Here at AGEIST we are all about leveling up our health, mind, and body through proven health hacks. The current health hack that we are fascinated by is heat therapy, particularly saunas (dry and infrared) and steam rooms. Sitting in a hot room heated to 170 degrees F for 15 minutes may not sound like the most appealing thing, but what if we told you that it could boost your endurance, build muscle, help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, boost brain function, and more? Today we are going to investigate everything you need to know about saunas and steam rooms, the differences between them, and how you can implement them into your daily life.
What Is a Dry Sauna?
Dry saunas are rooms where the heat is typically generated through an electric stove to produce a very dry heat ranging from 150 degrees F to 200 degrees F. Dry saunas have low humidity so it may seem like it is taking longer to break a sweat despite the high heat. In more traditional dry saunas you may see the heat is generated from burning wood. You may also see a bucket of water which is used to create some humidity in the room by ladling water onto the rocks or wood.
What Is in an Infrared Sauna?
Infrared saunas are rooms with lamps that use electromagnetic radiation to directly heat the body. These rooms tend to be cooler than traditional saunas so if high heat is an issue for you or feels uncomfortable, infrared saunas may be a good option for you.
What is a Steam Room?
Steam rooms use water to create heat, causing a humid, hot room. The temperature in a steam room varies but is typically around 110 degrees F – 120 degrees F. While this is lower than what a dry sauna can reach, the high humidity can make steam rooms feel much hotter and potentially more challenging to sit in.
What Are the Benefits of Heat Therapy?
According to the National Center for Biotechnology, “On a cellular level, acute whole-body thermotherapy (both wet and dry forms) induces discrete metabolic changes that include production of heat shock proteins, reduction of reactive oxygenated species, reduced oxidative stress and inflammation pathway activities.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5941775/).
Dr. Rhonda Patrick, a biochemist specializing in aging, cancer, and nutrition, explains that heat therapy can increase our endurance, increase the capacity to build muscle, and promote brain function. The benefits of heat therapy on muscle growth is particularly fascinating. If you include weight lifting into your routine, you are probably familiar with the idea that once you lift weights, your body naturally releases growth hormones which are critical in building muscle, called hypertrophy. Interestingly, it seems that heat therapy can promote hypertrophy as well. According to “Sunlighten”, a study done on rats “showed that after 30 minutes in a sauna, heat-shock proteins were released, and this prompted a 30% increase in muscle regrowth when compared to a control group.” (https://www.sunlighten.com/blog/5-reasons-need-add-sauna-fitness-routine/)
The benefit of heat therapy on endurance is also immense. According to The European Journal of Applied Physiology, “post-exercise sauna bathing for 3 weeks induced heat acclimation and accelerated exhaustion and improved exercise performance, running speed, and time-to-exhaustion more than endurance training alone.” (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00421-020-04541-z). If you work out, it is clear that implementing time in the sauna will help your muscles recover, boost muscle growth, and help your physical performance.
Beyond the benefits on our body, it seems that sauna use has incredible benefits on our brains. Dr. Rhonda Patrick has found that “people that used the sauna 2-3 times per week had a 20% lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. People that use the sauna 4-7 times per week had a 65% lower Alzheimer’s disease incidence.” According to Max Lugavere, NY Times best-selling author, “Exercise is well-known to boost BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), a major mediator of neuroplasticity. This helps your brain forge new connections, solidify long term memories, reduce anxiety and even heal from early traumatic events.” (https://www.maxlugavere.com/blog/5-incredible-things-that-happen-when-you-sit-in-a-sauna)
How Long Should I Sit in a Sauna?
How long you spend in a sauna depends entirely on your body and how you are feeling that given day. Rather than setting a specific time for yourself, a simple Finnish rule of thumb is stay inside until you are hot enough. If you are new to using heat therapy, start off small. Try 5 minutes then work your way up if it feels right to do so. Even spending a few minutes in a sauna or steam room will provide benefits. Always make sure that you are properly hydrated before and after a sauna or steam room session. Heat therapy is not for everyone. Check with your doctor before adding heat therapy to your routine to make sure it’s safe for you.
How to Implement Heat Therapy in Your Life
Nowadays, most gyms have steam rooms and some have saunas. You can also find businesses that offer saunas (dry or infrared) and steam rooms that you can book like you would book a workout class. If you have some money to spend and free space at your house, you can also look into investing in a personal sauna room, like this one.
You can also look into adding a steam room feature to your shower. Finally, there are blankets that you can purchase which may mimic the experience of a sauna, like this one.