Sauna Benefits; Live Longer & Perform Better

People have used saunas and sweat lodges for thousands of years. These ancient methods have been used throughout the world to promote health, spirituality, healing and social bonding among members in various communities – from Finland to Japan.

Some call it alternative medicine; however, these claims are backed by scientific research. Regular sauna use can improve your longevity, cardio performance, recovery, and detoxify your body. It’s also a great place to rid yourself of the stresses of the day.

Improved cardiovascular health 

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.

A cohort study of 2,300+ middle-aged men, from 1984-1989, tracked the results of their health over 20 years. The men who use the sauna 4-7x per week were found to have astoundingly better health benefits than those that only used it once per week.[1]

Men who sauna bathed 4-7x per week were 50% less likely to die from cardiovascular causes and 63% less likely to experience sudden cardiovascular death.

There is a similar study of 1688 men and women, between the ages of 53-74, that had a median follow-up of 15 years. This confirmed that frequency and time in a sauna is “strongly, inversely, and independent associated with fatal cardiovascular events”.[2]

The benefits of sauna bathing go on.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure is a key predictor of future incidence of stroke, coronary heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, and more.

Frequent sauna use can lower blood pressure in people with hypertension and is good for patients with chronic congestive heart failure.

Men who used a sauna 4-7x per week, in the previously mentioned study, had a 46% lower risk of high blood pressure.

A smaller study of 19 healthy adults showed that blood pressure and heart rate increased during sauna use, like exercise. The participants then had lower resting blood pressure and heart rate after the sauna session.[3]

This is great news for those who are immobile. The sauna provides the same cardiovascular benefits of exercise, without needing to move.

Congestive heart failure

Congestive heart failure (CHF) represents all forms of cardiovascular disease, such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, etc.

CHF means that the heart isn’t working as efficiently as normal, leading to impaired blood flow to your heart, organs, and muscles. This means that necessary nutrients and oxygen are unable to get to muscles and organs.[4]

A randomized controlled trial of 149 patients with CHF showed massive improvements with two weeks of Waon therapy (dry, infrared sauna). The patients saw significant improvements in endurance, heart size, and disease status compared to those with standard medical care.[5]

Another randomized controlled trial with 30 CHF patients, with premature ventricular contractions (irregular heart beat), dramatically reduced the number of irregular heart beats per day.[6]

Coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease in the US.

24 patients in a randomized controlled trial had full blockage of one or more arteries that go to the heart. The patients who did Waon therapy sessions daily, over a 3 week period, showed improvements in their vascular endothelial function, compared to the control group.[7]

Peripheral artery disease

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a debilitating disease in which the arteries serving your head, legs, stomach, and arms are narrowed and hardened. This blocks blood flow carrying necessary nutrients and oxygen throughout the body.

A pilot trial that treated 20 patients with 50 Waon sessions, over 10 weeks, showed improvements in pain levels and walking endurance. One patient in the study had his large skin ulcer healed completely after 15 weeks, avoiding limb amputation.[8]

Another randomized control trial of 21 PAD patients showed similar results. Those receiving far-infrared therapy demonstrated significant reduction in pain and walking distance, while the control group did not.[9]

These studies showing the benefits of sauna use on cardiovascular function are directly tied to longevity.

Reduced inflammation

Chronic inflammation is a cause of many diseases, including heart disease, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s.

C-reactive protein (CRP) is an acute phase reactant. Your body sends CRP as part of its “response team” where there is inflammation. High levels of C-reactive protein is a marker of high inflammation. [10]

Sauna use decreases levels of CRP, with CRP levels being inversely correlated to the frequency of sauna use.[11]

It has also been shown to reduce pain and stiffness in patients with rheumatic diseases such as fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. [31][32].

A Dutch study of 34 patients showed sauna use improved pain and stiffness in the short-term, trending towards long-term benefits.

A Japanese study of 44 female patients with fibromyalgia, used the sauna for 12 weeks. All reported significant reductions in pain and symptoms.

Improved brain function

Neurons are some of the most important cells in your body. They control most of your bodily functions by transmitting messages to one another. Neurons also help create memories and regulate moods, emotions, and cognition.

Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a naturally occurring protein in your body that can boost these neurons to increase learning abilities. This means improved memory, concentration levels, and faster processing speeds.[12]

Cognitive decline and cardiovascular disease often go together. This is because normal cognitive function relies on blood flow to the brain and peripheral nervous system. Poor blood flow to the brain is common in patients with Alzheimer’s.[13]

The cohort study of men using a sauna 4-7x per week were 66% less likely to develop dementia and were at a 65% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s compared to using the sauna once per week.

They were also 77% less likely to develop psychotic disorders regardless of dietary habits socioeconomic status, physical activity, and inflammatory status.[14]

Mood

High inflammation is often shown in patients with depression. Your body’s chronic inflammation response system induces changes in brain function and increases the development of depressive symptoms.

Beta-endorphins are natural opioids in the body. It is part of your brains reward circuitry & pain defense. Beta-endorphins are responsible for the good feeling response to exercise, sex, laughing, etc. Sauna use increases beta-endorphins.[15]

You’ll notice that after an intense sauna session that you are in a much better mood and your stresses seem to go away.

Dr. Rhonda Patrick found that using a sauna helped with her anxiety in med school, which led to her extensive research. Joe Rogan says when he gets out of the sauna he “doesn’t care about anything” in discussing how good the sauna makes him feel.

A randomized controlled trial, of 28 people diagnosed with depression, had the participants use the sauna for four weeks. These patients showed improved appetite along with reduced body aches and anxiety.[16]

A 2nd study of 30 adults with depression showed the participants improved depression symptoms within a week of treatment and it lasted for six weeks.[17]

Focus

Norepinephrine is a hormone and neurotransmitter that plays an important role in the brain and central nervous system. It stimulates nerve cells to perform various actions depending on which receptor it interacts with. Norepinephrine is released from your neurons during stress or excitement, enhancing focus and attention.

Prolactin is a hormone released by the pituitary gland. It promotes myelin growth, which makes the brain faster. This is crucial to repairing nerve cell damage. [18] Myelin is a protective coating of nerve cells. It can lead to diseases like MS when damaged.[19]

One study with men found that their levels of norepinephrine increased 310% and their prolactin levels increased by 900%.[20]

A 2nd study in women showed norepinephrine levels increase by 86% and prolactin increased by 510%. [21]

Many studies show that frequently using a sauna benefits brain function, focus, and mood.

Better endurance

Given all the cardiovascular benefits of sauna use, it unsurprisingly also has been shown to improve endurance.

During exercise, red blood cells (RBC’s) transport oxygen from lungs to muscles and body tissue. RBC’s also deliver carbon dioxide to the lungs. Increasing RBC can increase your performance by facilitating this process.

6 male long distance runners increased their ability to run to exhaustion by 32% after using the sauna for 30-minutes post-workout. Their plasma and RBC volumes also increased by 7.1% and 3.5% respectively.

A 2nd study of 20 middle-distance runners showed improvements in VO2 max and speed after 3 weeks of a 30 minute sauna session, post-training.[23]

Heat acclimation

Heat acclimation enhances athletic performance in hot environments. Being heat acclimated increases plasma volume and blood flow to the heart. This reduces cardiovascular strain and lowers heart rate per the same workload. It also improves blood flow to your muscles, providing them with oxygen, glucose, and fatty acids.[24] This is critical for endurance athletes, especially when training in hot environments.

Muscle growth & repair

Sauna effect on growth hormone

Growth hormone helps build and repair brain and muscle tissue. This helps build muscle mass, boost metabolism, and burn fat. Growth hormone also affects sleep, food intake, and memory.[25][26]

Sauna bathing increases growth hormone. One study shows a 5x increase[27], while another shows a 16x increase.[28]

The sauna is a potent post-workout because you get significantly elevated growth hormone levels when used together.

Building muscle

Muscular atrophy is the loss of muscle tissue. Muscles atrophy after injury or immobilization, causing significant loss in strength.

Maintaining muscle mass requires the balance of new protein synthesis and the breakdown of existing proteins. Negative net protein synthesis leads to muscle atrophy. You want positive net synthesis for recovery. 

Frequently using a sauna can acclimate your body to heat. This can put your body in positive net protein synthesis by reducing protein degradation.

Using the sauna increases heat shock proteins, reduces oxidative damage, increases growth hormone release, and improves insulin sensitivity. All of this helps muscle regrowth. [29] [30]

BDNF, which increases with sauna use as mentioned earlier, is also produced in exercise tissue. This helps with muscular repair and the growth of new muscle cells.

Detoxification

Toxins are everywhere from pesticides in our food, to plastics, and electromagnetic fields, just to name a few. Our body processes these toxins out through the liver. Sweating also helps excrete these toxins that we accumulate.

Harmful toxins like cadmium, BPA, mercury, and arsenic levels have been shown to be very high in sweat. Since sauna makes you sweat, frequent sauna use is a great way to get rid of these toxic chemicals.

Dr. Rhonda Patrick and Dr. Dale Bredesen discussed that after sweating out these toxins in the sauna, you want to use a non-emollient soap to wash these toxins away and not get re-penetrativon.[33]

The benefits of sauna use have been well documented in scientific literature. More research should be done on sauna protocols for optimal use.


[1] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2130724

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6262976/

[3] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S096522991930473X?via%3Dihub

[4] https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide-heart-failure

[5] https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/circj/80/4/80_CJ-16-0051/_article

[6] https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/circj/68/12/68_12_1146/_article

[7] https://www.internationaljournalofcardiology.com/article/S0167-5273(11)02245-5/fulltext

[8] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109707028550?via%3Dihub

[9] https://www.journal-of-cardiology.com/article/S0914-5087(10)00171-1/fulltext

[10] https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/c-reactive-protein-test

[11] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10654-017-0335-y

[12] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02656736.2017.1394502

[13] https://www.nature.com/articles/nrn1387

[14] https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/493392

[15] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3218898/

[16] https://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Abstract/2005/07000/Repeated_Thermal_Therapy_Diminishes_Appetite_Loss.21.aspx

[17] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2521478

[18] https://www.jneurosci.org/content/27/8/1812

[19] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318750#what_are_demyelinating_diseases

[20] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2759081/

[21] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF00691246

[22] https://www.jsams.org/article/S1440-2440(06)00139-3/fulltext

[23] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00421-020-04541-z

[24] https://journals.physiology.org/doi/abs/10.1152/jappl.1985.59.5.1350

[25] https://www.yourhormones.info/hormones/growth-hormone-releasing-hormone/#:~:text=Growth%20hormone%20stimulates%20production%20of,sleep%2C%20food%20intake%20and%20memory.

[26] https://www.healthline.com/health/hgh-side-effects

[27] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02330710

[28] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1748-1716.1986.tb08000.x

[29] https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/japplphysiol.00722.2006

[30] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17688192/

[31] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18685882/

[32] https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(18)30275-1/fulltext

[33] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22505948/

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