Sauna therapy is all the rage now with some long term studies from Finland showing numerous benefits for health, performance, longevity and even social isolation.
Saunas work by creating a heat stress to the body, similar to the heat stress that is created when you exercise and get your core body temperature up for a period of time. The heat stress induces the release of heat shock proteins (HSP) which are essentially proteins that help keep order in the body. HSPs are created in the body when your core body temperature is raised for an extended period of time, around 20 mins or more in most studies.
5 reasons you want to make HSPs:
- Performance Enhancement – the HSPs created improve muscle growth which in turn will increase your metabolic rate causing easier weight loss and burning of calories for longer period of time post exposure. HSPs also cause an increase in red blood cells which improves endurance performance over time. Specifically using saunas after exercise has been shown to reduce the protein degradation that normally occurs with exercise thus inducing a net increase in muscle growth.
- Stronger Immune System – HSPs help regulate and chaperone the immune system to help it know which cells to get rid of and which to keep. It also increases white blood cells which are our fighter cells helping prevent colds and flu.
- Detoxify the body & brain – sweating is one of the main ways we detoxify the body and inducing sweating for extended periods and HSPs in particular helps us remove many toxins via sweat. Even heavy metals like mercury and lead can be removed by sweating, just make sure you use a good soap like castile soap to wash off all those toxins after the sauna – otherwise you might reabsorb some of them.
- Brain Health – sauna therapy and HSPs induce the production of a chemical in the brain called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is responsible for inducing growth of new brain cells. BDNF is also induced by exercising. BDNF is also been shown to improve memory, enhance learning and diminish depression. Finally saunas have also been shown to improve sleep which again improves brain health, reduces depression and much more.
- Stress Reduction – we all know saunas are relaxing but studies have now shown that they can increase hormones that help improve our reaction to stress and actually reduce our stress hormone cortisol.
Practically its actually not that hard to induce the HSPs with exposure to heat – either in saunas, exercising, hot baths its more about how long and how frequent you create them. Studies have shown as little as twice a week for 20 minutes to improve muscle strength, detoxify, immune system and induce BDNF for the brain. If you have access to a sauna easily then 10-20 min per day would be ideal but being busy and trying to fit everything in we understand even twice a week has many benefits.
Starting out you need to go slowly and allow your body to acclimatise to the heat stress. So if you’re a complete beginner then start with just 5 minutes in the sauna. Take time to build up to the ideal 20 minute window by adding 1 minute each time and listening ot your body it may even take a few months of regular use to get up to that dose. Rest assured even below the 20 min dose you are creating some HSPs as soon as you start sweating in the sauna you will be creating them so listen to you body and go slowly.
The temperature should be between 90-100 degrees Celsius in the sauna. There are many types of saunas, most of the research has been done on traditional dry saunas but new research is coming out about the use of infra red saunas especially near infra red ones. Remember go slowly and work towards the 20 min window weather your in a sauna, exercising, using hot baths or hot yoga. Remember to shower after with a good soap like castile soap to ensure you don’t reabsorb all those toxins. So why not indulge, hop in the sauna and when someone says gives you a nudge about your indulgence just say I am creating new brain cells, strengthening my muscles and improving my immune system!
NB: this is not intended as medical advice is information on the use of saunas and why you may want to consider using them. Before trying any saunas or trying to induce HSPs speak to your doctor to ensure that its safe for you to do so.