There’s nothing quite like a 20-minute sweat session in a sauna. You feel more relaxed and rested after you’re done, and the heat helps relieve sore muscles and improves your overall health and well-being.
But if the high temperatures of a traditional sauna are just too much for you to handle, an infrared sauna may offer the benefits of a sauna without the extreme heat.
Health Benefits of Infrared Sauna:
1. Heart Health & Blood Pressure
According to a review of all of the published scientific literature about these infrared saunas, the biggest researched benefit seems to be the coronary benefits, most notably in their ability to help normalize blood pressure and reduce the chance of congestive heart failure.
An increase in circulation and sweating can aid in detoxification, and in this way sauna therapy helps mobilize toxins. A systematic review in 2012 found that toxic heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury are found in sweats of people who are exposed to these harmful metals. In a case report, they found that mercury levels normalized with repeated sauna treatments.
3. Anti-aging, Muscle Growth, and Injury Healing
Saunas increase heat shock proteins, antioxidant enzymes, and stimulate cellular cleanup, which can help our cells function like new. In aging mice, an increase in heat shock proteins help delay aging and improves cognitive function.
Sauna bathing can also increase several anti-aging hormones including human growth hormones and the insulin-growth factor 1. IGF-1, in particular, can really help with injury healing.
4. Mood, Mental Health, and Cognitive Function
Just as when you go for a run, sauna use increases endorphins (the happiness hormone) and opiods (the body’s natural pain reliever), as well as a molecule called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the brain.
BDNF stimulates neurogenesis (the growth of new neuronal cells) in the brain and protects new neurons from damage. Improving BDNF levels is therefore important for cognitive function. In addition, low or abnormal levels of BDNF may be a cause of several mental and psychiatric diseases.
Infrared saunas can also reduce stress by re-balancing the stress response axis. It can help lower cortisol, and thus helps with stress-related health problems. Saunas also improve the neurotransmitter called norepinephrine, which can help improve cognitive performance.
5. Weight Loss and Metabolic Diseases
Contrary to popular claims, heat and infrared exposure do not directly burn fat or kill fat cells. However, saunas help improve insulin sensitivity, increase lean muscles, and reduce fat by changing the hormonal environment. In addition, the saunas also reduce inflammation. Therefore, sauna therapies can prevent obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
A Japanese study found that two weeks of sauna therapy increased appetite and food intake in people of a healthy weight. However, in overweight people infrared sauna usage together with a low-calorie diet resulted in significant weight and body fat loss. While this study did not compare the fat loss with a group that did not use the sauna, the reduction in body fat (4.5%) in about two week’s time is considered very fast.
6. Inflammation and Autoimmunity
By increasing circulation in the body, heat exposure can help reduce inflammation.
Infrared saunas can help decrease inflammation more powerfully than other types of saunas. Infrared therapy stimulates protective nitric oxide production in the blood vessels, reduces oxidative stress, and increases mitochondria function. Several studies have shown that infrared exposure helps with numerous inflammatory diseases, including:
chronic kidney disease
Sjögren syndrome (an immune condition marked by dry eyes/mouth)
asthma and chronic bronchitis
7. Skin Health
In order to eliminate heat, your body increases blood flow to the skin. In addition, the skin adapts to this process, making it healthier. A German study found that the skin of regular saunas users could better hold moisture and maintain a healthy skin pH. In addition, these sauna users had less sebum on their foreheads, suggesting that they were less likely to get acne.
Photobiomodulation by red and near infrared lights can help accelerate wound healing and reduce inflammation of the skin. In addition, it has been used to treat acne, actinic keratinosis, and basal cell carcinoma.
Skin problems like eczema and psoriasis involves both inflammation and a vulnerability of the skin barrier. By helping both with strengthening the skin barrier and reducing overall inflammation, infrared sauna, if tolerated, can really help with these skin issues. (If sweat significantly irritates the rash, then you may want to protect the rashes with a eczema-friendly lotion and shower right after the sauna.)
8. Cellulite Reduction (Along with Other Treatments)
There are several studies that evaluated how well infrared light exposure reduced cellulite along with other treatments. One Brazilian study found that infrared treatment further enhanced the cellulite-reducing effects of regular treadmill exercises. Two studies found that a combination of radio-frequency, infrared light, and mechanical massage treatment significantly helped with cellulite appearance.