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[UPDATED 8-25-2018] If there’s one thing I can label myself a professional at, it would be the art of weightlifting. Yes, it’s art. I’m no Dwayne Johnson, but I’ve been at this for a quarter century. Ok, I just aged myself.
The truth is that no matter how experienced we think we are at something, there’s always room for improvement.
While listening to one of my many podcast streams the other day, I stumbled upon an episode by naturopath, Dr. Stephen Cabral that caught my eye. The title read: “19 Minutes of This Reduces All Causes of Death by 40%.” The health nut in me couldn’t resist!
As I began to listen to Cabral’s episode, I was dumbfounded. I had been working out in gyms for nearly three decades, and stepping inside a sauna had never crossed my mind! To be honest, saunas seemed like somewhat of a joke to me. I viewed them as a waste of time. Something old men and gym newbies did to avoid pumping iron.
But I was wrong.
My ego began to deflate as I listened to Dr. Cabral’s statement.
Allow me to paraphrase:
“Legitimately, all you have to do is use a sauna, and your risk essentially for cardiac arrest goes down by 2/3. There is nothing else in the world that I’ve seen, to my knowledge, that works this well … Nothing touches this.”
NOTE: There are numerous types of saunas, but to keep this article simple, I’ll focus most of my attention on the traditional dry sauna.
I’m going to get right to the point here because if you don’t read the entire article, you’ll at least walk away with the most important points on this topic.
Here is one that always gets people’s attention — being that heart disease is still the #1 leading cause of death in the U.S. — accounting for more than 17.3 million deaths per year. 
On March 1, 1984, a cohort study of 2,315 middle-aged men from Eastern Finland was conducted.  The men’s sauna usage (ages ranging from 42-60 years) was tracked for roughly five years. During a median follow-up of 20.7 years, the results were pretty impressive.
The researchers found that the men who occupied a dry sauna for 20min (2-3 times per week) had a 27% lower risk of death from heart disease. And the more days per week that the men used sauna bathing, the more all-cause mortality rates decreased.
Another Finnish study conducted on 2,300+ men concluded that a moderate to high frequency of sauna bathing was associated with lowered risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 
Your body begins to cool itself down in response to heat — increasing the production of dynorphin in response to the stress. Although dynorphin has the opposite effects of endorphins, it sensitizes the brain to endorphins, which is a good thing!
Renown alternative medicine expert, Dr. Mercola explains that exposure to heat promotes the production of brain neurons. He goes on to state that sauna therapy may be an important strategy to slow or prevent brain aging.
A small study of 55 healthy individuals found that there was a 142% increase in growth hormone for up to an hour following dry sauna usage. 
Now, keep in mind that this study didn’t seem to specify the age and gender of the test subjects, nor did it specify how long the sauna usage was. Regardless, I think this study warrants a compelling amount of legitimacy about a correlation between sauna therapy and hormone health.
Also, I’m not a fan of the (post-workout meal) ideology, but for those of you that are, this would seem to be another reason to follow up a workout and sauna session with a high-protein post-workout meal.
The thyroid is one of the most active organs in the human body. It helps to regulate vital body functions such as heart rate, body weight, muscle strength, cholesterol levels, body temperature, and much more.
Sweating excretes halides. A halide is a binary compound found in things such as soda, baked goods, and pesticides. The more halides you sweat out through sauna therapy, the more iodine your body can use to produce thyroid hormones.
In other words, extensive sweating can influence fat loss, muscle gains, libido, and overall health.
The body responds to the high temperature by rerouting blood flow, speeding heart rate, increasing blood vessel dilation, and secreting a number of hormones. This process is amazing for repairing damaged tissue!
In a March 10, 2005 study, researchers examined the role of heating on oxidative stress and muscle mass in immobilized limbs — lowering the risk of muscle wastage during disuse. 
Oxidative stress can cause damage to cell membranes, resulting in a depletion of glutathione stores. And if you don’t know what glutathione is, you can read up on it here. Simply put, glutathione is considered the master antioxidant by many.
If there’s even a hint of a chance that our glutathione stores can benefit from sauna therapy, then that’s reason enough for me to make this a daily ritual!
While not all saunas are created equal (and I’ll get into this by the end of the post), heat therapy is beneficial for longevity.
This article goes into the association between sauna bathing and all-cause mortality events. 
The researchers conclude with this:
This study provides prospective evidence that sauna bathing is a protective factor against the risk of SCD, fatal CHD, fatal CVD, and all-cause mortality events in the general male population. Our results suggest that sauna bathing is a recommendable health habit, although further studies are needed to confirm our results in different population settings.
Skin is the largest organ in our body. Our skin’s sweat glands are also good at releasing all those nasty toxins we’re absorbing each and every day from food and the environment.
Studies show that sweating can increase the excretion of heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, and cadmium. 
In this study, sweat exceeded plasma or urine concentrations of toxins. Did you catch that?! Sweating in a sauna can excrete toxins more efficiently than blood or urine! That’s pretty cool stuff.
On the Right Side of History
Saunas have been used for centuries in many different societies. Invented by the Finnish, saunas are commonly found in many of the homes in Finland.
Most of the western world refers to a sauna as a Dry Sauna — a wood-lined room with an electric heater that transfers heat by way of igneous rocks. The average sauna temperatures range from 160°F – 210°F.
Saunas were common all over Europe during the Middle Ages. Due to the spread of syphilis and the scare of the disease in the 1500s, the sauna culture died out on most of the continent. Finland was an exception, due to the epidemic not taking a strong hold in the area, which is a key reason why the sauna culture is largely perceived as Finnish. 
Saunas are sometimes confused with steam rooms. While the two operate on the same principle (heating an enclosed space), they are quite different regarding humidity.
Types of Saunas
There are numerous types of saunas used throughout the world, but I’m going to touch on the three most popular North North American versions.
Remember, all saunas are beneficial to health, but they’re not all created equal. It’s up to the individual to discover what works best for them.
The vast majority of today’s saunas are electrically heated. They are considered to be efficient, safe, and easy to use.
Infrared saunas are not traditional in nature but have been shown to provide some unique benefits. Rather than heating the air or stones, an infrared sauna works by penetrating your tissues with infrared rays using at lower temperatures. This method has been gaining popularity among athletes because of its ability to treat injuries. The heat is said to travel deeper into the tissue than a traditional dry sauna. This process is referred to as photobiology and is endorsed by health advocates such as Dr. Joseph Mercola.
Otherwise known as (steam baths), steam rooms were originally created by ancient Greeks and Romans. They are made of materials such as ceramic tile, glass, stone, or acrylic, and temperatures range from 110°F – 120°F — but with maximum humidity of 100%.
General Sauna Usage
If you’re new to the sauna life, don’t worry. Below are a few things to consider so that you have the best possible experience. Some of these suggestions are a matter of personal preference, so take it with a grain of salt and discover what works best for you.
Let’s begin with water, in the case you don’t continue reading. It’s one of the most important things to remember when using a sauna. Be sure to hydrate before, during, and after sauna usage. I typically down 16 ounces of water throughout my 20-minute sessions. Remember, sauna sessions often follow a workout, so between your workout and 20-minutes of heat therapy, your body will demand water (and salt)! *To get even more benefit from your sauna sessions, try and replenish sodium loss by adding some extra Sea Salt or Pink Himalayan salt to your post-sauna meal (or drink). Don’t be shy. You can’t thrive without sufficient sodium intake.
2. Start Small
Start small. If you’re new to sauna use, it’s a good idea to begin with a 5-10 minute session your first time. The optimal heat therapy time is 19 to 21 minutes, but you can work your way up to this as you see fit.
Remove as much clothing as possible. I, personally don’t like to walk out of the gym a sloppy, wet mess. At the very least, I’d suggest removing your shirt and shoes (and bring some sandals). Not sure I want my bare feet where people sweat daily. Remember, the soles of our feet absorb elements directly into the bloodstream.
4. Monitor Time
Try and limit continuous sauna usage to 30 minutes. I haven’t seen any studies that show benefits beyond 21 minutes of continuous use. It’s my guess that most of the thermogenic benefits are obtained in the 10min to 20min window — depending on the individual.
5. Toss the Phone
Leave your phone in the locker! There are a few reasons I suggest this. First, the heat will put a lot of stress on your phone. My iPhone won’t make it more than 5 minutes without giving me the “too hot” warning. Second, countless studies show the amazing benefits of meditation, and a sauna session is a GREAT time to meditate and focus. Lastly, a sauna session is also a good time for some making new connections. In just the past week I’ve had some amazing conversations with other interesting guys.
6. Two Are Better Than One
Avoid using the sauna by yourself when possible. If for some reason you ever passed out, you’d be in trouble if no one was close by..
7. Time Flies When Reading
If you are the kind of person that goes a little mad with silence and stillness, then bring a good book along. I do this often. It will make the 20 minutes feel like 5.
8. Invest In a Stop Watch
Buy a cheap stop watch. Time spent in a sauna is important, so track it wisely.
9. Upon Leaving
Upon leaving a sauna, it’s common to feel slightly dizzy. It can be a good idea to rest for 3-5 minutes (while sitting).
*Remember, If you have medical conditions, it would be wise to consult with your family physician before using a sauna or steam room. Most importantly, listen to your body. It always gives warning signs of trouble.
As with anything things in life, there are good practices that should be followed. Some of it is common sense, while some of it will be learned as you go. I always try and be the guy that sets the example, rather than be the jerk that defies the rules.
1. Good Hygiene
The respectable thing would be to shower before using a sauna, but almost no one does it (including myself). Between the gym sweat and whatever other toxins you’ll be excreting, it should go without saying that you should never enter a sauna without TWO towels: one to sit on and one to continuously wipe yourself off. No one wants to sit in your butt sweat!
2. More Good Hygiene
If you’re going to remove your shoes, be sure to wear some sandals. I don’t think I need to explain why we don’t want your toe jam to get up in there.
3. Be Respectful to Others
This may also seem rudimentary, but keep the door closed. Some guys take their sauna therapy pretty serious (as they should) and they don’t want you to let any heat out.
4. Ask First
While sauna rocks are meant to have water poured over them to increase humidity levels, it’s still a good idea to ask the gym staff if this is OK to do. But don’t be surprised if they have no idea. To be safe, just leave it alone. Most people prefer the dry heat.
5. Don’t Be That Guy
Never mess around with the temperature. If it’s too hot, or not hot enough, reach out to gym management and let them adjust it accordingly.
6. I’m Not Your Mommy
You might leave your wet towel on the bathroom floor for mommy to pick up at home, but this doesn’t play out well at the gym. Don’t leave your moist towel in the sauna. It would seem like common sense, but I see it all the time.
7. Save the Nudity for the Beach!
Lastly, never sauna bath in the nude! I’ve never personally seen this, but I’m sure I will at some point. There is absolutely no reason why your junk needs to be exposed. Wear a towel, guys.
After the Sauna
What you do after you step out of a sauna can be as important as the sauna itself. Below are a few suggestions I gathered from the web (as well as my own experiences).
Some people like to take a cold shower directly after stepping out of a sauna. There is some evidence suggesting that hydrotherapy can help relieve pain — specifically helping with rheumatoid arthritis. 
While “showering” isn’t necessarily full-blown hydrotherapy, the concept of cold water therapy applies. Plus, showering after a sweat-induced sauna session is a good idea. I see short shower rinses in my near future for both health and hygiene reasons.
Going from an intense 30-minute workout to a 20-minute sauna session can tax the body pretty good, so hydrating before, during, and after is crucial. I make a habit of drinking about 8 ounces of water prior to my workout, then take my (cold) 16-ounce electrolyte water bottle in the sauna with me — sipping on it throughout the session.
I also down another 8 ounces of water when I get home with a half tsp of Himalayan pink salt, which is rich in microminerals.
Rest and Reset
This seems like an obvious one, but like the stubborn creatures we tend to be, we often ignore our bodies’ warning signs and find ourselves in trouble.
There was a time when I did my usual 30-min intense workout, followed by 20 minutes of sauna therapy. When I finished my heat therapy, I still had some energy, so I drove across the street to a park and proceeded to run sprints in 108 degrees.
Needless to say, I was sluggish the rest of the day. We all have our limits. Learn yours.
When it comes to longevity, we want to be sure that we aren’t doing anything that’s counterproductive toward our health goals. Here are a few reminders to make sure your sauna experience is a good one.
1. Sauna Cleanliness
The gym staff should be cleaning the sauna daily. If you feel like your facility’s sauna is dirty, simply ask them to clean it. If no one asks, they probably won’t.
2. Stay Hydrated
We went over this already, but It warrants another reminder. STAY HYDRATED. And choose high-quality water with added electrolytes when possible.
3. Always Listen to Your Body
While it’s common to feel slightly light headed upon exiting a sauna, if you begin to feel dizzy or sick while sitting down, this is a sign that you should exit the sauna immediately.
Unfortunately, some of the newer electronic saunas emit high levels of electromagnetic radiation. Humans are fundamentally electronic beings, so exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) can be an issue.
Exposure to electromagnetic fields may trigger health problems, so testing your sauna is an option. It sounds super geeky, but I’m going to purchase this inexpensive EMF meter and test my gym’s sauna. My curious brain just can’t help it. I’ll share my results on my Facebook page for you to see.
Over the past few years, health has become a priority in my life. While much of the world appears to be downplaying its importance, I take on a more candid approach because what we do now will matter later.
Whenever I come across something that shows promising health benefits, I have a burning desire to research it, share it, and make it my own. As I’ve stated before, one of the fundamental attributes of a well-rounded man is his unremitting desire for optimal health.
Sauna therapy has been practiced by numerous societies for hundreds of years. For some of these folks, it’s more than a health kick, it’s a way of life. Heat therapy can help the human body to repair, recover, and detoxify in ways that are difficult to replicate. If used responsibly, sauna therapy can be a powerful tool to add to your arsenal of regular daily habits.
PUSHTHROUGH shares information on health, nutrition, supplementation, fitness, and biochemistry topics for the general public. The information is made available with the understanding that the author is not providing medical, psychological, or nutritional counseling services on this site. The information should not be used in place of a consultation with a health care professional (preferably a functional medicine or naturopathic specialist).
The information on this website does not cover all possible uses, actions, precautions, side effects, and interactions. It is not intended as nutritional or medical advice for individual problems. Liability for individual actions or omissions based upon the contents of this site is expressly disclaimed.
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