FIVE REASONS TO JUMP IN A SAUNA
Warning: you're going to want to buy a sauna after reading this...
I love the sauna. There is a certain, very specific power in intentionally getting too hot, and sitting with it for a period of time. I tend to be an extremist, and I like a little bit of discomfort to bring me past my known limits and expand my horizons. The sauna is a very ritualistic experience, and is something that takes me to that place. For me, the sauna is a time to meditate, and to let the endorphins run wild in a solo journey to the edge and back. And I always return feeling like a new, upgraded version of myself, ready to conquer the day with a new perspective, greater self confidence and higher emotional awareness.
I discovered the sauna at a very pivotal time in my life. I had just started practicing meditation, and I was finding amazing value in my inner work. My gym had a sauna in the change room, and after months of working out, I realized it was rarely used. I started using it as a means to escape the day and practice my inner work after my workout.
The impact was instant, and I was hooked. It was like I was taking mental steroids for my meditation, and everything I sought from meditation was intensified when mixed with the hot box. I would leave the gym in a blissed out state, unaware of anything around me. People must have thought I was doing some kind of happiness drug in the change room. In a way, I suppose I was.
In those heated 20-30 minutes after my workouts, I found my best ideas appear out of thin air, and I began to feel a deep compassion for myself, and for the world around me. Yes, this feeling would disappear, and I would have to find it again each time I entered the heat, but I was noticing some lasting effects start to take hold. I was generally becoming more at peace with myself and the world around me. I was also becoming more creative and more purpose and passion driven.
I realize there were a few factors at play with my self-guided transformation. I know meditation had a large part to play in my improved outlook, and there is no denying that the physical exercise prior to the sauna was also beneficial to my improved emotional state. But the sauna seemed to be the one piece of the equation that was the catalyst for the change.
I started digging into sauna use to see if the heat was driving me crazy, or if there was really something behind the perceived benefits I was noticing. It turns out, over the last few thousand years, many cultures around the world also experienced benefits from heat therapy. In fact, it was woven into the very fabric of some cultures. North American aboriginals used sweat lodges for spiritual exploration, the Romans had bath houses for religious, social and sanitary uses, and of course, the Finns (and many other European nations), have built much of their culture around sauna use.
I am always deeply intrigued by phenomena that spans cultures and time. This intrigue is what lead me to traditional medicines and natural nutrition, fasting, meditation, spiritual work, and now, sauna use. Although I like a good history lesson, I become absolutely absorbed by these cultural phenomena when modern science starts to catch up to explain the benefits – and prove, by modern standards, that human intuition is often to be trusted.
I was not disappointed when it came to sauna use. I found a lot of solid research being done on the effects for mental and physical health, and at the front of that research is Dr. Rhonda Patrick. Dr. Rhonda Patrick is only one of many scientists studying the benefits of sauna, but in my opinion she is the best at disseminating complex information and presenting it in a way that is clear to a non-scientist. Definitely check her out if you have any interest in the most current research behind fasting, general nutrition, well-being, and longevity.
With that, I am going to lay out my five favorite benefits of sauna use – largely based on Rhonda’s research. I’ll keep it brief. If you want all of the details (and many more amazing benefits), I would definitely suggest starting by reading Rhonda’s article on the science behind the sauna.
- Reduction of the symptoms of depression: The most immediate benefit I experienced from the sauna was an improvement in my mood and wellbeing. The studies back this up, with one trial showing reduction in depression for up to six weeks after one treatment in a very hot box. Even if there were no other benefits of sauna use, I would keep coming back simply for the mood upgrades I experience.
- Inflammation reduction: Chronic inflammation leads to a smorgasbord of chronic diseases. According to one estimate, 60% of Americans have a chronic disease. The sauna has been shown to be very effective at reducing inflammation, and the higher the frequency of sauna use, the lower the inflammation seen.
- Increased human growth hormone release: Human growth hormone (HGH) is produced in the pituitary gland and is important for cell recovery, disease prevention, muscle growth, and may slow down the aging process when boosted through natural methods. A number of studies have shown that natural HGH is significantly boosted with sauna use. Oh, and it turns out I hit the jack-pot with my initiation to the sauna – using the sauna after physical exercise can accelerate the effects.
- Increased endurance: Studies show that sauna use after physical exercise also increases endurance and improves athletic performance. The sauna and physical exercise may be the best duo since STUNN AM and PM…
- Improved cardiovascular health: Cardiovascular disease causes a staggering 25% of the deaths in America, and a third world wide. Anything that can improve cardiovascular health is good in my books. Sauna use seems to have a similar positive effect on the cardiovascular system as exercise, and long term sauna use has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In the realm of sauna use, Dr. Rhonda Patrick has mostly studied the Finnish Sauna, and much of her research is done on the way the Finnish culture has used the sauna. This includes 2 – 4 sessions per week in about 175 degrees heat for around 20 minutes. The Finnish sauna is what is called a wet sauna – water is added to hot rocks to create steam, making the perceived temperature higher. There are other types of heat therapy, including dry sauna, infrared sauna, steam rooms, and even hot baths. For the benefits listed above, it seems that the common variable is heating the entire body for a period of time. Rhonda talks about her preferred use for longevity and wellbeing being a Finnish sauna at about 175 degrees for about 30 minutes, 4 times per week.
If you don’t like the heat, and cannot imagine spending up to 30 minutes in a heated box, then try starting with 5 – 10 minutes. A tolerance will be built up fairly fast, and before you know it, you will be able to withstand 20 minutes without an issue. Oh, and two more important notes; One – hydration becomes extremely important as you will lose a ton of water through sweat. Drink lots of water before and after the sauna (and never mix with alcohol). Two – the sauna is generally safe for everyone, but if you have any health issues, are pregnant, or have any other concerns, it is probably best to consult your doctor before trying it out.
My life has become a little less routine over the last number of months, and I am finding it harder to find a sauna to use. I definitely have missed it, and tend to plan my “wellness” time these days around finding somewhere that has a sauna I can use. Honestly, the only thing I want in life is to have a sauna at my house. Maybe overlooking the ocean. Maybe with a nice, somewhat luxurious full gym next to it. Too much to ask? Perhaps, but a guy’s gotta dream.
Jordan DePass is the co-founder of STUNN Collective. He is also a huge fan of all things related to making him feel and perform better, and tends to get lost in daily “side” projects on esoteric topics. Natural nutrition, exercise, and exploring his mind are just a few past times.