The procedures that expose the body to heat have been present from ancient times across many cultures. Variations of its use appear today in the saunas of Finlandia, the banyas of the Russian Empire, and the sweat lodges of the Native Americans. A sauna or banya can reach temperatures of around 60 to 100°C (140 to 212°F). These hot temperatures provide a way to build up immunity, detoxify the body, alongside many other health benefits that may surprise you.
The 10 benefits of heat exposure for your body
Heat therapy is an enjoyable experience that can help us relax and unwind at the same time as promoting our overall health and well-being.
1Lowers the risk of cardiac death
The studies on heat exposure benefits showed that using high temperatures can lead to a highly positive impact on cardiovascular health. The risk of sudden cardiac death was 22% lower for men who used the sauna two-three times per week and even more so, at 63%, for those who went four to seven times compared to men using the sauna once per week. Fatal coronary heart disease mortality rates were also lowered by 23% and 48%, respectively.
In comparison to men who used the sauna once a week those who went two to three times per week had a 27% lower risk of fatal cardiovascular disease, while those using the sauna four to seven times weekly cut that same risk in half.
According to Harvard Medical School, one’s pulse rate rises 30% or more during a brief sauna session. This lets the heart pump nearly double the amount of blood each minute. Heat therapy also opens blood vessels. All these processes increase circulation which helps to deliver oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.
3Lowers risk of hypertension
Long-term heat therapy helps decrease resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure. According to the study, men who used saunas 2-3 times a week were 24% less likely to develop hypertension compared to men who used the sauna only once per week. At the same time, those who used it four to seven times per week had a 46% lower risk of developing hypertension.
4Enhances your immune system
If you are tired of feeling under the weather every fall, visiting a sauna might be the perfect option. Bathing in heat relates to reducing the incidence of common colds. One of the studies compared two groups of healthy adults, one of which used a sauna, and the other which did not do any forms of hyperthermic treatments. The results showed that using a sauna one to two times per week for 6 months led to fewer colds after the third month of treatment.
5Strengthens your respiratory health
The research found that sauna use is related to a decreased chance of developing some chronic or sudden respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia. The studies showed that for men that used the sauna two to three times every week lowered their risk of pneumonia by 27% relative to those who used the sauna one or less times per week. This was even greater, at 41% lower, for those who used the sauna four to seven times per week.
According to various studies, sauna use promotes robust increases in beta-endorphins. Beta-endorphins are like your own natural painkillers, stored in the brain and ready to tackle any physical discomfort you might experience. But these powerful little chemicals do not stop there; they can also help make tough times feel a bit sweeter by boosting reward sensations.
The findings showed that, compared to their baseline, one 30-minute sauna session twice a week for 3 weeks post-workout increased the time it took to run until exhaustion by 32% for participants of the study.
Not only did the participants improve their endurance but their plasma volume increased by 7.1% and erythrocytes – aka red blood cells – by 3.5%. When you’re working out, your erythrocytes – red blood cells – transport oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. They also carry carbon dioxide back to the lungs so it can be expelled. More erythrocytes usually mean better endurance.
8Preserves muscle mass
The heat you experience while using a sauna can improve your physical fitness by making your cardiovascular system and lungs stronger, as well as helping to preserve muscle mass. Whole-body hyperthermia has the potential to preserve or increase muscle mass and may also promote mitochondrial biogenesis.
9Reduces symptoms of depression
Sauna therapy has been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression, such as improving appetite and reducing somatic complaints and anxiety. In a randomized controlled trial involving 28 individuals diagnosed with mild depression, the group that received 4 weeks of sauna sessions had reduced the number of symptoms compared to the control group, which received bedrest instead of sauna therapy.
10Cleanses your body
For centuries, people from various cultures have been practicing the art of bathing in heat to cleanse the body and treat the skin. According to Harvard Medical School, the average person releases a pint (0.5 litres) of sweat during a short stint in a sauna. Sweat is one of the fluids that help your body get rid of toxins, including heavy metals. Heat exposure can speed up your sweating and boost the excretion of toxins through the largest organ of your body – the skin.
Sauna and Banya: What is the difference?
There are many ways to bring heat into our lives, and sauna and banya are two of the most common.
Saunas use heated dry air to raise body temperature. This creates sweat, which helps to release toxins from the body and cleanse the skin.
Banyas use hot steam to produce a sauna-like experience without overheating the air. The optimal temperature for an authentic banya experience is 60°C with 60% humidity. The moist heat in banyas is believed to be even more beneficial than saunas because it opens up pores easier.
Who should avoid heat exposure?
While it is beneficial to use heat therapy, sauna and banya included, sometimes this heat exposure practice can be overdone. There are specific groups of people who should not try heat therapy.
If you are prone to heat-sensitive illnesses such as multiple sclerosis or heat exhaustion, this procedure is not for you. The symptoms of these conditions can worsen in the heat, so consult with a doctor before any you engage in any kind of heat therapy.
If you suffer from an unstable cardiovascular problem or recent myocardial infarction, it is better to avoid saunas and banyas. As the heat could potentially make your symptoms worse and increase your risk of stroke.
Pregnant women should use heat therapy with caution. Although there is no evidence of harm to the baby, heat can cause dizziness, nausea, and reduced foetal movement. Therefore, it is best for pregnant women to avoid sauna and banya use.
If you are already severely dehydrated, going to the sauna or steam room is not the best idea. More dehydration from heat therapy can be dangerous for people suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
What not to do during the heat exposure
1. Refrain from drinking alcohol before your heat session. It is a dangerous combination that can lead to serious cardiovascular problems.
2. Do not take medication that impedes sweating because it will worsen dehydration.
3. Avoid the sauna or banya if you are already ill. If you start to feel sick while in the sauna exit immediately.
4. Do not stay there for long periods of time without any breaks.
Let’s sum up heat exposure benefits
Saunas and banyas are two of the most common forms of heat exposure, both of which involve sitting or lying in a sauna room or banya hut while exposed to high temperatures. This procedure can help with cardiovascular health, improving the immune system and circulation, reviving pain, and boosting your mental health.
It is important to note that heat exposure should be used in moderation and at safe temperatures to avoid causing injury or harm. People should also be mindful of the time they spend inside saunas or banyas. By using saunas or banyas safely and in moderation, one can experience the health benefits of heat exposure without putting themselves at risk.
Hungry for knowledge? Here is more
Whether you are beginning your heat exposure journey or are already an experienced sauna or banya visitor, you will benefit from watching this lecture from Dr. Andrew Huberman. In this video, he explains how heat affects our bodies and describes specific protocols for heat exposure in order to achieve specific outcomes.
Receive Exclusive Tips & Weekly Digest – subscribe to our newsletter