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The Health Benefits of Saunas: Recovery, Endurance, Weight Loss

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The benefits of saunas include improved recovery, enhanced power output, improved health markers such lipid panels and much more.

Here's a look at some of the latest research on saunas and how to use them so you can optimize your health and performance.

Infrared Saunas Increase Recovery & Power Output After Endurance Training

Good news for sauna lovers, endurance athletes, fighters - even Crossfitters! The use of infrared saunas after endurance training sessions reduces recovery time and improves power output in subsequent performances.

A 2015 study from Finland had test subjects perform maximal isometric bench presses, leg presses, and counter-movement jumps after using Infrared Saunas (FIRS), Traditional saunas (TRAD), or no sauna following two types of workouts - 60 minute strength sessions and 34-40 minute endurance sessions.

(In case you're wondering, the Traditional Finnish saunas are much higher humidity (60-70%) than the Infrared saunas (25-30% humidity). Both were at temperatures of 35-50 degrees C.)

Following the strength training sessions, there was no difference in recovery or performance between either sauna method.

Following 34-40 minute endurance training sessions, however, the Infrared Sauna treatment resulted in significantly lower heart rates (71 BPM in FIRS vs 92 BPM in TRAD) and greater counter-movement jump measurements.

These results demonstrate enhanced recovery and improved power output.

What this means: If you engage in endurance type training, using an infrared sauna afterward "appears favorable for the neuromuscular system to recover from maximal endurance performance. FIRS bathing is a very light loading for the body and provides a comfortable and relaxing experience." [1]

Saunas Improve Lipid Panels as Much As Physical Exercise

"The positive effect of sauna on lipid profile is similar to the effect that can be obtained through a moderate-intensity physical exercise." Polish researchers concluded after a recent 3 week study.

Here's what the test subjects experienced:

  • Lower total cholesterol
  • Lower LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Increases in blood plasma levels (acute decreases from each session due to perspiration, led to this adaptive increase over 3 weeks)
  • Significant decline in serum triaglycerols
  • Increased HDL - good - cholesterol (although not statistically significant)

The Protocol so you can reap the same benefits:

  1. 15 Minutes at 90 degrees C +/- 2 degrees (194 degrees F) and 5-16% humidity.
  2. 2 Minute cool-down
  3. 15 Minutes at 90 degrees C +/- 2 degrees (194 degrees F) and 5-16% humidity.
  4. 2 Minute cool-down
  5. 15 Minutes at 90 degrees C +/- 2 degrees (194 degrees F) and 5-16% humidity.
  6. 2 Minute cool-down

Repeat this protocol daily or every other day.

Other Benefits & Concerns:

  • People with musculoskeletal issues and disorders may experience a reduction in pain with sauna usage at 80-90 degrees C (176-194 degrees F). [3]
  • People being treated for hypertension with prescription medications may be predisposed to orthostatic hypotension after sauna use (low blood pressure, light-headed & passing out)[3]

Take-Home Message:

If you have access to a sauna - preferably infrared - daily or at least frequent use (3-4 times per week) can improve overall health by improving cholesterol and serum lipid panels. Physical performance can also be improved with use of infrared saunas after endurance-based training sessions. Saunas aren't necessarily a cure-all, but they can be a powerful tool in your toolbox for optimal health and performance.

Let us know your thoughts on saunas and how you use them in your quest to #liveoptimal.

Resources:

  1. Mero, A. Department of Biology of Physical Activity, University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training sessions in men. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26180741
  2. Gryka, D. Institute of Biomedical Sciences, University School of Physical Education, Kraków, Poland. The effect of sauna bathing on lipid profile in young, physically active, male subjects.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25001587
  3. Kukkonen, H. Health effects and risks of sauna bathing. UKK Institute for Health Promotion Research, Tampere, Finland. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16871826

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