because we all love a good sweat…
The infrared sauna has been increasing in popularity over the past couple of years, with celebrities swearing by them and companies like higher dose making infrared saunas accessible and available in the home; but what is the difference between an infrared sauna and a dry heat sauna and which one is better for you? Keep reading this post to find out!
Infrared Sauna vs. Dry Heat Sauna
The traditional dry sauna uses heat typically from a flame to heat the air at very high temperatures, around 150-145 F, with very little moisture. In contrast, an infrared sauna uses infrared light to directly penetrate and heat the skin/body while the air only reaches around 110-145F.
Both types of sauna have similar health benefits, with adequate research supporting traditional saunas. In contrast, the research is still evolving concerning infrared saunas, given their relative newness to the scene. Despite their different mechanisms, both saunas elicit similar responses from the body: increased body temperature, increased heartbeat, and circulation, increased sweating, etc.
Benefits of the Sauna
Not only do saunas feel good, but they are also beneficial for our bodies. Many people use saunas to sweat in the hopes of improving detoxification but fail to realize all of the other health benefits saunas have to offer as well.
Heart Health: Saunas are great for heart health. As the body heats up, the heart starts beating faster, and blood vessels widen, in turn exercising the heart and mimicking a light-moderate workout. Therefore, studies have demonstrated that saunas boost heart health by increasing cardiac output (how much blood your heart can pump) and blood flow, and reducing blood pressure, thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Improved Muscle Recovery and pain relief: Saunas also benefit the muscles by increasing circulation and oxygen-rich blood, enhancing muscle recovery. Additionally, saunas may reduce pain from conditions such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Aids in detoxification and lymphatic drainage: We all know that saunas make you sweat, but what may be less known is why sweating can be so good for us. Sweating is one of the body’s detoxification methods and helps maintain our optimal temperature. Sweat is primarily composed of water and minerals but also can contain heavy metals, chemicals, and other toxins depending on one’s lifestyle and environment. Furthermore, the lymphatic system (part of the circulatory and immune system) is stimulated to help the lymph and circulation move to help excrete toxins and infection.
Improved resilience and stress response: Subjecting your body to high heat for short durations acutely stresses the body out but in a beneficial way (not the harmful kind of stress we tend to think about). Additionally, the infrared sauna may stimulate metabolic processes leading to cellular repair. Over time, repeated exposure to high heat improves the body’s resilience and stress response.
Mood Booster: The benefits of sauna use are physical and mental. Studies demonstrate that sauna use may decrease feelings of depression, anxiety, and overall stress. One reason is that saunas stimulate the release of endorphins (feel-good chemicals), the same mechanism/feeling as after a workout, resulting in improved mood. Another reason is that the sauna stimulates brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF), which may ease anxiety, depression, and improve mood.
Improved hormone health: Your hormones may also benefit from sauna use due to enhanced detoxification (key for hormone balance!) and decreased stress (FYI, chronic stress can really mess with hormones!).
Boosted Immune Health: Sauna use may promote immune health by stimulating the lymphatic system and raising the body’s temperature, which may help the body get rid of infection (similar to when you get a fever when you’re sick to help kill off an infection).
Reduces risk of disease: In general, research supports that frequent sauna use can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and even all-cause disease!. As explained earlier, saunas improve heart health and reduce oxidative stress (an imbalance of free radicals – harmful molecules, and antioxidants – free-radical fighters). Additionally, sauna use may decrease the risk of neurodegenerative disease related to memory and cognition due to increased BDNF. Lastly, sauna use may decrease cancer risk, potentially due to reduced oxidative stress.
The Bottom Line
For many, sauna use is a form of self-care, both physically and mentally. Saunas benefit the body in many ways ranging from heart health to muscle recovery to mood and more! Many people can benefit from using a sauna a few times a week, especially those with high blood pressure, low mood and energy, and muscle and joint pain.