Can sauna replace exercise for health benefits? Not completely, but there are related benefits.
If you are an avid sauna enthusiast or have been researching the health benefits of sauna to determine the best way to add heat bathing to your health and wellness program, you have likely read articles on:
- How many calories are burned in a typical sauna session
- How lactic acid is released from the muscles through the deep penetrating heat of sauna
- How the cardiovascular system can be aided by vasodilation
- How skin looks fresher and younger because it is clean down into the pores
How it can help a person fall asleep and stay asleep or can help invigorate a person for a day.
All of these articles contain truths, but much of the evidence has been anecdotal. Now, a study by the Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science Department at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, with assistance from other departments from within the University of Iowa and the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, has been released showing the body’s physiologic response to “whole-body heat stress.”
As a sauna and steam bath aficionado, I had to remove my passionate response to my beloved safe havens of relaxation, healing, and stress relief being referred to as “Heat Stress Chambers.” However, after reading the article and considering the study was reviewing the shared benefits of heat bathing and exercise, the term made perfect sense from an analytical perspective. To cause change, physically, mentally, or emotionally, “stress” must be applied. With that understanding of the term stress, the study became a fascinating read.
To begin, the study explained the objective of the study, which was to determine if sauna could serve as a replacement to exercise for individuals who are physically limited in their ability to exercise. In order to determine the physiologic changes that occurred through heat stress, the study tested 25 young, healthy volunteers (13 men and 12 women), one at a time, beginning with placing each individual into a room with a temperature of 26°C (78.8°F) to determine baseline readings. After the baseline readings, the volunteers were moved to a room heated to 73°C (163.4°F) for 30 minutes. At the completion of those 30 minutes, the participants were moved to the lower bench at a cooler temperature for 3 minutes to help transition to the room temperature outside of the modified sauna.
In the testing, the following body levels were monitored with no changes occurring during the baseline measurement and the notable changes occurring after heat stress:
- Body temperature (average increase 0.86°C or 1.55°F)
- Heart rate (average increase of 22.4 beats per minute)
- Blood pressure (Systolic decrease of 16 mm Hg and diastolic decrease of 5 mm Hg)
- Norepinephrine, which as medicine is used to treat low blood pressure and heart failure, increase 58% in the plasma
- Prolactin, which has many different effects on the body, increased 285% in the plasma
- HSP72, which is a protein, showed to preserve muscle function, grew by an average of 48.7%
The conclusion of the study was that some physiologic changes that occurred during the study were similar to those of exercise, but exercise offers some benefits that cannot be attained through sauna use; however, for those who cannot exercise, heat bathing showed beneficial changes that could help maintain a healthier cardiovascular system and may preserve muscle function. Though, as they add in their conclusion, more studies may be necessary to show what other benefits come from heat bathing, these results are reason enough for me to enjoy my sauna and steam bath more frequently and to encourage my father to fire-up his sauna a few more times each week.
As with fitness routines, if you are under a physician’s care, ask your physician before beginning a heat bathing routine, and when they give you the green light, contact us firstname.lastname@example.org
Or visit our showroom and talk with a sauna consultant to find out which heat bathing system is best for you. From infrared to traditional sauna to steam, we can help you plan and design your project to help reduce the stress of building your own “heat stress chamber,” to use scientific terms, or heat bathing sanctuary, as my household likes to think of it.