A lot has been said about the benefits of the sauna and there are also questions regarding some of the uses sweating in the sauna can provide. The sauna experience is by no means a new concept. It has been around for centuries, whether you think of the traditional saunas from Finland or the sweat lodges in Native American cultures. But through this plethora of information about the sauna, it is comforting to know that people who are knowledgeable about fitness and are serious about nutrition also swear by the sauna.
Ben Greenfield is one such fitness expert who is an admitted sauna addict and has several good reasons for being so. Greenfield, the New York Times bestselling author of Beyond Training, has installed an infrared sauna in his basement which he uses every day without fail unless he’s traveling. Greenfield is somewhat of a child prodigy, given that he began college at the age of 16 where for four years he studied physiology, biomechanics, microbiology, pharmaceuticals, nutrition and more. When he graduated at 20, he could have gone to medical school. But instead, Greenfield chose to do his Master’s in Exercise Physiology and Biomechanics. Since his academic pursuits, Greenfield has gone on to become one of the best personal trainers in the United States. He has managed to take all theoretical knowledge he opened himself up to at university and applied to his job as a trainer.
If he can help it, Greenfield does not start his day without a good sauna session. “Every morning I wipe the crust out of the corner of my eyes, suck down a giant cup of coffee and then wander to my basement gym, where I commence to flip the power on my sauna,” he writes on his website. Each session is anywhere between 15-30 minutes and often he combines his sauna sessions with light exercises with basic equipment. Of course, he thinks of the sauna as a perfect way to relax but he also finds it to be the perfect place to get a sweaty workout in.
Greenfield is also a big advocate for the infrared sauna. Speaking on the Joe Rogan Experience, Greenfield laments that there is a lack of research on infrared saunas, but finds whatever research that has been done to be promising. He also appreciates that an infrared sauna can grant you a much more comfortable session while also inducing a deeper sweat.
An infrared sauna uses infrared rays to heat the occupant of the sauna. As opposed to a traditional dry sauna or even a wet sauna, which heats the air in the sauna chamber, an infrared sauna directly heats the body through the rays of the infrared lights. There are rays of light that you cannot see but your body feels it in the form of heat.
Greenfield points out that an infrared sauna can go up to a temperature of 170 degrees, but usually stays around 155-158 degrees. This means that the air in this sauna remains cool, even as your body gets heated. You do not feel the discomfort of oppressive heat in this sauna and can experience it for much longer, therefore, building your body’s endurance along the way.
Greenfield has not 1 but 10 reasons for loving the sauna and the list only keeps extending. On his website, Greenfield puts down 10 reasons that make him a sauna addict and provides explanations for all. These 10 reasons include:
- Heart health and lifespan
- Detoxification of heavy metals and chemicals
- Athletic recovery
- Muscle and arthritic pain relief
- Muscle gain and fat burning
- Immune system boosting
- Skin benefits
- Improved sleep
- Increasing cardio
- Stress relief
While you can take a look at the explanations he offers in his post, it can be said already that many of the reasons he cites are legitimate reasons for loving the sauna. Several kinds of research have been able to open up the field of sauna’s health benefits and its cardiovascular benefits are at the heart of some of the most popular research studies.
Greenfield is a physical trainer, so when he says saunas help with athletic recovery, there is certainly merit to that claim. Some studies show saunas are a great way to stimulate the production of heat shock proteins in the body. These are special antigens that are produced in the cells under stress conditions. They strengthen the cells and give the body a fighting chance to stave off infections and diseases. They also promote the net synthesis of proteins by reducing the levels of oxygen free radicals in the body.
Saunas are also great for improved sleep, stress relief and skin benefits, as Greenfield points out in his list—all of which are interconnected. The heat from the sauna dilates the blood vessels and relaxes the body by improving circulation. When the body is relieved of stress, you sleep better. Enhanced blood circulation also does wonders for the skin, as does the improved quality of sleep! So, Greenfield is certainly onto something when he speaks of the immense benefits of the sauna.
While Greenfield is a proponent of the infrared sauna, there is evidence to suggest that all types of saunas have immense health benefits. It is not clear which type of sauna is better over the other. Often, this depends on individual preferences.
An infrared sauna is certainly easier to use because it allows you to stay in the sauna more comfortably and for longer, as opposed to a traditional sauna that can sometimes get too hot for some people.
In the end, however, both types of saunas work by making you sweat and unleashing all the potential benefits of the core temperature of your body rising, which in turn increases your heart rate and sends the blood flowing. The benefits of improved blood circulation are multifold, from pain relief to increased endurance during your regular workouts. Greenfield is a sauna addict, perhaps it’s time for more people to take to this addiction.