Oooh boy…this was a challenge to write. I DO recommend far infrared saunas (FIR) but there are so many exaggerated claims on the internet about the benefits. I could very easily cut and paste the shared info I found on dozens of spa websites and articles so I’m going to try and sort through what’s realistic and what’s not.
First and foremost, I completely, 100% back thermotherapy aka heat therapy, which includes FIR, saunas, steam rooms, heating pads, warm baths, hot tubs (aside from the skeevy factor), sunbathing, etc. Heat feels good and is useful for alleviating pain, stiffness, muscle soreness, fatigue, headaches, and achiness from colds+flu. Since using the FIR sauna wrap I’ve slept more soundly, my skin looks great, and I’ve found relief from my usual muscle pain. Quite simply, being wrapped in heat feels cozy and relaxing!
Heat therapy has been around for centuries and culturally, the West is kind of just catching up on what other countries have been doing for generations. Japan has the onsen, Turkey has the hammam, Russia has the banya, Mexico -temazcals, Korea – hanjeungmak. Native Americans utilized the sweat lodge for purification ceremonies but for most Americans, it’s not a frequent practice as are the still weekly wellness traditions in other countries. Sauna in particular comes from the Finnish, where one sits in a typically cedar wood space and pours water on heated rocks. It is a deeply rooted tradition in Scandinavia and saunas can be found in nearly every home and some businesses.
So why is everyone talking about FIR saunas?
Far infrared saunas have become quite popular in the wellness industry. These types of saunas are popular in spas because they provide fantastic benefits to clients but are much easier and cheaper to install and maintain than traditional steam rooms and saunas. There are also companies offering affordable home sauna units, but for those of us who don’t own a house or have the cash to frequently visit a spa, the far infrared sauna wrap is a wise investment! A friend of mine was going to an FIR sauna in New York City and when the company announced a 50% off sale on their wraps I jumped on it because why spend $65/hour when I can get the same benefits at home right?
Far infrared is a type of safe electromagnetic radiation that heats the body rather than heating the air, at a lower, more tolerable temperature. There have been numerous small studies wherein participants were monitored for issues such as cardiovascular health, depression, wound healing, rheumatoid arthritis, and weight loss. While many of these studies produced favorable results with no negative effects there haven’t been any large-scale studies to conclusively state that infrared saunas produce long term healing or a reversal of symptoms. When it comes to wellness practices, while it may feel good, anecdotal evidence isn’t enough if you want science to back your claims.
One of the most advertised benefits of far infrared sauna is detoxification and if you read my previous blog you know my views on that cringe-inducing word. This is a big claim of FIR sauna use and just about every company touts the benefits of sweating as a way to “flush out toxins” and “release toxic heavy metals”. While there is a modicum of truth to that, for the most part, “toxins” (in large, noticeable percentages) are not eliminated through sweat but rather the liver and kidneys. However, there are benefits to sweating! Its primary purpose is to cool the body, but cardiovascular conditioning may result with regular sweat sessions because as your body works to cool itself, the heart pumps blood to increase circulation, much like what happens when you exercise (so basically, I should probably just exercise more rather than laying around, ha!) In addition, your skin gets healthier since sweating purges your pores of the dirt and grime that can accumulate daily. Also, as a result of enhanced circulation you may develop a healthy glow from freshly oxygenated blood flow.
Thermotherapy is highly effective for relieving chronic muscle pain and soreness. Heat dilates the blood vessels, bringing nutrient-rich blood to an affected area, it helps relax tight, stiff muscles, and if feels very comforting.
By far one of the most important benefits of FIR saunas is relaxation. Heat therapy reduces cortisol levels, which is your stress hormone. When you function at a high level of stress for prolonged periods of time, elevated cortisol in your bloodstream can wreak havoc on your body. We are not meant to be in a constant state of “fight or flight”! On the flip side, endorphins (the feel good hormones) are released, which make us feel calm and relaxed…giving us a ‘natural high’. When you feel relaxed your body is able to ‘let go’ so you may experience a more restful sleep, heck, if you’re anything like me you’ll actually fall asleep during the wrap!
BOTTOM LINE: there is some science to sauna…
- it feels good
- you sweat
- your muscles and joints feel relief from pain
- you experience long-lasting internal warmth (perfect for chilly, damp weather)
- it’s incredibly relaxing which relieves stress and may help you sleep more deeply
I purchased my wrap from Higher Dose at 50% off but you can find comparable models and prices if you do some research. Check your area for infrared sauna locations – prices typically range from $30-65 in time increments of 20-60min.
p.s. There are a LOT of links in this blog but they are well worth the read, I promise!