For thousands of years, saunas have provided warmth, shelter and a sense of community. Perfected by Northern Europeans in the modern countries of Finland, Norway and Sweden, this tradition has spread worldwide and offers health benefits to those who partake. In the modern world, there are several kinds of saunas, most used for the purpose of cleansing the body through perspiration. By heating the body and forcing it to sweat, impurities are flushed out through the pores of the skin. Saunas use dry heat, while steam rooms take advantage of higher humidity for moist heat. Recently, infrared saunas are gaining popularity in the U.S. We thought we’d explore some of the benefits of this new health practice. A traditional sauna is heated to 150-180°F; your body warms up as you sit in the hot room. An infrared sauna is typically between 120-140°F and uses infrared light which penetrates into the body’s tissues, heating you from within. Here are 6 benefits of an infrared sauna:
- 1. Relaxation
Sitting in a hot room for 30 to 40 minutes is relaxing in and of itself, but infrared sauna therapy helps balance bodily levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. The heat also relaxes muscles and relieves tension, an added destresser. Infrared heat is gentle and soothing, which promotes relaxation and improved sleep.
- 2. Detoxification
Sweating is great for you. The sweat you generate carries away some heavy hitters including environmental chemicals and heavy metals such as mercury and lead that build up at the cellular level. Sweating is a natural way to eliminate toxins, so encouraging that through infrared sauna sessions is a good thing. Because infrared energy heats the body from within, it enables your body to sweat out about seven times more toxins than a traditional sauna.
- 3. Weight Loss
No, it’s not the same as exercising, but as infrared heat penetrates your body, your heart has to work harder to keep your core temperature low. This process, called thermoregulation, consumes considerable energy. A higher heart rate increases your cardiac output and metabolic rate, similar to your body’s reaction to exercise. The result is that you burn more calories, resulting in weight loss. An article from The Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that a half-hour infrared sauna session could burn up to 600 calories.
- 4. Pain Relief
Infrared light penetrates into muscles, tissues and joints to relieve minor aches and pains and can also benefit chronic pain conditions including fibromyalgia. The increased circulation experienced as your blood heats up in an infrared sauna can provide relief from painful muscles and joint aches. Relaxed muscles are a wonderful post-sauna benefit!
- 5. Enhanced Circulation
Getting the blood pumping benefits your entire body. Blood flow is stimulated and as it circulates, it improves muscle recovery time and can lower the inflammation response typically felt after an intense workout. Side benefits to improved circulation may include more fully oxygenated blood, lower blood pressure and a strengthened immune system.
- 6. Skin Purification
As the sweat begins to trickle down your face, back and limbs, your skin eliminates built-up toxins from your pores and results in softer, clearer, healthier-looking skin. Near-infrared treatments can even stimulate collagen production, improving overall skin tone and healing skin at the dermal and epidermal levels. Near-infrared therapy can help wounds heal faster and prevent infections.
Thinking of trying an infrared sauna session? Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after. Check with your doctor first if you have a medical condition or take medications, especially those that impact blood pressure or circulation. You should avoid saunas if you are pregnant or have had a heart attack or stroke. But if you’re healthy enough to participate, we hope you will enjoy the benefits of this new twist on the age-old tradition of saunas.