Historically, saunas have a longstanding tradition of use. They are common to many Eastern European countries, as well as Asia. In some countries, such as Finland, you can find them in nearly every home, where they're used for relaxation, detoxification and more.
Saunas are actually becoming increasingly used by athletes as well, but not only for the post-workout muscle relaxation as you might expect.
According to Rhonda Perciavalle Patrick, Ph.D., increasing your core temperature for short periods, as is done by using a sauna, may offer dramatic improvements to your athletic performance. She calls this concept "hyperthermic conditioning," which emerging research suggests has multiple positive effects on your body, from increased endurance to the growth of new brain cells.
How Heat Acclimation May Boost Your Endurance
If you're an athlete, the benefits of increased endurance are obvious, but actually everyone can benefit, as your level of endurance serves as a gauge for many aspects of your overall health, including your heart health.
Sauna Use May Prompt a "Massive" Release in Growth Hormone
Human growth hormone (HGH) is a synergistic, foundational biochemical that addresses the serious muscle loss and atrophy that typically occurs with aging. The higher your levels of HGH, the healthier and stronger you will be.
Heat Shock Proteins: Another Way Sauna Use May Promote Muscle Growth and Longevity
The release of HGH is just one way that hyperthermic conditioning increases muscle growth. It also reduces the amount of protein degradation that naturally occurs during both muscle use and disuse. As a result, this increases the net protein synthesis in your muscles, which ultimately promotes muscle growth.
Sauna Use May Be the Perfect Way to Support Muscle Recovery After an Injury
Heat treatments may even induce heat shock proteins that help protect against rhabdomyolysis, a serious degenerative muscle tissue condition that is one of the most common side effects associated with the use of statin cholesterol-lowering drugs!12 If you've had a muscle injury, you may be immobilized for lengthy periods, which generally will cause your muscles to begin to atrophy. Hyperthermic conditioning has been shown to slow muscle atrophy during disuse by up to 32 percent in one animal study. Whole-body heat treatment both prevents muscle atrophy and increases muscle regrowth, courtesy of elevated HSP levels.
Sauna Use May Even Help Trigger Increased Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin performs multiple functions in your body. It helps mobilize or signal a certain kind of protein to mobilize glucose from outside your cells, and it's part of the mTOR (Mammalian Target of Rapamycin) mechanism, which causes protein to be created and builds your muscle. The mechanism that builds protein in your muscles is part of the insulin cascade pathway, and it cannot be bypassed.
How Sauna Use Might Benefit Your Brain
During exercise, fasting and, it appears, sauna use, nerve cells release proteins known as neurotrophic factors, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF, which activates brain stem cells to produce new neurons. BDNF also triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health.