Now that dark and cold winter days are happening on the reg, it’s time to seek some heat. Although a high-intensity workout session also gets your heart rate up, the newest way to sweat is unwinding in infrared saunas.
This form of detoxification claims to do everything from improving skin, increasing weight loss, boosting the immune system, and providing muscle recovery and pain relief. But are infrared saunas really worth the hype and high price tag?
How Do Infrared Saunas Work?
Traditional saunas and infrared saunas are very different means of getting sweaty. Regular saunas use either wood stoves or electric heaters to heat the air to 158–194 degrees Fahrenheit. The air typically has a relative humidity of 10 to 20 percent, and spa-goers spend about five to 20 minutes inside its steamy walls.
nfrared saunas, also called far-infrared saunas or near-infrared saunas, heat their chamber or pods to only 104–140 degrees Fahrenheit. This provides, as many claim, a more relaxing and therapeutic experience.
Infrared saunas work by producing infrared light waves that create heat in the body, as opposed to heating the room around you. This in turn raises your internal temperature, and causes you to sweat (like crazy!), releasing stored up toxins.
As infrared heat penetrates more deeply (approximately 3–4 centimeters into fat tissue and muscles) than warmed air (only a few millimeters), infrared sauna users develop a more vigorous sweat at a lower temperature than they would in traditional saunas within fifteen or so minutes.
Infrared Sauna BenefitsVarious studies have shown that infrared heat therapy improves muscle endurance and recovery, helps to lower blood pressure, reduces chronic pain and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, improves circulation and blood flow, and boosts mood.
Infrared sauna therapy is believed to have a parasympathetic healing effect, according to Dr. Axe, which
means a sweat session helps the body to adequately deal with stress. Cardiologist, Alejandro Junger notes that beyond the incredible relaxation effect it has, infrared therapy has been shown to increase endorphin levels even after a sauna session. “It’s proven to be beneficial for musculoskeletal ailments, heavy metal detoxification, increased blood flow, and boosting the immune system’s cell activity” he notes.
Another reason to try out infrared therapy? A session may reduce the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). A recent study found that exposing skin to heat from infrared lamps can mimic the effect of antidepressants by stimulating the production of serotonin, the hormone linked to mood regulation.
Infrared Sauna DangersIf you’ve never experienced an infrared sauna therapy session, prepare to get sweaty – but don’t expect anything much worse. No pain or negative side effects have been reported with infrared saunas, even in those who normally cannot tolerate other types of saunas or heat therapy.
Some people may feel lightheaded afterwards, but drinking plenty of water (or electrolyte-rich coconut water) before and after each session can counter this. According to Dr. Axe, “most people don’t feel any different otherwise, although in some people with high levels of pain, they report they feel an improvement almost immediately.”
Of course, it is important to talk with your general practitioner about infrared sauna therapy if you have questions, are pregnant or nursing, have high blood pressure, a history of heart problems or fainting, or take medications.