Sauna use can be traced back to indigenous sweat lodges in the Americas and heat pits in Scandinavian countries where saunas continue to play a significant cultural and social role in people’s day-to-day lives.
Over the years, however, sauna use has spread across the globe and is a favorite of doctors, health nuts, and celebrities from Dr. Rhonda Patrick to Ben Greenfield to Gwyneth Paltrow. In the US, sauna bathing has traditionally been an activity used for the purposes of pleasure and relaxation.
You may have seen photos of fellow MOXI3 go-ers sitting in a dimly lit sauna meditating, hitting a quick ab routine, or watching their favorite Netflix guilty pleasure. But aside from its relaxing effects and requirement to temporarily unplug, saunas have some major health benefits that range from detoxification to the creation of new brain cells.
If you can take the heat, here are four huge health advantages the sauna has to offer.
GOOD OLD-FASHIONED DETOX
You’ve heard about people “sweating out” a night at the bar or big festival weekend and it turns out, that really does work (and not just for alcohol)! Sauna-induced sweat can force out a whole host of harmful toxins stored in our blood and fat cells.
We’re exposed to toxic chemicals in everyday products from produce (arsenic) to car exhaust (cadmium) to children’s toys (lead) which means even the most health-conscious among us have some toxicity floating through their bloodstream. These heavy metals and other toxic chemicals store themselves in our blood and deep within adipose fat tissue, where they can stay for decades!
It has been proven that sweat is among the best ways to rid your body of these harmful toxins and sauna sweat, in particular, is great at pulling it from those difficult to reach fat cells. When your body heats up in the sauna, harmful toxins are mobilized, excreted, and eliminated through sweat.*
*Healthy kidney and liver function is crucial to ridding the body of toxins through any method, including sweat excretion*
MOOD-BOOSTING + ANXIETY-REDUCING
We could spend this entire post talking about the mental health benefits of sauna use but we’ll stick to the basics -> it boosts your mood and helps relieve symptoms of stress and depression.
Studies have found that safe, intentional hyperthermia (above average core body temperature) can result in a reduction in depression-related symptoms that far outlasts the immediate physical effects of sauna use. In fact, one study found that following just one treatment, patients with major depressive disorder experienced elevations in mood that lasted for several weeks. Further, patients with mild depression reported improved relaxation ratings after regular daily sauna sessions.
These mood boosting effects could stem from a number of sauna-induced releases but experts often point to the same happy chemical – endorphins. Hyperthermia results in increased levels of beta-endorphins and these are largely responsible for the feelings of relaxation, tranquility and “heat high” that avid sauna-users rave about.
Sauna use also helps fight common symptoms of stress and reduces the dangerous physiological outcomes of chronic stress. A study of individuals in high-stress occupations (firefighters, first responders, military personnel, etc.) at risk for cardiometabolic diseases (CMD) found that sauna bathing has a marked, positive impact on blood pressure, insulin resistance, and low-grade inflammation that results from chronic stress.
BUILD A STRONGER BRAIN
There are key differences between the mind and the brain and while the mental health benefits of sauna use are pretty remarkable, its brain boosting effects deserve attention all their own.
Did you know that your brain can change form, rewire itself, and even grow new cells throughout your life? Well, it can and sauna use can help make it happen!
People that engage in regular sauna use experience increases in norepinephrine (a neurotransmitter responsible for focus and attention) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (shown to increase the growth of new brain cells and improve learning and retention). Surges in norepinephrine and BDNF improve the overall function of you brain, make it easier to focus, and set the stage for continued brain cell development. It turns out sitting in uncomfortable levels of heat can wire your brain to work smarter, not harder.
Sauna bathing can definitely improve your focus and brain development in the short-term but scientists are also finding that it may improve your brain’s longevity as well. In particular, it may act as a shield from memory diseases. This study found that engaging in frequent sauna use throughout adulthood is associated with a lower risk of both dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Simply put, heat-induced stress is good for the health of your brain today and into the future.
MUSCLE GROWTH AND ATHLETIC ENDURANCE
While there is no substitute for a healthy exercise routine, there are ways to maximize the results of your routine that don’t involve additional high-intensity training.
Studies have found that heat therapy promotes growth hormone release, limits muscle atrophy (the shrinking or wasting away of muscle tissue), and improves muscle regain after periods of significant muscle loss.
Growth hormone is an important component for collagen production, a properly functioning metabolism, fat breakdown, and muscle growth. When you sit in sauna-induced heat, your body naturally releases more of this magical, fat burning, muscle growing chemical which makes it easier to develop lean body mass.
Sauna use can also improve the efficiency and strength of your cardiovascular output. Heat acclimation in controlled environments, such as a sauna, has shown to improve blood flow to the heart and increase plasma volume. This leads to lower heartrate in response to the same physical challenges. These cardiovascular improvements can increase endurance in both highly trained and untrained athletes.
Ultimately, sauna use mimics and enhances many of the physiological benefits of intense exercise and provides a way to focus on your mental and physical health while in a relaxed state.