Heat therapy has a long history dating back to 500 B.C. When ancient Greek and Egyptian physicians harnessed the rays of the sun to heal their patients, they were onto something.
A little later, they discovered that taking thermal baths, mud baths, or sitting in caverns that blew hot air from volcanic sources could cure pain, spasms, skin conditions, and a variety of diseases.
Across the great ocean, early Native Americans were also using heat therapy to treat fevers, arthritis, and rheumatism.
If they went halfway around the world, they would have found out that their Asian brothers and sisters were using hot stones to cure digestive ailments, urinary tract infections, and syphilis.
But in Scandinavia, the Finnish were using a particularly sophisticated contraption that produced heat that can envelop the entire body. This was the precursor to the modern sauna.
The earliest records of sauna use dates back to 1112, when practically every Finnish family had one.
The sauna was built into a hole dug into the side of a hill. It had a fireplace where a basket of large stones, called kiuas, were heated to a high temperature, and water was thrown into the stones to produce steam and spread the heat around the room.
Today, the earliest Finnish saunas have given birth to a slew of innovations, the latest of which is the infrared sauna.
Unlike the first saunas, which used heated stones to produce heat, infrared saunas use infrared light to raise the body’s temperature. It doesn’t affect the temperature of the surroundings and works as well as steam saunas even at lower temperatures.
This reduces the discomfort level for many people and makes infrared saunas a great option for the home.
So if you’re still deciding why you need one for your house, take a look at the many health benefits of having your own infrared sauna:
1. Heart Health
Studies show that using the infrared sauna regularly leads to normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
In people with normal blood pressure, it can help prevent blood pressure from rising. It is also an effective treatment for congestive heart failure.
This is because infrared saunas are a “passive cardio” workout of sorts. The effects on the body mimic the effects of cardio—higher heart rate, more sweating, and all the benefits of a good cardio routine.
2. Pain Relief
Using an infrared sauna releases anti-inflammatory hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline.
It also increases endorphins, called nature’s painkillers.
3. Weight Loss
On average, 30 minutes of steady-state cardio can burn 300 calories.
The same amount of time spent in an infrared sauna can burn twice as much.
If you plan to incorporate sauna use into your weight loss program, it’s best to go after 3 p.m. so that you have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and higher amounts of human growth hormone.
4. Heavy Metal Detox
Despite the claim that we don’t need to detoxify our bodies because they can do it themselves, studies show heat therapy via infrared saunas actually help.
Because the profuse sweating that happens inside the sauna can be dehydrating, always hydrate yourself before and after each session.
We recommend foods and beverages rich in electrolytes, such as bananas, raisins, and coconut water.
5. Healthy, Radiant Skin
After several sessions in an infrared sauna, you’ll notice your skin is softer, suppler, and more moisturized.
You might also find your skin to be less oily and, if you’re prone to breakouts, you don’t suffer as much as before.
This is because heat therapy from an infrared sauna increases your skin’s production of collagen and elastin, two proteins that make the skin supple and elastic.
The heat also increases blood flow, which ensures that oxygen and nutrients are delivered to your skin cells.
Research also shows that the infrared sauna can help reduce cellulite when used along with radio-frequency and massage.
Other treatments that can benefit from heat therapy are psoriasis, eczema, actinic keratosis, and basal cell carcinoma.
What’s one thing that people who have reached the age of 100 have in common?
They have an unusually high number of heat shock proteins, which are proteins that are produced in response to stressful conditions.
Now, there are two types of stress: good and bad stress. In this case, going to the infrared sauna is a type of good stress.
And this produces heat shock proteins, which help protect DNA and repair damaged proteins to help increase your lifespan.
Research also shows that infrared sauna use activates FOX03, the so-called longevity gene.
7. Stress Relief
Now, on to the bad kind of stress: chronic stress, a condition that is all too common in our society today.
Chronic stress is when we’re in fight-or-flight mode all the time, even when we’re just sitting at home listening to our partners complain about their day.
There are no saber-tooth tigers or woolly mammoths around, but you’re in high levels of stress all the same.
This isn't good for the body and can lead to all sorts of health problems.
Using an infrared sauna can help counter this by giving you a cortisol reset.
Inside the sauna, cortisol levels are elevated. But once you step out, cortisol drops to a lower level than before, allowing you to deal with life’s daily pressures more easily and maturely.
8. A Smarter You
Just as exercise has benefits for the brain, so does going to the sauna.
It helps you focus better on your tasks and stay away from distractions—something that everyone who works with a computer needs to master these days—by increasing norepinephrine production.
The raised BDNF levels also help the brain create new neurons, helping you learn faster while protecting older neurons to keep long-term memory intact.
It also activates the production of prolactin, which creates myelin, a thin sheath of fat surrounding your brain cells to help you learn and keep new habits in place.
9. Deeper Sleep
According to the American Sleep Association, infrared saunas can help you sleep better at night.
The exposure to heat helps you get more of what’s called slow-wave sleep, or the kind of sleep that slows down the brain to give it more time to restore itself in time for the next day.
10. Better Physical Performance
If you’re an exercise junkie—and you probably are if you’re visiting this site—regular sauna use can help your body adjust better to exercise.
When you work out, you raise your temperature and cause stress on the body.
By exposing it to sauna heat regularly, your body becomes more equipped to handle the temperature rise caused by exercise, allowing you to recover and reach your fitness goals faster.
This allows your muscles to receive the glucose, essential fatty acids, and oxygen they need to function well, allowing you to exercise longer and more intensely.
After workouts, heat shock proteins are useful in preventing muscle breakdown due to much exertion.
11. Stronger Immune System
Research shows using an infrared sauna helps athletes produce more leukocytes or white blood cells.
These are antibodies that protect your body from foreign bodies that cause infections and diseases.
Heat therapy using near-infrared saunas significantly reduce inflammation.
This makes it a helpful treatment for various inflammatory diseases, including heart problems, diabetes, kidney disorders, asthma, chronic pain, arthritis, and autoimmune diseases like Sjörgen syndrome, which curtails the function of your body’s fluid-producing organs, leading to dry eyes and mouth.
13. Helpful for Diabetes
If you or someone you know has diabetes, they can benefit a lot from using an infrared sauna regularly.
Many people who have diabetes have lower quality of life owing to the fact that they have to constantly monitor what they put into their bodies and what their bodies put out in terms of insulin and blood sugar levels.
Research shows diabetics who visit the sauna regularly have much less pain, fatigue, depression, and heart problems.
All of these are symptoms of diabetes, which, if managed poorly, can make them worse.
Early mice studies also show that heat treatments reduce the insulin levels of lab mice by as much as 30%.
We’re still waiting for human studies, though, but current research is showing promising results.