After reading up on the myriad of positive effects of sauna use on overall health, I decided to give it a go. The first real sauna session I did with my sister at a local golds gym and by the end of a session that was just 12 minutes long my heart rate had risen to 150 beats per minute (bpm). At this point I figured why not try to make this practice a bit more regular and see what if any positive effects on my health I could have.
My reasons for trying it:
Heat shock protein activation. Activation of these proteins allow for some cellular housekeeping to occur where misfolded proteins are then folded correctly or dismantled. Proteins when made in the body need to fold correctly in order for those proteins to have their normal function. Proteins fold due to reasons like the charge (positive or negative), their relationship to water (hydrophobic or hydrophilic), and a few other interactions. When folded properly, proteins can have their typical function. When they aren’t at best they are wasting cellular resources to be made and at worst causing some dysfunction. Due to what is known as cardiac drift your heart rate increases as you sweat more which in turn causes a training effect to occur on the heart. With those applications in mind the goal was to use this to help with the atrophy of my right arm after shoulder surgery along with help my brain in general since I’m still having a few residual effects from my concussion from last year.
To be uncomfortable. It sounds funny, but putting yourself through occasional distress makes other stress in life seem easier and more manageable. This is due to the endorphin/dystrophin signaling in the brain and well, why not. At worst this is making me a more heat adapted individual and slightly tougher.
After the initial run at Gold’s gym I was lucky enough to borrow a sauna chair from a family member. This was interesting since it was a sauna where when you sit inside your head is exposed. I found after the first time inside that I really didn’t seem to get that hot since I had both my head and my hands exposed. So the next time I wore a beanie while inside to keep my head hot along with kept my hands inside of the sauna chair. This seems to be the sweat spot (get it, not sweet spot). Further the chair takes a few minutes to heat up, so aiming to be exposed to 20 minutes of heat required me to actually be in the chair for 25 minutes. Also wearing a hat kept from my sweat running down my face as much making things a bit more uncomfortable.
After finishing the sauna I found that it was important for me to relax for a few moments before hoping out and getting on with my day. I also would take a cool (not cold) shower afterwards which felt nice and relaxing before typically heading to bed.
Some of the research utilizes sessions that last for an hour and I’m not on that level. Also, I’m doing these sessions as a one off, not doing repeated bouts yet. I might work up to repeated bouts, but I’m not there right now.
Nonsense claims of sauna use
Some folks will claim that saunas help them lose body fat. This is not the truth. It does slightly increase your metabolic rate, specifically through the increased heart rate, but the basic use of things like brown fat for thermogenesis (heat production) does not occur. What you are doing is using less calories. Since your body is constantly trying to keep your body temperature around 98.6 degrees if you make the temperature higher than that your body sweats to lose some heat, but that requires little energy. If you are however in a 40 degree room your body will work much harder to keep your temperature up so you can avoid hypothermia, but not many people want to do something like that.
Sweating out toxins. This might have some truth with this is a major clearance methodology for things like BPA, but this has not been really observed too much by science as a real methods for removing negative contents from the body.
Notes for Caution When Using
Dehydration and heat illness are very real risks of using saunas. If you are an athlete that already sweats extensively due to their practice schedule this is likely to cut in to your own recovery, not bolster it. The electrolyte depletion that you can get from doing that can cause not only a decline in performance, but massive cramping. As you become habituated to the sweating in the sauna your body will actually lose less electrolytes and because of this you won’t be having as great of issues with cramps (though there is still a risk here).
Additionally the changing from hot to cold temperature can cause some hard constricting and dilation of blood vessels which has in at least one case lead to a heart attack. This is a stressful thing to do to your body so don’t just dive in day one.
After doing this for a little over a month straight it seems this had a positive effect on my post concussive symptoms, so I will keep this up. Now to be honest, this wasn’t the most well controlled study, but I have come to like the experience in the sauna and it helps me relax in general at the end of the day. Will I ever buy/build a sauna in my house, maybe. Either way I found this to be enjoyable and it is a nice way to finish up a hard workout (I also tend to train later on in the day) or relax a bit before bed. If you get a chance try using a sauna yourself, start with a lower amount of time you are in the sauna and build up slowly. If you have issues with cramping or dehydration this is not a good choice for you to use. If in doubt consult your physician and take it from there. As always thanks for reading and have a great day.