In Part One of this two-part article series, you learned five big reasons I'm addicted to sauna and heat therapy, including muscle gain, fat loss, joint pain management, detoxification, heart heath and longevity. Let's delve into the final five reasons you should start sweating more.
6. Immune System Boost
Sure, you may get snot in your sauna if you step in there when you're sick, but you also may get better faster. The Journal of Human Kinetics recently investigated the effect of sauna use on the immune system, specifically white blood cell profile, cortisol levels and selected physiological indices in athletes and non-athletes. The subjects from both a sauna group and control group participated in 15-minute sauna sessions until their core temperature rose by 1.2°C.
After the sauna session, an increased number of white blood cells, lymphocyte, neutrophil and basophil counts was reported in the white blood cell profile, showing that sauna use stimulates the immune system (and interestingly, a greater benefit to the immune system was shown in the athletes vs. the untrained subjects, indicating that an excellent one-two combo for your immune system is exercise and sauna use). German sauna medical research also shows that saunas are able to significantly reduce the incidences of colds and influenza and both Finnish and German studies show that regular sauna bathing leads to a 30 percent less chance of getting a cold and influenza.
7. Skin Rejuvenation
While exposing yourself to ungodly amounts of time in the sun can make your skin look like Benjamin Button as a baby, the old lady in "Something About Mary", or an elephant who spent too much time a bathtub, spending time in a sauna doesn't submit you to the same kind of UVA and UVB rays as you get from the sun. When your body begins to produce sweat via the type deep sweating you experience in an infrared sauna, the rate at which dead skin cells are replaced an be increased. At the same time, heavy sweating helps to remove bacteria out of the epidermal layer of the skin and the sweat ducts.
This cleansing of the pores also causes increased capillary circulation, which can give the skin a softer-looking, younger appearance. When you sweat, the movement of fluid to the skin delivers more nutrient and mineral-rich fluids and also helps to fill spaces around the cells, increasing firmness and reducing the appearance of wrinkles. So by continually flushing waste through skin cells via the use of hyperthermia, you can increase skin health, tone and color, and with cleansing pores. Not only does research show this to be the case, but I'll admit that I'm quite frequently mistaken as Justin Bieber when I take a stroll down the street after my morning sauna session. So it must be working.
8. Better Sleep
Next time you find yourself struggling with a bout of insomnia, try this trick: about two to three hours before bed, hunt down a gym sauna and get your sweat on for about fifteen to thirty minutes. Next, hop in a lukewarm or cool shower for five to ten minutes to bring your body temp down. If you've got plenty of time on your hands, you can do this two to three times through. Anytime I do this kind of hot-cold contrast in the evening, I sleep like a baby.
Researchers have found that a sauna can help provide a deeper, more relaxed sleep, and also relief of chronic tension, and relief of chronic fatigue issues, most likely due to a release of endorphins from the sauna. As endorphins are released into your body, they create a soothing, nearly tranquilizing effect that can not only help to minimize chronic pain caused by arthritis and other muscle soreness, but can also help with relaxation and sleep. For an even more enhanced effect, try deep nasal breathing while you're in there.
9. Increased Cardiovascular Performance
You probably know of EPO as the illegal performance-enhancing drug made famous by professional cyclists in Tour De France, but research has shown 30 minutes of sauna treatment after exercise can cause an increase in oxygen consumption and red blood cell production that parallels the use of EPO. That's right: no needles in the right butt cheek or illegal performance enhancing drugs required. In the high temperatures of an infrared sauna, your skin heats up and core body temperature rises. Then, in response to these increased heat levels, the blood vessels near your skin dilate and cause an increase in cardiac output. This causes your heart rate to shoot up from 60-70 bpm (beats per minute) to as high as over 150 bpm in the sauna. So with regular sauna use, you not only train your heart muscles and improve your cardiac output, but you also help the body's regulatory system move blood around the body to areas that need cooling.
Similar to the pre-sleep protocol mentioned earlier, you can enhance this cardiovascular conditioning even more when your sauna is combined with alternating sessions into a cool shower, a quick dip into a cold pool or lake, or if you're lazy like me, a step into your backyard to shower yourself down with a garden hose. Each time you rapidly change temperature (from hot to cool or vice-versa), your heart rate increases by as much as 60 percent, which is very comparable to the heart rate increase experienced during moderate exercise. And in case you've heard the rumors: yes, many folks find this to be a potent treatment for hangovers too.
10. Increased Stress Resilience
There's a good reason that best-selling author Nassim Taleb recommends environmental stressors as a way to become more "Antifragile". As mentioned earlier, multiple research studies have shown that hyperthermia conditioning via the use of a sauna can prevent protein degradation and muscle loss by triggering the production of heat shock proteins (HSPs), which are then used by your cells to counteract potentially harmful stimulus, including environmental stress from pollutants, toxins, heat, cold, exercise stress and more.
Whenever a cell is exposed to an unfriendly environment, your DNA "separates" in specific regions and begins to read the genetic code to produce new stress proteins, including these HSPs. What this means is that exposure to sauna heat can induce a hormetic response (a protective stress response), which promotes the production of HSPs that are crucial to stress resistance, prevention of free radical damage, support of cellular antioxidant capacity and repair of damaged proteins. Dr. Rhonda Patrick talks about these HSPs quite a bit in our podcast episode on heat therapy and saunas.
So, can you blame me? I'm addicted to my sauna, and knowing everything you've just read, I feel very good about myself when I walk out of my daily sauna session. If you're up for the challenge, I'd recommend that for the next thirty days, you try the Finnish practice of visiting a sauna four to five times a week for twenty to thirty minutes. Let me know how that works out for you.