I recently visited a spa after a heavy work week, and asked myself why I don't go more often considering how amazing I felt afterwards. As I was trying to find an excuse to justify more frequent visits, I became curious as to what is actually happening in my body when I'm in the sauna that is making me feel so good. I wondered, what are the actual health benefits of sauna use? I did some research, and came up with the following reasons why frequenting the sauna is so beneficial!
1. Pain and Inflammation Relief
When the body is exposed to high temperatures, it raises its HSP count, and thus can help fight against inflammation and pain. The greatest benefits of the sauna are achieved by brief moments of discomfort, which force the body to excrete pain relieving hormones to aid in our body's "survival" of a stressful situation. Just as our bodies are stressed into growing bigger muscles when we lift heavy things, our bodies can just as well be stressed into having greater pain and stress resistance if challenged in the correct way.
2. High Brain Function
I remembered beyond feeling more relaxed after a Sauna, I also felt more clear headed and creative and that seems to be because when the body is exposed to stress or a challenging situation, it releases chemicals that aid in it's survival by optimizing its performance. One of which is called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor or BDNF. BDNF has shown to improve memory, learning and even mood. When these synapses are activated, and these neurons fire at a more efficient degree, the brain's overall process of cognition improves dramatically. The high heat of the sauna activates the growth of new brain cells, helps maintain existing cells, and improves neuroplasticity (the brain's process for forming new neural connections.)
A clean body is a happy body, and though sweating may be best known for cooling you down in the summer, a recent 2016 study published in BioMed Research International has shown that sweating actually helps the body eliminate chemicals such as pesticides. You might think you eat organic etc, but many of the toxins in our body are ingested via the air we breathe and the water we shower in. So unless you have a shower filter, and you're wearing a weapons grade face mask at all times, you too could benefit from an expulsion of toxins. Another study by the same research group found that chemicals tied to breast cancer and various other conditions associated with endocrine disruption, were present in high concentrations compared to their urine. Daily exposure to the modern world, will leave it's trail, so even the health nuts among us are in dire need of a cleansing from time to time.
4. White Blood Cell Count
So on a basic level, the sauna is mainly intended to strengthen the immune system against colds and viruses. While we sweat, the rise in body temperature acts as a kind of induced fever, stimulating the body's defense mechanisms by raising the white blood cell count. These white blood cells are our best chance at beating any virus that comes your way. Yes... even C who shall not be named.
5. Heat Shock Proteins
The exposure to high heat in a sauna can induce the body to produce something called “Heat Shock Proteins”. Heat Shock Proteins are a kind of protein that hardens or insulates the cells against damage, by a mechanism called “refolding.” Like a sword, the more often it is folded in the fire, the more resistant it is to breakage. Hence, if you spend up to twenty minutes in a sauna, your body will be challenged, and thus fortify itself against stressors of all other kinds as well. In short, when you spend enough time in a sauna, you become an unbreakable sword of sorts via these heat shock proteins.
Although I began this blog by saying a visit to the Spa is a far more fun than some kind of cleanse or diet, but the cold hard truth is: even when it comes to the sauna, where there is no pain, there is no gain. Perhaps it's nature's way of protecting and rewarding the brave challengers of human progress, but it seems as though the way into personal growth, fulfillment, and true comfort is through discomfort. As if a deep universal code that pervades all aspects of life, the continuous challenging of our comfort zones seems to not only promote spiritual growth, but even when we look deep into the bio-chemistry of life, the truth is that growing pains are a natural part of life.
Perhaps the most universal truth that connects every human being, is that no amount of status, fame, or fortune, will spare you from nature's requirement of sacrifice.
No one will run a mile for you, no one will sweat for you, and no one will walk through the valley of sacrifice for you. And if they do, you're not seeing any of the benefits. So in order to live a healthy fulfilled life, we all need to get off our butts and sweat a little harder than we might care to.
Until next time,
Dr. Alexes Hazen