6 months ago, I got really sick.
I was sweating profusely, sneezing, had serious ear pain, could hardly breathe and was congested to the max. It wasn’t a pretty picture.
I’d tried taking medications prescribed by my doctor, was taking it easy, took time off work and altered my diet. Nothing was easing my pain.
It was in the middle of battling a round of chills that I thought to myself, how could I get myself warmer? Blankets? A bath? Crank up the heat and make my bedroom a sweat lodge?
That’s when it hit me. My gym, conveniently located across the street, had a sauna. Perfect. I would just run in there for 10 minutes and take care of the shivering.
After doubling my time (because it felt so good) and spending 20 minutes in the sauna, I was shocked at my results. I could breathe again, my congestion was gone, my ears unplugged, and I wasn’t shivering anymore. Was this a cure-all?
No, it turns out. My symptoms came back in a couple of hours. But the impression was left on me and it stuck – the sauna has some serious benefits, and even if they’re just for the short term, I should explore this more.
So, I started doing some research. I found out that regular sauna use (three times per week) can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by over 20%. Upping your sauna use to 4-7 times per week can reduce your risk even further. On top of that, it’s also been proven to:
- Reduce depression and stress while releasing endorphins in the brain
- Reduce blood pressure
- Reduce your risk of all-cause mortality by 40% (dying of anything non-accidental)
- Increase growth hormone production by 200%-300% after a little as one session)
- Reduce muscle atrophy (which is why it’s great to use the sauna after a workout)
- Reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases
The benefits of sauna have yet to be fully understood – but one thing is for sure: they’re far-reaching and significant. I think that as more studies are conducted, sauna use in North America is going to explode, similar to how meditation and yoga have gone mainstream.
From a personal standpoint, I can vouch that the endorphin rush is absolutely real. It’s what keeps me coming back to the sauna 3-4 times per week. I even dragged my fiancé to the thermal baths in Budapest, Hungary to learn from the masters of the sauna. I’d highly recommend a visit to the Szechenyi Thermal Baths for anyone looking to test out the Taj Mahal of saunas. It’s mind-bogglingly beautiful. The photo below isn’t mine (our phones were locked up while we explored the baths)
, but it gives you an idea.
One of my goals for 2018 is to use the sauna ever three days, or 122 times total. As for how, when, and for how long, here’s what matters:
- Stay in the sauna for a minimum of 19 minutes. The full benefits of using the sauna are achieved after this time period.
- Use a dry sauna, which has been proven to extend the greatest amount of the benefits listed above.
- Go 3-7 times per week.
- Use the sauna after working out to slow muscle atrophy.
- Make sure the temperature is around 80 degrees Celsius for full benefits.
If you follow these five steps, you’ll be on your way to using the sauna like a Hungarian. Twenty minutes a day initially felt like a lot to me, so I started meditating in the sauna to kill two birds with one stone and save a bit of time every day. Let me know on Twitter if you’re giving the sauna a try, and how it makes you feel overall. I figure even if all the studies are wrong and it simply makes me feel good while bringing me to the gym more, it’s a win.
If you want to learn more about the benefits of sauna, listen to Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s podcast below, or read her report – Hyperthermic Conditioning’s Role in Increasing Endurance, Muscle Mass, Neurogenesis. She’s one of my favorite listens/reads when it comes to the health field. More sources are below.