There is a modern day problem that we all struggle with these days and it is making us sick. It is our fast paced lives and exposure to environmental toxins.
My secret weapon against this onslaught has been my Infrared Sauna.
Here’s my story…
Where it all started for me:
I was very young when I first experienced a Sauna. I joined my parents and siblings on a visit to family friends at a small holding in my hometown when they fired up their Sauna. After sweating it out for a few minutes I first learnt about the amazing ability that the human body has to sweat out toxins. Although I was mostly interested in climbing trees at that age, I found the thought intriguing and have been jumping at the opportunity to Sauna ever since.
It was only when I travelled to Finland as a young adult that I realised just how beneficial it can be to make a practice out of Sauna therapy. The Fins built a culture around Sauna much like we as South Africans have built around braai. They also like to do cold plunges in the icy water, especially during winter and this exposure to heat and cold builds excellent immunity. Back home most of us are only able to Sauna on rare occasion and although I felt great after every Sauna session I somehow knew that I needed to be doing more of this to have any lasting impact. It turns out there is a mountain of research on the topic to support this practice.
After a serious chronic diagnosis in my family during my late 20’s I came across research finding that a genetic predisposition for autoimmunity coupled with exposure to environmental toxins, creates a high risk of contract an autoimmune disease. After having researched various supporting therapies to prevent and even reverse autoimmunity I came across research into the benefits on Infrared Sauna Therapy for Autoimmunity and having seen all this I decided to start looking for an infrared Sauna of my own.
Getting my own Sauna:
There are different types of Saunas available on the market; they are either Radiant-heat Saunas or Infrared Saunas. The difference here is the heating method and Sauna temperature.
A Radiant-heat Sauna is heated by pouring water over hot rocks to create steam and heat and these Saunas get up to 80-90 °C. The recommended Sauna time in these Saunas is 5-20min followed by cold immersion. This cycle is repeated two to three times in a Radiant-heat Sauna session.
Infrared Saunas on the other hand are heated by incandescent infrared heat lamps or ceramic/metallic heat elements and they only reach up to 60 °C. The recommended Sauna time in Infrared Saunas is twenty to thirty minutes. Infrared light penetrates the skin and heats the body without needing to heat the air to such an extent as is required in radiant-heat Saunas.
Although both types of Saunas provide health benefits, I prefer infrared Saunas. I find them more relaxing at 60 °C and feel that they benefit me more. They also heat up within 5 minutes and don’t use up a lot of electricity.
I found a South African company who supplies infrared Saunas at an affordable price and I was able to purchase one and have it installed in my home. I was very satisfied with their service and I can recommend the company; you can find them athttps://www.thesaunashop.co.za/. My two person Sauna (1,2m x 1,2m) is about the same size as my desk and fits snugly into my study. It is also quite attractive and definitely not a sore eye in the house.
If you have a Sauna at your local gym you don’t have to buy your own and you can just jump in and relax away after your training session or on your rest days.
Why this is my secret weapon:
It’s simple. I feel relaxed, focused, my sleep improves, I can feel I have gotten rid of toxins, my skin looks and feels great and my mood improves a lot.
I feel like I benefit the most from my Sauna session when; it is 30 minutes or more, when I meditate during the session and when I take a cold plunge or cold shower after the session.
I Sauna at least twice a week, sometimes more.
Here’s the science:
Regular Sauna bathing can provide many health benefits, especially in cardiovascular or rheumatological diseases and for improved exercise or weight loss performance. The heat produced in the skin induce thermal vasodilation, thus increasing the blood flow in the skin. The blood warmed in the skin subsequently circulates throughout the body, warming other body parts.
Getting a bit more technical, according to Hussain and Cohen (2018:1-30), the mechanisms for these effects may include increased bioavailability of nitric oxide to vascular endothelium, heat shock protein-mediated metabolic activation, immune and hormonal pathway alterations, enhanced excretions of toxicants through increased sweating, and other hormetic stress responses .
I found that most research studies employed regular Sauna sessions rather than long duration sessions less often. Sauna sessions post exercise was also found to be very effective. A typical protocol in these studies would be Sauna sessions in an infrared Sauna at 60°C for 15 minutes followed by 30 minutes of rest under a blanket after the Sauna session. Once a day, five days a week for four weeks. I find that a short Sauna session before bed followed by a quick shower can be an easy way to follow this protocol.
When my immune system takes knock I follow this protocol and see the difference after a week.
These benefits stand out for me from the science:
Unfortunately our bodies are constantly contaminated by the air we breathe, the food we eat (preservatives and pesticides); even our drinking water is chemically treated. Our health is determined by how effectively we detox these contaminants.
This is the obvious benefit from Sauna bathing. Your fat cells get rid of the contaminants they hold when you Sauna. The contaminants are removed by lymphatic fluid through the skin as sweat and you should then wash this away from the skin surface by bathing.
Relaxation and improved mood
Most of us have fast paced lives that raises our stress levels and keep us up at night. It is increasingly important to get effective downtime. Sauna bathing can be a great way to manage your stress levels. Various studies show improved relaxation and sleep due to Sauna bathing as well as improved mood (anxiety, depression and fatigue). The rise in body temperature and blood flow also produce endorphins, reduces inflammation and reduces muscle pain. Sauna sessions also provide time for mindfulness practices such as meditation and such effects are likely to promote adherence to regular Sauna activity .
Improvement in chronic illness
I have come across various studies that suggest Sauna bathing benefits people with chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease like hypertension, congestive heart failure and post myocardial infarction care. It also benefits people suffering from rheumatic diseases such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis; as well as patients with chronic fatigue  and chronic pain syndromes . Patients suffering from addictions , chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and allergic rhinitis  also benefited from Sauna bathing.
Interestingly, pain relief is found to be provided by improved lung function due to Sauna bathing .
Enhanced Cardiovascular Function
During a Sauna session the body dilates blood vessels and increases the hearth rate and metabolism in order to cool down the body. Regular Sauna sessions improve cardiovascular function. In fact, a 30 minute Sauna session was found to have a similar effect as a gentle cardiovascular exercise.
Another obvious benefit is that a sauna session increases metabolism and burns calories but it might be less known that detoxing the body can improve gut health and metabolic efficiency; which can aid weight management.
Your body has heightened capability to kill unwanted pathogens such as viruses, fungi or bacteria when your body temperature increases. It can be beneficial to take regular Sauna baths when you are not feeling well or have been exposed to viruses.
Although only minor and infrequent adverse effects relating to Sauna bathing have been reported I think that it is always important to look at the pro’s and con’s of any lifestyle choice. When it comes to Sauna bathing there are a few risk to take be aware of. As always, talk to your Doctor if you have any concerns or medical conditions before starting a new practice.
The highest risk seems to be using alcohol before or during your Sauna session. Remember alcohol is a toxin and you will be placing your body under stress if you Sauna while under the influence of alcohol. According to Hussain and Cohen (2018:25)the risk of death from Saunas was examined in retrospective population studies of frequent Sauna users in Sweden and Finland, with the annual death rate from Saunas being reported as 0.06 and 2 per 100,000 inhabitants, respectively, with half or more of all these deaths involving the use of alcohol and a common risk factor of Sauna bathing alone .
Another potential area of concern is Sauna use in early pregnancy because of evidence suggesting that hyperthermia might cause birth defects  or in men undergoing fertility treatment .
Make sure you hydrate enough and replace your essential minerals if you Sauna bathe regularly.
Check with your Doctor if you are on medication or drugs, or if you are suffering from a medical condition. It may be possible that you can be on medication that can be dangerous while Sauna bathing (e.g. insulin) or that you can release past drugs that may be stored in fat tissue during your Sauna session which may bring out the same effects once again. There are also people with certain medical conditions who should avoid Sauna (e.g. brain tumors, strokes, heart attack, multiple sclerosis, silicone implants).
I hope you can find your secret weapon. In the meantime, try getting your sweat on:)
- Crinnion, W.J. 2011. Sauna as a Valuable Clinical Tool for Cardiovascular, Autoimmune, Toxicant- induced and other Chronic Health Problems. Alternative Medicine Review.16,3(2011): 215-225.
- Hussain, J and Cohen, M. (2018).Clinical Effects of Regular Dry Sauna Bathing: A Systematic Review. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.(2018):1-30.
- Soejima, Y., Munemoto, T., Msuda, A., Uwatoko, Y., Miyata, M. and Tei, C. (2015). Effects of Waon Therapy on Chronic Fatinue Syndrome: A Pilot Study. Internal Medicine.54(2015): 333-338.