The Science of Saunas – Truth behind my addiction

Sauna Benefit

Hello everyone, my name’s Tom Sullivan and I’m an addict. Every day without a doubt I step into the sauna and sweat hard for 15-45 minutes. I can’t help it, it makes me feel amazing. And those days when I can’t get to the sauna… well, I’m just not the same. It’s like something is missing.

What is sauna good for? Let’s take a look at the wonderful sauna benefits that drive my addiction.

Heart Health

A JAMA Internal Medicine report shows that regular time in the sauna may keep your heart healthy and extend life. Researchers from The University of Eastern Finland tracked 2300 middle aged men for an average of 20 years. They concluded that more sessions of sauna per week lowered the risk of cardiac death and fatal coronary disease. It was also shown to extend the life of other participants with other illnesses including cancer.

  • Participants with 2-3 sessions per week showed a 22% reduced chance of suffering sudden cardiac related death.
  • Participants with 4-7 sessions per week (Minimum 20 min/session) were compared to those with only 1 session per week and showed the greatest results.

They showed:

  • 63% Lower risk of sudden cardiac death
  • 50% Lower risk of CVD (Cardiovascular disease)
  • 48% Lower risk of CHD (Coronary heart disease)
  • 40% Less likely to die from all causes

Researchers reported that the benefit from sauna was likely due to a decrease in blood pressure and an increase in blood vessel diameter.


Detoxing Chemicals & Heavy Metals

The sauna essentially purifies the body from the inside out. Sweating is a critical detox function that eliminates PCB’s, metals and toxins that are stored in your fat cells. Your fats cells undergo lipolysis and release toxins when your exposed to the extreme heat. Not only shrinking your fat cells but killing them.

Athletic Recovery – Sauna Benefits for Athletes


The sauna has a couple amazing benefits for athletic recovery. One of them being the increase in human growth hormone which is essential for the growth and repair of muscles in the body.

Research has shown that two 20-minute sauna sessions, separated by a 30-minute cool down elevated growth hormone levels two-fold over baseline. Two 15-minute sauna sessions at an even hotter temperature separated by a 30-minute cool down resulted in a five-fold increase.

This increase in growth hormone was noticed immediately afterwards.


Additionally, the sauna has shown to increase blood flow to the skeletal muscles which helps keep them fueled with glucose, amino acids, fatty acids and oxygen, all while removing lactic acid and calcium ions.


Arthritic & Muscle Pain Relief

The sauna’s ability to relieve pain is attributed to the increase of anti-inflammatory compounds such as noradrenaline, adrenaline, cortisol and growth hormone. The body also releases natural pain killing endorphins due to the positive stress induced by the heat.


Muscle Gain & Fat Loss

The sauna has been shown to promote muscle growth and fat loss by improving insulin sensitivity and decreasing muscle-protein catabolism. 30 minutes of internment hyperthermic treatment can cause the expression of heat shock proteins in muscle. HSPs expressed from hyperthermic conditions have been correlated >30% more muscle re-growth than a control group.

Heat Shock Proteins (HSP)– A family of proteins produced by cells in response to exposure to stressful conditions. HSPs are expressed from exposure to extreme heat/cold, UV light and during wound healing or tissue remodelling.

Boosts Immune System

Studies have shown that regular sauna use can lead to a 30% less chance of getting a cold or the flu. Researchers from The Journal of Human Kinetics investigated the effects of sauna on the immune system and found that the sauna not only increased the white blood cell count, but also increased lymphocyte, neutrophil and basophil counts in the white blood cells. Showing the sauna stimulates the immune system.


Rejuvenates Skin

The deep sweating from the sauna increases the rate at which your dead skin cells are replaced. It also helps to remove bacteria from the epidermal layer of the skin and sweat ducts.

Exposure to the extreme heat continually flushes your skin cells increasing skin health, tone and colour, and cleanses your pores.


Better Sleep

Pro Trick: 2-3 hours before bed, sauna for 20-30 minutes, then hop in a cool shower for 5-10 minutes. Cycle this a few times and you’ll be sleeping like a baby.

This is due to the release of endorphins which create a soothing, near tranquilizing effect.


Increased Cardiovascular Performance

30-minutes of sauna post workout can increase oxygen consumption and red blood cell production significantly. Regular use will train your heart muscles and increase cardiac output, helping the bodies regulatory system move blood around the body to areas that need cooling.

Pro Trick: Alternate back and forth between sauna and cold water. Hot-Cold-Hot-Cold… When you rapidly change your body temp your heart rate increases by as much as 60%. (Comparable to the increase seen when exercising)

Stress Resilience

When you put your body through hyperthymic conditioning you prevent protein degeneration and muscle loss by triggering the production of heat shock proteins. HSPs are then used by your cells to counteract potentially harmful stimulus including stressors from pollutants, toxins, heat, cold and exercise.

Sauna exposure can also induce a hormetic response, (protective stress response) promoting the production of HSPs. HSPs are critical to stress resistance, support cellular antioxidant capacity, repair damaged proteins and prevent free-radical damage.


Words of Wisdom

The sauna is similar to physical activity in the sense that the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. Just like doing physical activity, you release endorphins AKA –  A runners high. The more intense the activity and the harder you go, the more endorphins you release.

To receive most, if not all of the sauna benefits listed above you MUST get to the point where it’s hard to stay in the sauna. You need to push it. For me, I feel best when I stay in to the point that I start to get a little dizzy. That being said, the sauna isn’t about being a hero. Don’t overdo it.


1        men for an average: Laukkanen, Tanjaniina, and Hassan Khan. “The Link Between Sauna Bathing and Mortality May Be Noncausal.” JAMA International Med, vol. 175, no. 10, Oct. 2015, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.3432;Hannuksela, M. L. & Ellahham, S. Benefits and risks of sauna bathing. The American journal of medicine 110, 118-126 (2001)

King, D. S., Costill, D. L., Fink, W. J., Hargreaves, M. & Fielding, R. A. Muscle metabolism during exercise in the heat in unacclimatized and acclimatized humans. J Appl Physiol 59, 1350-1354 (1985)

2      separated by a 30-minuite cooldown: Scoon, G. S., Hopkins, W. G., Mayhew, S. & Cotter, J. D. Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport/ Sports Medicine Australia 10, 259-262, doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2006.06.009 (2007)

3        to the skeletal muscles: Selsby, J. T. et al. Intermittent hyperthermia enhances skeletal muscle regrowth and attenuates oxidative damage following reloading. J Appl Physiol (1985) 102, 1702-1707, doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00722.2006 (2007)

4        kinetics investigated: Pilch, Wanda, and Ilona Pokora. “Effect of a Single Finnish Sauna Session on White Blood Cell Profile and Cortisol Levels in Athletes and Non-Athletes.” Journal of Human Kinetics, vol. 39, 18 Dec. 2013, pp. 127–135., doi: 10.2478/hukin-2013-0075.

5       heat shock proteins in muscle: Naito, H. et al. Heat stress attenuates skeletal muscle atrophy in hindlimb-unweighted rats. J Appl Physiol 88, 359-363 (2000).

6       hyperthermic conditions have: Yamada, P. M., Amorim, F. T., Moseley, P., Robergs, R. & Schneider, S. M. Effect of heat acclimation on heat shock protein 72 and interleukin-10 in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985) 103, 1196-1204, doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00242.2007 (2007)

7        HSPs expressed from: Moseley, P. L. Heat shock proteins and heat adaptation of the whole organism. J Appl Physiol (1985) 83, 1413-1417 (1997)

8        more muscle re-growth: Coleman, M. E. et al. Myogenic vector expression of insulin-like growth factor I stimulates muscle cell differentiation and myofiber hypertrophy in transgenic mice. The Journal of Biological Chemistry270, 12109-12116 (1995)

9        release of endorphins: Narita, M. et al. Heterologous mu-opioid receptor adaptation by repeated stimulation of kappa-opioid receptor: up-regulation of G-protein activation and antinociception. Journal of Neurochemistry85, 1171-1179 (2003); Xin, L., Geller, E. B. & Adler, M. W. Body temperature and analgesic effects of selective mu and kappa opioid receptor agonists microdialyzed into rat brain. The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics281, 499-507 (1997)



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