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How Sauna’s Boost Health

This year I’ve become a sauna convert. After doing a bit of research on the health benefits, I decided to invest in a portable one and I’ve been using it daily since the 31st of December 2021.

Here is the one I bought – Firzone Portable Far Infrared Sauna Tent

Davie's Sauna

It’s a great device with the benefits of an all-singing, all-dancing sauna which you can use in your living room, or I’m my case the home gym.

As I mentioned, I looked into the research behind the benefits of sauna before I made the purchase. Most of what I learned came from an excellent presentation by Dr. Rhonda Patrick. I’m going to summarise what I’ve learned here, but if you’d rather watch the full video then here you go.

Health Benefits Of Sauna

Dr. Patrick begins by discussing how there are two types of stress, good and bad. I’m sure you know exactly what is meant by bad stress, the everyday pressures that come with life, that lead to trauma and anxiety.

Good Stresses are usually short in duration with a net benefit that builds resilience. This is called Hormesis. Eating, breathing, and existing create stress on the body where we create genetic by-products. We are able to handle these stresses by various genetic pathways.

If we switch on these genetic pathways with something that creates slight stress, it will produce a resilience effect through adaptation. A great example of this is exercise.

Another such stressor is heat stress. While Dr. Patrick was studying she used a sauna in her local gym. She noticed that she felt better, moved better, and felt lowered stress levels whenever she went for a sauna.

This made her curious as to why it made her feel better. The opposite hormone of endorphin, dynorphin is activated by heat. The reason for this is that dynorphin cools the body down. So heat releases dynorphin and it binds with another receptor called the Kappa Opioid Receptor. When this happens discomfort/dysphoria (stress) is felt. An example of this would be the feeling we get when it’s too hot outside.

Dynorphin changes the way our brain responds to endorphins. Endorphins bind to the Miu Opioid Receptors. When dynorphin is released this causes the Miu Opioid Receptors to create new receptors with greater sensitivity to endorphins. That means the next time that endorphins are produced we feel better due to the increased number of endorphin-sensitive receptors. So your endorphin highs become better and longer-lasting.

 This explains why a sauna makes us feel better and less stressed.

A study that came out of the University of Eastern Finland took a look at how sauna use affects longevity. Researchers followed around 2000 middle-aged Finnish men who were using saunas at various frequencies. The study followed them for 20 years and measured non-accidental death. The study found that men who used the sauna 2-3 times a week were 27% less likely to die of any cardiovascular disease when compared to men who used it 1 day a week. Also, men who used the sauna 5-7 times a week were 50% less likely to die of cardiovascular diseases.

Not only was frequency important but duration spent in the sauna. Men who spent more than 19 minutes per session had the most robust effect in lowering cardiovascular-related mortality compared to those who used it less than 11 minutes.

It is thought that heat therapy properties of saunas are effective because they mimic cardiovascular exercise by elevating hear rate to up to between 100-150 bpm. It also increases blood flow to the heart and decreases overall strain. So the heart has to do less work to deliver blood around the body.

Cardiovascular disease wasn’t the only thing that sauna lowers the risk factor of. The study found that men who used the sauna 2-3 times a week were 24% lower natural-cause mortality than men who use the sauna once a week. Men who use the sauna 4-7 times a week were 40% less likely to die of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, respiratory diseases.

All other factors were considered, including cardiovascular exercise, were factored in.

What Does The Science Say?

Heat shock proteins exist to ensure that proteins maintain their three-dimensional structure. The 3D structure is essential for normal function. If the structure is disrupted then the protein can’t operate optimally.

Heat Shock Proteins

Just living life causes damage to cell protein all of the time. From breathing to processing food for energy, it all creates damaging by-products that damage the proteins inside of our cells. Damaged proteins lose their 3D structure, they are misfolded and screwed up. This disrupts the protein half-life, causing the protein to sit in the cell longer than it should. Then it collects with other misfolded proteins, which build up as we age. If this occurs in the brain it can lead to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Heat Shock Proteins can repair this damage, causing the protein to fold back into its 3D structure.  

HSPs Neurodegenerative Diseases

On to cancers, Day to day living, and also exposure to outside factors, like pollution and radiation can damage our DNA and lead to mutations, or cancer. The longevity gene Foxo3 is also activated by heat and can actually repair damaged DNA. It also activates genes that are involved in cell death, sacrificing mutated cells that could lead to mutations like cancer. Foxo3 is a protective mechanism against cancer. Foxo3 also slows aging by producing anti-oxidant genes that protect cells from taking damage.

Foxo3 also slows aging by producing anti-oxidant genes that protect cells from taking damage.  

So that’s my summary of how saunas improve health. If you’re looking for more of the science, then be sure to watch the video in its entirety. It’s definitely worth the time.

Until next time, “Strength for Life”

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Davie McConnachie

Davie McConnachie is Scotland’s leading health and wellness coach, multi-award-winning gym owner, motivational speaker and the founder of DMC Fitness, a fitness education facility known as the premier choice for 1-2-1 personal training. He has inspired thousands of people to fall in love with fitness – his true purpose and mission in life.

Diving into the world of fitness and wellness has helped Davie to deal with his own trauma and inner demons. He, overcame many dark times using his own unique methods to continue his cycle of healing.