Scientists are reporting that sauna use often mimics the effect on the body that it might experience in a physical workout. This is not to recommend that you dump the gym, and spend all your time in the sauna, but rather, the combination is a huge benefit. 

Research is finding that the physiological responses to sauna use are incredibly like those experienced during moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise. Some of the positive benefits of the sauna on heart health may have to do with similar physiological changes that also occur during physical exercise.  

  1. They both make you sweat 
    There is a 50-70% redistribution of blood flow away from your internal body to your skin to facilitate sweating. You start to sweat. Your heart rate may increase up to 150 beats per minute which correspond to moderate-intensity physical exercise. Your heart performance goes up by 60-70%. Immediately after sauna use, blood pressure and resting heart rate go lower than your normal rate, in a similar way to what happens after your physical work out. Exposure to high temperature stresses the body, eliciting a rapid, robust response that affects primarily the skin and cardiovascular systems. The skin heats first, rising to approximately 104 °F. Your plasma volume increases because of the blood flow to the skin. This increase in plasma volume provides a reserve source of fluid for sweating, cools the body to prevent rapid increases in core body temperature, and increases your heat tolerance. You also sweat out heavy metals including aluminum, cadmium, cobalt, and lead.


  2. They both activate heat shock proteins 
    Heat stress creates more heat shock proteins (HSPs) in your system. Heat-shock proteins are a stored family of proteins that are present in all your body cells. They are important for many health factors including immune function, cell signaling, cell-cycle regulation, and proteome homeostasis. 

    Man in workout clothes sitting on steps.

  3. They both create healthy bodies  
    The heat shock protein bodily reactions make sauna use valuable in lowering cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. In order for exercise to be beneficial, your workout sessions must hit or exceed a certain amount of time and energy. Sauna use, and realizing its benefits are similar.  The greatest effects from your sauna use is seen with 20-minute sessions at approximately 175°F. Heat stress also affects your hormones which then start to improve proteins and create an antioxidant effect, and repair your muscle tissues   This is similar to bodily responses to moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise. 
  4. They both improve your aging process 
    Heat Shock Proteins, triggered in both sauna use and exercise, may keep your aging process at bay as well. Loss of proteome integrity is a significant factor of the aging process and disordered or damaged, dysfunctional proteins are common features in age-related diseases such as cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Using the sauna 2-3 times per week is associated with 24% lower mortality rates and using the sauna 4-7 times per week is associated with 40% lower mortality rates. Heat shock proteins have also been shown to prevent and slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s disease, slow human muscle atrophy, and are associated with human longevity. People that used the sauna 2-3 times per week had a 20% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and those that used the sauna 4-7 times per week had a 60% lower risk, compared to men that used the sauna 1 time per week. 


  5. They both train your body’s healthy heat response 
    Infrared saunas allow you to get heated with more comfort. Repeated sauna use acclimates the body to heat and optimizes the body’s response to future exposures. This is due to a body defense response called hormesis. Hormesis super prepares the body as part of its defense. It not only repairs cell damage but makes the body able to fend off more devastating stressors. Exercise also is a form of hormetic stressor with a similar effect. Sauna use has been proposed as an alternative to aerobic exercise for people who are unable to engage in physical activity due to chronic disease or physical limitations.  Sauna use improves responses induced during exercise. Repeated sauna use optimizes these stress responses via hormesis and heat shock proteins. Increased levels of HSPs are sustained over time and occur more rapidly in heat acclimated individuals, suggesting that heat acclimation induces more thorough adaptations that increase heat tolerance, resulting in protective cellular results.


  6. They both have anti-depression effects  
    Infrared sauna has anti-depression effects. Sauna use releases beta-endorphins. Beta-endorphins are pain-relieving compounds that originate within your body. Your brain produces and releases these natural painkillers during times of strenuous exercise, emotional stress and pain. Since saunas are a stressor, the release of endorphins is increased when you spend time in one. Several studies have shown that heat stress and heat exposure in a dry sauna cause a significant increase in beta-endorphin levels. Science has looked at the effects of infrared sauna therapy on mildly depressed patients with fatigue, appetite loss, and mental complaints. Sauna treatment significantly increased their appetite and reduced their mental complaints. Whole-body heat therapy has also been shown to reduce depression in cancer patients. Other research shows that sweating increases mental satisfaction and energy, as does physical exercise work outs.


  7. They both may lower blood pressure  
    Sauna use and exercise both lower blood pressure. Studies have shown that men who use sauna regularly tend to have lower blood pressure. The blood vessel functions sauna use affects, may relieve arthritic stiffness. Several studies have shown that frequent sauna bathing (4-7 times per week, 174°F for 20 min.) is associated with a 50% lower risk for fatal heart disease, 60% lower risk for sudden cardiac death, 51% lower risk for stroke, and 46% lower risk for hypertension. Just a single sauna session has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve heart rate variability, and improve arterial compliance.   

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