One of my favourite anti-aging secrets is the infrared sauna. All sauna benefits are from exposing the body to hyperthermic conditioning. Sauna is an international ritual for good health. I’ve done a sweat lodge in Tulum, a Russian Banya and use the one in our clinic in Toronto as much as I can. After the sauna, I feel super relaxed and as if I’m glowing with revitalized energy.
HOW IT WORKS: The infrared sauna heats your body at a cellular level from the inside out. Hyperthermic conditioning means that after each sauna session, your body is more primed for heat stress. As you tolerate longer sauna sessions, your brain, muscles and other organs are adapting as well (more on this below).
HOW I USE IT: I sauna after work and post-workout. I grab a big (glass) bottle of water, plug in my headphones, make my calls for the day or chill with music. I end the session with an invigorating cold shower. Infrared sauna is part of many of my treatment plans for patients.
HOW LONG: 20-60 minutes/session
HOW OFTEN: I use infrared sauna 4x/week, which is a lot. When I research something that improves the anti-aging markers I look for… I’m ALL in!
TEMPERATURE: I set to 140 degrees F.
BENEFITS: The benefits of infrared saunas seem to be featured at all the latest anti-aging conferences I attend. This therapy is only getting hotter and hotter (pun intended)! Here are 5 of my favourite benefits:
1. ENHANCED MUSCLE MASS
Sauna is studied to allow easier acquisition of muscle mass and increases workout/athletic endurance. The infrared heat increases muscle perfusion. This means more nutrients and oxygen transport to muscles so that they depend less on glycogen stores. This is great for someone who feels like they’ve “hit a wall” (AKA no more glycogen) during workouts. Saunas directly increase growth hormone via IGF-1 signalling (1). The growth hormone effects lasts for a couple of hours post-sauna. In one study, two 20-minute sauna sessions at 80°C (176°F) separated by a 30-minute cooling break increased growth hormone levels two-fold over baseline (2). That’s almost as potent as taking growth hormone itself.
2. SKIN DETOX
For my patients with skin concerns, saunas are greatly recommended. For acne, I can clean your diet and can support your liver (supplement) but need 1-3 months depending how severe your skin condition is. However, if you’re doing infrared saunas at the same time, you are detoxing so much faster! As you sweat you’re literally pushing your skin to purifying at a speed that will impress you.
“I can’t lose this stubborn fat“ is something I hear all the time from my patients. What happens is your ‘stubborn fat‘ areas serve as storage for toxins and exogenous hormones. Infrared saunas heat up the fat to release these stored toxic substances. Once the fat doesn’t need to hold on to anything anymore, it becomes a lot easier to lose this fat! Saunas are also studied to greatly improve insulin sensitivity (3).
I recommend infrared saunas to many of my autoimmune patients. Thyroid disease, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome and lyme’s disease all have great reaction to hyperthermia. Infrared is highly anti-inflammatory which is great for regenerating tissues and decreasing pain (3). To regulate your immune system, add temperature contrast with alternating cold shower/sauna. Decreases the inflammation marker, CRP, in your body (4).
5. BRAIN REJUVENATION
Infrared heat acts as a potent anti-inflammatory for your brain too! Saunas rev up growth of new brain cells, improvement in focus, learning, and memory, and ameliorating depression and anxiety (5). Hyperthermic conditioning causes endorphin release which will naturally boost your mood and energy.
CONTRAINDICATIONS: Do not use infrared saunas without talking to your medical or naturopathic doctor. I personalize the duration and frequency to every patient as I know what different bodies can and can’t handle. Anyone pregnant, under the influence of alcohol or who has blood pressure issues, this therapy is not for you!
- Leppaluoto, J. et al. Endocrine effects of repeated sauna bathing. Acta physiologica Scandinavica 128, 467-470, doi:10.1111/j.1748-1716.1986.tb08000.x (1986).
- Hannuksela, M. L. & Ellahham, S. Benefits and risks of sauna bathing. The American journal of medicine 110, 118-126 (2001).
- Kukkonen-Harjula, K. et al. Haemodynamic and hormonal responses to heat exposure in a Finnish sauna bath. European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology 58, 543-550 (1989)
- Laukkanen, JA and Laukkanen T. Sauna bathing and systemic inflammation. European Journal of Epidemiology. 33(3): 351-353. doi: 10.1007/s10654-017-0335-y. (2018)
- Patrick, R. P. Hyperthermic Conditioning’s Role In Increasing Endurance, Muscle Mass, and Neurogenesis. foundmyfitness.com.