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Health Benefits of Infrared Saunas

by UK Saunas(more info)

listed in detoxification, originally published in issue 240 - August 2017

Health consists of two basic elements: the physical, and the mental. The former is concerned with difficulties like pulled muscles or damaged bones, and the latter regards problems such as stress and anxiety. However, it is a positive balance of both physical and mental health that everyone must aspire towards in order to be truly healthy.

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This understanding is a major reason why saunas are so popular, and in Finland even average out at one per household. Being able to improve both your physical and mental health while sitting still and essentially ‘doing nothing’ may sound unrealistic, but health professionals and hard evidence have supported infrared saunas and their benefits for years.

Outside of sauna

What is an Infrared Sauna?

To understand infrared saunas, it is best to explain traditional saunas first. These generally consist of a small space with a physical heater in the room with you, that you can often interact with. This heater may be powered by electricity, wood, gas or other fuel. The saunas from hundreds of years ago originally used hot rocks that you could pour water on to increase the steam and heat levels in the enclosed space; a technique which is still used in wet saunas to this day. What separates these from infrared saunas, then, is that ‘infrared’ refers to the electric heating elements that are used to internally heat your body up. This is much more of a 21st century approach to what is now a fairly old practice.

How does an Infrared Sauna Work?

As part of the invisible light spectrum, the infrared light of the sauna resonates with our human tissue without heating the surrounding air, which makes for a more efficient sauna experience. It is also a more gentle approach; users won’t start pouring with sweat within the first few seconds, as it instead gradually builds you to a point of intense sweating. This results in a more therapeutic and less overwhelming experience, as opposed to other saunas which create a high heat/low humidity environment by heating the air - not you directly.

Any concerns about health and safety are also misplaced, as far infrared rays do not carry the danger that we associate with x-rays or ultraviolet rays. Infrared rays are, in fact, an essential part of life; produced by both the sun and our own bodies. Describing an infrared sauna may conjure images of stepping into a comically over-sized microwave, but it is quite the opposite since these are actually beneficial for you.

The Physical Health Benefits of Using an Infrared Sauna

There are few health problems that could not be helped by the use of an infrared sauna, and it is seen as almost a Swiss army knife for discomfort; the perfect tool for any occasion.

  • Recover from injuries faster

Infrared saunas increase the production of HSP’s (Heat Shock Proteins), which cells use to repair damaged muscles. The proteins also help protect muscles from further harm, so it remains effective even if there are no current injuries to help heal;

  • Effective at burning calories

The average 150-pound man can burn 400-600 calories in one 30-minute infrared sauna session. In the same circumstances, he would burn approximately 225 calories cycling, 265 calories playing tennis, 300 calories swimming and 590 calories marathon running. In comparison to other activities, the efficiency of these saunas stand tall alongside even incredibly physical acts;

  • Builds stamina

Using saunas will, over time, improve your resistance to heat. This fact alone is a major influence on why athletes are so fond of saunas, as acclimatizing your body to high heat levels has been proven as an effective method for building your body’s endurance capabilities;

  • Improves skin quality

Sweating is synonymous with exercise, and simply the act of sweating is even beneficial for you; whether the sweat is a result of working out or not. The heat causes your skin to open up, which releases toxins and dirt trapped inside you. This also triggers a process that increases both the oxygenation of cells and your circulation; all of which results in softer and healthier-looking skin;

  • Increases growth hormone levels

A range of studies (One of which can be found here) confirmed that using an infrared sauna can vastly increase growth hormone levels, which means recovery from working out will be much swifter. To quote the research, using infrared saunas “appears favourable for the neuromuscular system to recover from maximal endurance performance”;

  • Helps fight cancer

Cancer cells weaken, and in extreme cases die, when exposed to heat as high as 109 degrees. Infrared sauna use will make you healthier in general and less susceptible to cancer, however repeated sauna sessions will actually weaken the cancer cells. The process also improves your immune system, which is also vital in overcoming cancer.

Woman in sauna

The Mental Health Benefits of Using an Infrared Sauna

For decades, exercise has been proven to positively affect mental health. Since sauna therapy almost tricks your body into thinking it is exercising - the beneficial similarities between the two activities are uncanny - it is no surprise that using saunas can have a positive effect on your mental health. Listed below are some examples of the shape these benefits can take.

  • Helps with chronic fatigue

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome affects many people, and can be debilitating. Research from 2005, which studied two sufferers of the syndrome and the results of daily sauna therapy on them, discovered a positive relationship between the two. To quote the results from the tests:

“Symptoms such as fatigue, pain, sleep disturbance and low-grade fever were dramatically improved after 15 to 25 sessions of thermal therapy;”

  • Improves quality of sleep

For years, studies have reported that poor sleep has a considerable effect on a person’s mental health and ability; so much so that certain reports even conclude that “fatigue and sleepiness contributed to some of the most serious incidents world-wide, including the Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Challenger disasters”. Infrared saunas, however, promote both relaxation and the release of endorphins, which both result in healthier sleeping habits;

  • Helps with anxiety and depression

Anyone suffering from anxiety and depression might have trouble relaxing, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy as not being able to relax will cause depression and anxiety. A therapist may recommend meditation, but similar results can also be found when using saunas.

Preparing for a Sauna Session

As with all temperature-based therapies, it is vital that anyone using a sauna consumes plenty of water beforehand; it is always recommended that people also bring some water in with them. Saunas trigger intense sweating, your body could quickly run out of water and the unprepared may have a very uncomfortable time.

Since high temperatures open up your skin and release all the trapped dirt and toxins, it is universally recommended that people shower prior to entering the sauna. Hot water and a scrub will release all the dirt before you start your session, so time won’t be spent clearing them out in the sauna and the skin will be open for longer, which will result in more intense benefits.

It is recommended that sizeable meals are avoided before entering a sauna. The reason for this is that blood will be focused on digesting the food and assisting the digestive system, instead of circulating all over the body. This circulation is key to the process and should not be disregarded.

Personal space is also important in saunas, and putting your body under extra stress during a session is not advised, so exercising while in a sauna is definitely not recommended. However, exercising before a sauna promotes oxygenation and sweating, which will give the detoxification process a head start; similar to if you were to shower with hot water beforehand.

Are there any Dangers to Using Them?

Infrared saunas would not be as popular as they are today if there were major risks associated with them. However, that does not mean that even improper use won’t be damaging. As mentioned previously, dehydration should always be considered and prepared for, so water before and during is vital.

It is also important that people acknowledge their personal limits. Similar to how someone that has been going to the gym for years will be able to lift more than someone that has only just started, people that have been using saunas for years will be able to withstand much longer sessions than someone new to it. A first session should be no longer than 20 minutes, although it should be abandoned as soon as any sudden discomfort or pain is felt.

References

Mero A et al. Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training session in men. NCBI. Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4493260/. July 2015.

Masuda A et al. The effects of repeated thermal therapy for two patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. NCBI. Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15992574/. April 2005.

Arimura M et al. Sleep, Menal Health Status, and Medical Errors among Hospital Nurses in Japan. Industrial Health. Source: www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/indhealth/48/6/48_MS1093/_pdf. January 2010.

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About UK Saunas

UK Saunas offer a wide range of infrared saunas direct from their own factory, where a combination of the highest quality materials and a focus on constant development keeps them on the cutting edge of the sauna industry. They may be contacted via www.uk-saunas.co.uk/

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