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Sauna & Steam Room Benefits: Get Hot For Health!

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To many people saunas and steam room benefits provide a chance to relax and unwind after a workout or hard day, but did you know that doing it frequently can extend your life?

Saunas and heat therapies have been around for centuries, originating all the way back to ancient Greece and Hippocrates, who wrote, “Give me the power to produce fever, and I will cure all disease.”

Sunlight was also a form of heat therapy, contributing to a wide range of health benefits. 

I personally had my first heat therapy experience many decades ago when I ventured into a Kiva Center and unsuspectingly found myself in a nudist colony. Being that I was a young and inexperienced sauna-goer—not to mention a modest one—I didn’t stay long, though I did manage to slip in a sweat.

I also managed to accidently sit on a man in a yoga posture who looked like a stool—oops!—though later I discovered a quaint little gym sauna with a chamber in the back and started sweating regularly.

Here’s why . . .

Sauna Benefits

An inviting pine sauna interior with benches, water bucket, back rest.
Saunas boost oxygen and nutrients in cells.

Countless studies have confirmed the benefits of saunas for about every ailment under the sun, from reducing inflammation, high blood pressure, and oxidative stress, to boosting metabolism.

But beyond their ability to flush toxins, improve skin, and make you feel 10 times better than you did before, a smoking hot sauna session can improve your immune system, your respiratory system, your nervous system, your heart. It curbs all-cause mortality (ACM) if you do it often.

In fact research shows that ACM is reduced by 40% among frequent sauna bathers vs infrequent, with frequent being five to seven days a week vs two to three.

The reason that’s important is because frequency does count. To obtain the full benefits of saunas you have to do it regularly, i.e., at least three times a week for twenty minutes, and if you want to optimize—meaning lifespan extension of up to seven years—then four times a week or more.

One study showed that “Among men who reported using the sauna 4–7 times per week, the risk of CVD [cardiovascular disease] mortality was 50% lower than among men who reported using the sauna only once weekly. In addition, the risk of all-cause mortality was 40% lower among frequent sauna users compared to infrequent users, independent of conventional risk factors.”

Saunas also . . .

  • Boost cognition and brain health.
  • Promote restful sleep.
  • Burn calories and help you lose weight.
  • Improve arterial health.
  • Improve resting heartrate.
  • Decrease insulin resistance.
  • Produce a cardiovascular workout.
  • Relieve muscle and joint tension.
  • Balance cholesterol.
  • Reduce high blood pressure.
  • Boost the immune system.
  • Support respiratory health and lungs.
  • Stoke growth hormone (hGH).
  • Improve mental health.
  • Promote detoxification.
  • Curb chronic disease.

In fact sauna ‘heat stress’ is so good for the body that according to one study, it’s emerging as a “potential alternative to exercise for improving cardiovascular health.”

According to this report: 

Although we are relaxed in the sauna, we still receive many of the metabolic and cardiovascular benefits of fairly vigorous exercise. This mild surge in blood flow facilitates waste removal from tissues and improves the delivery of oxygen and vital nutrients to the cells.

Sauna Benefits: Achieving ‘Sauna Fitness’

Front view of a large glassed in sauna with a stacked river rock heater and wall.
Saunas burn calories as you sit.

The term ‘sauna fitness’ refers to the ability of sauna time to produce effects similar to a moderate workout. In other words, a sauna boosts your heart rate (HR) and blood pressure (BP) like during a workout, but afterwards they not only decline, they improve, so heart rate and blood pressure get healthier:

Initially, “The heat exposure [of sauna] resulted in a significant (p<0.01) and progressive increase in systolic and diastolic BP. After the sauna bath, BP decreased and showed significantly (p<0.001) lower values compared to baseline.”

And ditto for heart rate:

“HR [heart rate] also increased continuously during heat application (p<0.001), resulting in a significant increase (p<0.001) in systolic BP x HR as a measure of myocardial oxygen consumption. After the end of the sauna session, both the BP and the HR decreased steadily (p<0.001).”

Which is primarily due to the hormetic effect of exercise, which upgrades cellular and molecular pathways to greater levels of adaptation in response to stress, or in this case the ‘exercise’ you sport in a sauna:

“When comparing BP and HR during the sauna session with the reaction during a dynamic exercise test, sauna bathing was equivalent to an exercise load of about 60-100 watts.”

Which isn’t a marathon, but nothing to sniff at.

According to American Fitness Magazine, “a beginner cyclist may average around 75–100 watts in a 1-hour workout,” with watts representing the power you exert over inertia.

So it definitely adds up, and it’s one of the reasons they call it ‘sauna fitness’—you’re getting fit while you sit! And also burning more calories than if you were sitting somewhere else. About 1.5 to 2x more.

And then there are heat shock protein benefits, which are huge.

Sauna Benefits | Heat Shock Protein Benefits

Wooden sauna interior with long benches and pillow rests.
Saunas produce beneficial heat shock proteins.

The activation of heat shock proteins (HSPs) during times of elevated body temperature plays a key role in sauna benefits and the benefits of steam rooms. 

So what exactly are heat shock proteins? 

According to Nature: 

Cells are repeatedly exposed to environmental or endogenous stresses that can alter normal cell behavior and increase cell vulnerability. In order to ensure tissue integrity and function, cells cope with cellular injuries by adapting their metabolism, protecting essential intracellular constituents, inhibiting cell death signaling pathways and activating those devoted to damage repair. The molecular chaperones of the heat-shock protein (HSP) family are critical effectors of this adaptive response. They protect intracellular proteins from misfolding or aggregation, inhibit cell death signaling cascades and preserve the intracellular signaling pathways that are essential for cell survival. 

In other words, they protect our cells, and in the sauna—or steam room—they’re onboard. Another study notes that “When cells are exposed to thermal stress, stress proteins called heat shock proteins (HSPs) are upregulated intracellularly, and they are thought to serve as molecular chaperones to prevent protein aggregation and help transport repair proteins.”

Here’s what Mayo Clinic says:

  • Beyond pleasure and relaxation, emerging evidence suggests that sauna bathing has several health benefits, which include reductions in the risk of vascular diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease (CVD), stroke, and neurocognitive diseases; nonvascular conditions such as pulmonary diseases and the common flu; mortality; treatment of specific skin conditions; as well as pain in conditions such as rheumatic diseases and headache. 
  • The physiological responses produced by an ordinary sauna bath correspond to moderate- or high-intensity physical activity such as walking. 
  • The beneficial effects of sauna baths on CVD and mortality may be mediated by reduction in blood pressure, improvement in endothelial function, reduction in oxidative stress and inflammation, beneficial modulation of the autonomic nervous system, improved lipid profile and arterial compliance, and improvement of the cardiorespiratory system.   

And again

Frequency of sauna use was associated with increased decreased risk of death. Using the sauna 2-3 times per week was associated with 24% lower all-cause mortality and 4-7 times per week decreased all-cause mortality by 40%.

And if you workout first, double-win.  

Benefits of Sauna Post-Workout

Long spacious sauna interior with towels folded on a bench.
Post-workout saunas increase immunity and muscle strength.

One of my favorite times to sauna is after a workout, and I know I’m not alone. After a run/pump at the gym, I’m in the box, and it’s not a bad one.

I’ve been going to the same gym for over 25 years, so it’s like a dear old friend. I know every crack in the boards, every hiss and grind of the old heater, every glitch in the temp gauge and rickety door.

And I have a clear routine:

Then I’m in and lay down, way up on the top corner bench where it gets the hottest and I feel right at home.

And when it comes to heath benefits specifically post-workout, here’s some really good news. A study found that athletes who sauna post-workout have a stronger immune system and white blood cell (WBC) count overall:

  • “Sauna bathing with a body cool-down causes a significant increase in an overall WBC count only in the group of trained men [athletes post-workout].
  • Sauna bathing considerably elevates neutrophil count, basophil count and lymphocyte count in the blood of trained men.
  • Sauna bathing causes a significantly higher increase in WBC and monocytes in athletes compared to untrained subjects.
  • Changes in the white blood cell profile suggest a faster mobilization of cells in the first line of immune defense in athletes compared to untrained subjects after a sauna bathing session.”

Researchers conclude that “Sauna bathing could be recommended for athletes as a means of enhancing immunological defense.”

So here are some nuts and bolts:

Steam Room vs Sauna Benefits 

Dark knotty-wood sauna interior with long benches.
Steam rooms are beneficial for respiratory ailments.

When it comes to saunas versus steam rooms, most folks already know that a steam room is wet and a sauna’s dry—the former’s water-fueled, the latter’s a stove. Steam rooms are also slightly cooler than saunas, with different temperature sets and humidity.

A steam room is typically around 110°F and highly humid, about 100%, whereas saunas range from 150 to 200 degrees with roughly 10% humidity. The former is preferable for respiratory ailments such as asthma and allergies, but folks who are sensitive to moisture prefer dry.

One study found that children with respiratory ailments recovered faster after using a steam room than children who didn’t. The steam can help relieve congestion and symptoms of the common cold.  

Is there an Optimal Sauna Temp?

A good sauna temp, in reality, is what works for you, if you have a choice. Gyms often have a preset.

Most people prefer sauna temperatures that range between 150-175 degrees, or 120-130 degrees for infrared. However others like saunas smoking hot in the upper realms of 200°F and higher. I personally like it real hot and can’t stand a tepid sauna, hot tub, or salt bath.

And speaking of baths, a 20-minute hot soak can do wonders for your health, akin to saunas if you take them frequently. They also rock because you can immerse in salts like this Serotonin Soak from HigherDOSE—the best magnesium ever from the Zechstein seabed with French green clay, brown algae, ACV, and an aromatic blend of turmeric, marjoram, and eucalyptus.

Click the image below to find out why we’re 💯 percent hooked. (We may receive a commission if you purchase via our links.)  

A clickable image showing a bag of Higher Dose Serotonin Soak Salts by a scoop of crystals on a bath caddy with instructions.

It’s also suggested to cool down fast after a sauna. 

Cold Shower after Sauna 

I personally always take cold showers between sauna sessions, and according to this report, it can make a difference:

Proper sauna session should be completed with a fast cool-down so that the body is quickly cooled and stops sweating. Prolonged sweat release leads to a decrease in intravascular plasma volume and consequently causes an increase in hematocrit (HCT), total red blood cell (RBC) count and leukocyte (WBC) count (). 

Sauna Benefits | Benefits of Steam Rooms 

Sauna interior with towels and water bucket.
Frequent saunas boost longevity.

Saunas Relieve Sore Muscles, Tendons, and Joints

Obviously saunas and other heat therapies target sore muscles, tendons, and joints. That’s one of the key reasons most folks take them and keep coming back.

According to one report, dry saunas help relieve lower back pain: 

Our results suggest that dry sauna therapy may be useful to improve quality of life and reduce pain in patients with low back pain. Therefore, pain physicians can recommend dry sauna therapy as an alternative and complimentary therapy for patients with low back pain.

Since saunas reduce inflammation, increase oxygen in cells, and dilate blood vessels, they reduce all kinds of pain. They also boost recovery, muscle strength, and endurance. 

Saunas Improve Muscle Strength   

Studies have shown that post-workout saunas help build strength and preserve muscle mass. 

According to Dr. Rhonda Patrick, “Sauna bathing after high-intensity exercise can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and improve muscle strength. In addition, research demonstrates that local heat exposure prevents muscle atrophy in immobilized patients.”

And for runners they rock.   

Saunas After Endurance Running

Studies have found that saunas after running are a go-to for athletic endurance. One report notes that three weeks of post-workout saunas produced “a worthwhile enhancement of endurance running performance, probably by increasing blood volume.”

According to Runner’s World

Taking saunas increase your blood volume, and the more water-filled blood you have to move around, the better you can compete in endurance competitions. The sauna baths boosted subjects’ plasma volume by 7.1 percent and their run time to exhaustion by 32 percent. 

Saunas Boost Athletic Performance and Recovery 

Saunas improve athletic performance and recovery in a number of ways, notably by increasing blood flow, repairing damaged proteins in muscles, and reducing inflammation.

They increase the production of heat shock proteins that repair cells, as well as offset atrophy, boost muscle strength, and scale oxygen. In addition they boost resilience: “Basal HSP concentrations are higher in heat-acclimated individuals, suggesting that heat acclimation induces whole-body adaptations that increase heat tolerance, resulting in protective cellular adaptations.”

Saunas after Weight Training

Taking a sauna after strength training is not only a good idea, it’s the best idea ever. Saunas have been shown to increase muscle strength, ramp blood flow, reduce lactic acid and inflammation, help repair proteins, and more. 💪 

They also provide a short burst of growth hormone (hGH) and boost recovery time. And they’re bomb for detox.

Saunas for Detox  

Detoxing in saunas has been a thing for decades, if not centuries, and even though I recently heard people claiming that saunas don’t detox, this study says otherwise:

Improved adaptation to stress with regular sauna bathing may be further enhanced by excretion of toxicants through heavy sweating. Many industrial toxicants including heavy metals, pesticides, and various petrochemicals may be excreted in sweat leading to an enhancement of metabolic pathways and processes that these toxic agents inhibit. Sweat-induced excretion of toxic metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury has been reported with the rates of excretion matching or exceeding urinary routes. There is also recent evidence that toxic chemicals and xenobiotics such as polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants, organochlorine pesticides, bisphenol-A (BPA), and phthalates may be excreted via induced sweating at rates that exceed urinary excretion.  

And as everyone knows, saunas are relaxing. 

In fact . . . 

Saunas are ‘Deeply’ Relaxing

Saunas are a great way to rest and unwind after a hard day, and though blood pressure and heart rate climb during heat stress, they steadily decrease afterwards and reduce inflammation, oxidative stress, blood pressure, and resting heart rate, which chills you down.

I’m always 10x more relaxed after a sauna, and they boost mood. In fact saunas can produce the happy euphoric feelings of a ‘runners high’ due to the release of dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins—a double-win if you tap it twice (post-workout).

And when it comes to a deep restful sleep, they’re in. They actually remind me of a bath soak in how effective they are at inducing sleep. Not only do I doze off faster, I experience deeper REM.  

One cross-sectional study found that “sauna-bathing participants, particularly those from Finland, Australia and the United States, are motivated to use saunas predominantly for relaxation, reporting health benefits especially around mental well-being and sleep, with relatively few adverse effects.”   

Sauna & Steam Room Benefits

Steam room interior with glass door and rolled towels on a bench.
Saunas boost cardiovascular health.

Since most of us already know that increasing exercise boosts cardiovascular health, it’s not a leap to assume that saunas have similar effects, and especially with regards to ‘sauna fitness’ and the heart.

According to one report, regular sauna bathing boosts cardiovascular function via “improved endothelium-dependent dilatation, reduced arterial stiffness, modulation of the autonomic nervous system, beneficial changes in circulating lipid profiles, and lowering of systemic blood pressure.”

Jama Medicine says this:

“Although previous population studies have suggested possible positive effects of sauna bathing on cardiovascular health, this study extends these observations by finding that sauna bathing is inversely associated with the risk of SCD [sudden cardiac death], CHD [coronary heart disease], CVD [fatal cardiovascular disease ], and all-cause mortality. The higher frequency of sauna bathing was related to a considerable decreased risk of SCDs, fatal CHDs, fatal CVDs, and all-cause mortality events independently from conventional risk factors.”

Saunas also curb vascular disease, neurocognitive disease, pulmonary disease, autoimmune disease, migraines, common flu viruses, and more. Consult your physician about the many ways saunas can help.

Lemon Water Benefits and Sauna

It’s also worth noting that hydration is key during sauna bathing, and especially with organic filtered lemon water. Lemon water contains natural electrolytes and replenishes calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and more.  

In fact you should have water before going in, water while you’re in, and more when you get out. Pack an Eco-friendly glass or stainless steel container in your gym bag and avoid sugary, chemical-laden drinks.   

Studies have shown that ‘sauna dehydration’ and extreme athletics that induce hyperthermia can increase intestinal permeability, so all forms of hyperthermia and heat stress should be approached with caution and with lots of fluids before, during, and after.

It’s also helpful to ramp the biome with high-quality prebiotics and probiotics post-sauna.

What Are the Best Home Saunas?

Gorgeous barrel sauna on a cliff overlooking the beach.
Saunas including wood, dry heat, steam, and infrared all have health benefits.

Saunas come in all shapes, sizes, and types these days, including wood burning saunas, electric dry heat, steam rooms, and infrared. Though each has unique characteristics and perks, they all provide significant health benefits.

In fact there are honestly so many great home saunas on the market now that it’s hard to choose. Just be happy if you can afford one, set it up, and start sweating.

Otherwise you’ll have to go to a gym, which isn’t bad, or steam your bathroom out, which isn’t bad either, or get a ‘sauna blanket’ or portable till you expand.

Which is what I did when I purchased this sauna blanket years backs from HigherDOSE. You can click on the image or go HERE to learn more. (We may receive a commission if you purchase via our links):

HigherDOSE Infrared Sauna Blanket clickable image with a girl in the blanket relaxing.

That said, sauna blankets, which are usually infrared, and portables, are extremely handy for times when you can’t make it to the gym and need to dive in exactly where you’re at, like in the comfort of your own home.

I use my sauna blanket a lot in the winter to avoid venturing out in storms, so they’re convenient, and not a bad investment if you can’t purchase a large sauna.

Anyway, the following are among the best infrared saunas on the market right now if you’re looking to get one.   

HigherDOSE Full Spectrum Infrared Sauna Two Person

Clickable image of HigherDOSE two person full spectrum infrared sauna.
Full spectrum infrared sauna by HigherDOSE.

HigherDOSE is a superior wellness brand with excellent products, including this full spectrum low EMF infrared sauna for two people.

Here’s their description:

Bring The HigherDOSE heat home with you. The Full Spectrum Infrared Sauna, powered by Clearlight, is the hottest on the market – literally – with low EMF carbon heaters raising the temperature inside a state-of-the-art wooden unit with a charcoal gray exterior. Plug your tunes into the upgraded entertainment system, activate chromotherapy lights, step inside your own infrared oasis, and experience the most powerful at-home detox around. Or make your sauna the ultimate heated fitness hub by removing the interior bench for more room to stretch, flow, and squat.

The HigherDOSE Full Spectrum Sauna detoxifies the body, relaxes the mind, boosts your mood, promotes glowing skin, and ignites a healthy DOSE of your brain’s feel-good chemicals AKA Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins. After just one session you’ll feel blissed, buzzed, and beautiful – like you just spent a day in nature.

Exterior: Width: 52″ Depth: 48″ Height: 77″
Interior: Width: 47″ Depth: 44″ Height: 74″
Electric: 120V / 20Amp NEMA 5/20P- Dedicated Circuit

Click HERE to learn more. (We may receive a commission if you purchase via our links.)

HigherDOSE Full Spectrum Infrared Sauna Three Person

Clickable image of HigherDOSE three person full spectrum infrared sauna.
Full spectrum infrared sauna by HigherDOSE.

This three person full spectrum infrared sauna by HigherDOSE is similar to the two person above, but larger.

Here are some FAQS:

Q: How are HigherDOSE Infrared Saunas Different?
A: Our Patented Technology – Full Spectrum infrared, Carbon/Ceramic Heaters, Low EMF, Chromotherapy

Our HigherDOSE Custom Saunas have 3 sets of waves:
NEAR – penetrates epidermis, increases immune function
MID – increases circulation and blood flow
FAR – longest range, penetrates to the core, releasing deep metals for ultimate detox

Carbon/Ceramic Heaters
We combine carbon and ceramic in our heaters, which produces long wave infrared + a high infrared output.

Because we use low EMF ((Electromagnetic Field)) carbon infrared heaters, the EMF levels when you’re sitting in the sauna are virtually zero.

Chromotherapy (Light Therapy)
Light therapy energizes skin cells, stimulating the production of collagen and elastin, giving skin back its youthful look.

When used with infrared technology, light therapy is one of the most effective ways to repair the body.

Click HERE to learn more. (We may receive a commission if you purchase via our links.)

Sauna Side Effects and Cautions

Sauna interior with accessories.
Saunas are safe for most people.

Steam rooms and saunas can lose their benefits real quick if you’re not safe, and though most healthy people can use them, it’s important to speak with your physician if you have medical conditions or take prescription drugs.

Here are some tips:

  • Stay hydrated: before, during, and after.
  • Careful with temp extremes like sauna to ice plunge (learn more here).
  • Leave immediately if you feel dizzy, sick, nauseous, or uncomfortable in any way.
  • Don’t fall asleep.
  • Don’t sauna and drink alcohol or take drugs.
  • Gradually build up like you would exercise.
  • Max time should be around 20-30 minutes ballpark and newbies 5-10 minutes.
  • Don’t use a sauna if you’re sick.
  • Healthy children age six or older can sauna for up to 15 minutes with adult supervision.
  • Consult your physician first if you’re pregnant. 

Sauna Accessories

Inexpensive Portable Saunas

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The medical and health topics covered on the Plate of Grass website and blog have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to prevent or cure any disease. This article and its content is presented ‘as is’ for informational purposes only.

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