna does just that.
According to the same report, men who used the sauna two to three times per week had a 27% lower risk of fatal cardiovascular disease compared to men who used the sauna just once a week. Furthermore, men who used the sauna four to seven times per week had a 50% lower risk of fatal cardiovascular disease compared to men who used the sauna just once a week.
The positive benefits of sauna use on heart health may be linked to the similar benefits seen in normal exercise. Heart rate in the sauna can increase up to 100 beats a minutes in moderate sessions, and up to 150 beats a minute in more intense sessions. A heart rate of around 150 beats a minute corresponds to a moderate level of exercise, which is already known to have a beneficial effect on heart health.
- Brain Aging
One characteristic of aging is that we just don’t feel as sharp mentally. It has been shown that cognitive ability trends downward as we age. To combat this downward trend and maintain cognitive function sauna use is key. The same group that studied over 2,000 individuals’ sauna use found an interesting association that they published later in another paper.
They found that men who used the sauna two to three times per week had a 22% lower risk of dementia and a 20% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared to men who used the sauna just once a week. Furthermore, men who used the sauna four to seven times per week had a 66% lower risk of dementia and a 65% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared to men who used the sauna just once a week.
Heat from the sauna activates a class of stress response proteins called heat shock proteins (HSPs). HSPs help to prevent the accumulation of toxic protein aggregates, which are associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease.
Increase your attention and focus using the sauna. Similar to the “runner’s high” effect of exercise the sauna provides a boost of endorphins after each session. The effects range from soothing muscle soreness and joint pain to reduced stress and relaxation.
One study found that women who spent two 20 minute sessions in the sauna each week had a 86% increase in norepinephrine, a 510% increase in prolactin, and a moderate decrease in cortisol after the session. Norepinephrine is responsible for the boost to focus and attention, while prolactin promotes myelin growth, which enhances brain function and plays a key role in repairing nerve cell damage.
- Muscle hypertrophy
Muscle hypertrophy explains the growth in the size of muscle cells and increase in strength in response to physical exercise. Both exercise and heat exposure can induce muscle hypertrophy. When used in combination the two activities work synergistically to build muscle.
In order to build muscle, you must maintain a positive protein synthesis-to degradation ratio. Your muscles are constantly balancing the amount of new protein synthesis and the degradation of existing proteins. The important thing is net protein synthesis. Sauna use increases net protein synthesis and thus muscle hypertrophy by reducing the amount of protein degradation occurring.
The sauna is known to decrease protein degradation through the activation of heat shock proteins (HSPs). HSPs prevent exercise induced protein degradation, while keeping the new protein synthesis. This effect will ultimately cause a net increase in your protein synthesis-to degradation ratio.
How much should you sauna? For the minimum benefits of lower cardiovascular disease mortality, lower all-cause mortality, and lower Alzheimer’s disease risk we must address the literature that observed these effects. That would be 20 minutes at 174⁰ Fahrenheit/79⁰ Celsius two to three times per week. Keep in mind that those who used the sauna four to seven times per week experienced an even greater effect.
Please go forward with good judgement. If you have some type of medical condition all bets are off. Even if you don’t have a medical condition of concern it’s reasonably worth checking in with a physician before becoming a mega sauna enthusiast.
Now go take advantage of this knowledge to enhance your health/fitness routine!