By Brent Moore, CSCS
Go to any country club or large fitness facility in the country and you are bound to find a group of people sitting in a sauna sweating. Many people sit in saunas with no real reason or understanding of why this may or may not be beneficial. When asked, most people tell you they sit in a sauna because it feels good to sweat. Sweating is actually a great benefit of sauna therapy, because it helps to expel waste from the body. Anybody who has hit the gym after a night in which they over-indulged in liquid relaxation can attest to the body’s ability to sweat out toxins, as can anyone standing near them. Excessive sweating can act as a detoxifying treatment for the body and can feel great as long as fluids are replaced and dehydration is avoided. The sauna has many other benefits, however, that are often overlooked, and research shows that infrared saunas may be superior to traditional saunas in many regards.
A traditional sauna, rather dry or wet, heats the air and passively heats the individual. Infrared saunas use infrared heaters to penetrate the tissue of users, up to two inches, and heat the person rather than the air. Because of the difference in the way traditional and infrared saunas heat people, infrared saunas operate at much lower temperatures. Traditional saunas typically operate at temperatures between 150° F and 185° F. An infrared sauna operates at a temperature of around 120° F, which makes it more tolerable for people sensitive to higher temperatures. The action by which an infrared sauna heats the body allows for the muscles, joints, and surrounding tissue to heat more efficiently and provides many benefits to the body. If this sounds like being cooked, don’t worry, infrared saunas are well studied and proven to be a safe and effective means of warming tissue.
The warming of the muscles increase blood flow to the muscles and improves circulation throughout the body. This results in reduced pain and swelling in the muscles and joints, and can be increase the rate of muscle recovery from workouts. Warmer tissues are also more responsive to stretching, which makes the use of a sauna great for relaxing the muscles prior to or during a stretching routine. The increased temperature of the body also results in a higher heart rate which translates to a higher caloric burn. The Journal of the American Medical Association published an article that stated a 30-minute infrared sauna session could burn around 600 calories. Sauna use has also been used to help patients with high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and rheumatoid arthritis. In addition to the muscle and cardiovascular benefits of regular sauna use, infrared sauna use promotes relaxation by balancing cortisol levels and releasing endorphins in the body.
Sauna use is a common way for people to detox and relax throughout the world. Infrared saunas have the same benefits of traditional saunas, plus the added benefit of direct muscle heating while exposing the body to lower temperatures than traditional saunas. People who use infrared saunas regularly are more likely to reap and feel the benefits of its use than those who only use them sporadically. In order to benefit from sauna use, a person should use the sauna at least once per week for 20 to 30 minutes per use. A person should always start at lower times, approximately 15 minutes and work their way up to longer times, even those in good cardiovascular condition. One should also immediately exit the sauna if he feels faint or dizzy at any point during use. Regular sauna use can have many health and relaxation benefits, especially when used in conjunction with good eating habits and a regular exercise routine.
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