This Ain’t Your Granny’s Sauna (or is it?)
From the Russian banya, to Tribal sweat lodges, to Estonian smoke saunas, there is an ancient tradition of therapeutic sweating for health and wellness across the world. Now modern technology has stepped in and upgraded the rustic feel of saunas to futuristic portals you can install in your own home. It’s how The Jetson’s would sauna if they could.
What is an Infrared Sauna?
You may have already heard of this from a friend, or have seen it advertised around town. Let’s break this down. Infrared refers to a specific range of electromagnetic radiation. Wait. You are already familiar with this electromagnetic radiation, it includes radiowaves, microwaves, gamma rays, x-rays, as well as visible and nonvisible light (Note: Not in order of wavelengths.) If it makes you feel better to refer to it as the Light Spectrum, go for it. Just remember, the human eye does not detect all forms of light! Infrared lies between microwaves and visible light, is actually divided into near-infrared, medium-infrared, and far-infrared.
Fun fact: humans emit infrared rays! As do all warm blooded living beings. That is because infrared radiation, or infrared light, refers to an intensity of heat. You know those movies with military operatives using high tech binoculars that when viewed through see the silhouettes of people in the form of colors such as red, orange and yellow. This indicates the amount of heat emitted from an object. Things like campfires, moxibustion, and the sun emit infrared. You’re starting to get the point. Heat is a form of light, light is a form of radiation, therefore heat is radiation. I recall in the days of phones with cords that extended from the kitchen to your bedroom, we also had radiators which warmed the house. To spell it out more clearly, radiation can be very good for humans. Not all radiation is healthy for us, likewise, not all radiation is unhealthy for us. So, what’s the deal with infrared saunas?
To Sauna or Not
Firstly, saunas can be grouped into dry or wet saunas. A wet sauna is where moisture is present to induce sweating. Like a hot vapor or steam, you may have seen saunas with a warming element that gets ladled with water to diffuse warm moisture through the air. This has advantages, especially for those with dry conditions. A dry sauna is where no moisture is introduced into the environment directly. This is especially good for those with wet or damp conditions. This is NOT to say that dry saunas are contraindicated, or not recommended, for dry conditions. For more information on dry or wet (damp) conditions, contact the practitioners at Lakewood Ranch Acupuncture and Wellness. For the purpose of this article, know that infrared saunas are generally dry. If you live in a damp or wet or moist environment this can be helpful to you. If you live in a dry or arid environment this can also be helpful to you. Either way, seek professional guidance from someone who knows your health history (constitution) and current condition.
Science of Sauna
The main difference between a traditional sauna and an infrared sauna is that traditional saunas heat the air around the body, infrared saunas do not. In Finland, where descendants of Vikings take their sauna-ing seriously in the form of endurance contests in scorching hot saunas, there has been extensive research in the science of the sauna. Factually, sauna is a Finnish word that refers to the steam produced by pouring water on hot rocks. There, now you speak a small fraction of the Finnish language.
What the Finns have found is that sauna bathing actually produces hemodynamic (blood flow) and endocrinological (hormonal) changes akin to physical exercise. This does not mean you can skip the treadmill and only sauna, but maybe combining exercise and sauna bathing in novel ways can augment the benefits as a whole for a more efficient self-healing program (contact our practitioners for some great ideas!) The Finns, Ruskies, other European bathers and scientists advocate the contrast bathing method. That means repeated cycles of exposure to warm-hot temperatures followed by cool-cold temperature exposure. Note: Always finish with cool-cold temperatures!
If that does not sound too appealing, infrared saunas offer a more efficient solution. As the form of heat is light delivered, it means that the heat penetrates deeper into the tissues. Moreso, in traditional saunas the temperature controls induce the sweating effect in individuals. Some like it hot! Thanks, Ms. Monroe. Whereas, in infrared saunas the temperature is less important than the light entering the body.
Light > Heat in Infrared Saunas
For therapeutic benefits, infrared light from infrared saunas travels 3-4 cm deep into the neuromuscular system of the body. That is approximately 1-1.5 inches. Remember, there are thousands of capillaries and other blood vessels that are at the superficial portion of the body. Many of these are at the extremes of the vascular system and moving blood from deep in the body to the surface takes a great deal of effort on behalf of the heart. So, opening up these superficial blood vessels means more nutrition to the body, and clearing of toxins! This applies to adipose tissues too!
As the infrared light penetrates deeper in the body than traditional sauna bathing, bathers experience a greater sweat at lower temperatures. Therefore, those who do not do well with high temperature saunas may find a better option in infrared saunas. Further, the Finns found that traditional saunas used for recovery produce a higher heart beat (by 20 beats per minute) than using far-infrared saunas for recovery from exercise. That means the far-infrared sauna is literally more relaxing to the heart! The reason could be the exceptionally lower humidity in infrared saunas.
The Finns showed us that infrared saunas are favorable to athletes and recovery from physical exercise. In Japan, Waon Therapy has been studied for over two decades. Here, they use far-infrared dry saunas plus an additional phase of blanket cover post-sauna. Sounds so comforting! Imagine a hospital where the therapy was a warm sauna followed by being wrapped in cozy blankets for a 30 minute nap. I mean, come on, that is therapy!
Infrared Sauna + Blankets = Healthy Heart!
So, what do the Japanese use this Waon Therapy, or what I call Uber Comfy Therapy, for? If you guessed Advanced Heart Failure, you’d be right! Would you think that researchers found this Waon (Uber Comfy) Therapy to be as safe, and even safer, than the optimal medical treatment for Chronic Heart Failure? If you said yes, again, you’d be right. Just to be clear, Waon means “soothing warmth or comfortable warmth that refreshes the patients’ mind and body.” Sounds utterly awful. If you were on the fence about retiring to Japan to treat your advanced heart disease, you might be booking a plane ticket after finishing this article. The study I’m referencing was completed at 19 centers and included over 140 patients. What was the conclusion? Let me quote directly, “Waon therapy, a holistic soothing warmth therapy, was demonstrated to have advantages over optimal medical therapy alone in terms of safety and efficacy even in patients with advanced HF.” What they demonstrated in their study was that infrared sauna for 15 minutes followed by resting wrapped in a blanket for 30 minutes was MORE ADVANTAGEOUS than optimal medical therapy!
Multiple studies have found Infrared Saunas to provide therapeutic benefits for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Obesity. If you suffer from chronic pain, Infrared saunas can help. Are you a nursing mother experiencing insufficient lactation? Infrared saunas can help that too.
Maybe it is your granny’s sauna! Maybe it’s also your sauna! More and more health clubs, gyms, recreation and community centers, healthcare practitioners, and ordinary citizens are utilizing the power of Infrared Saunas. The research is quite compelling and it appears to be safer than traditional sauna bathing. If you desire to know if infrared sauna bathing is an optimal choice for you, it is best to get professional medical guidance. The practitioner team at Lakewood Ranch Acupuncture and Wellness, located near Sarasota, FL, can expertly assist you in determining if Infrared Saunas are appropriate for you. Give our team, your team, a call today to schedule an appointment!
- Beever, R. Far-infrared saunas for treatment of cardiovascular risk factors: Summary of published evidence. Canadian Family Physician (Journal). July 2009.
- Inoue, T. et al. Waon Therapy for Managing Chronic Heart Failure: Results from a Multicenter Prospective Randomized WAON-CHF Study. Circulation Journal. March 2016.
- Mero, A. et al. Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training sessions in men. SpringPlus. July 2015.