Why Some Like It Hot

We’ve explored the health benefits of cold (water) exposure. What about heat?

I decided to explore the health benefits of acute heat exposure in the form of saunas, baths, and steam rooms for one main reason: the sauna is a near-universal human tradition, and I’m always curious about those. Indigenous peoples of North America had the sweat lodge, those of Central America the temazcal. The Romans had the thermae, which they picked up and refined from the Greeks. Other famous traditions include Finnish saunas, Russian banyas, Turkish hammams, Japanese sentó (or the natural spring-fed onsen), and the Korean jjimjilbang. Are all these many billions of people across time and space sitting in heated rooms for the heck of it?

As popular as it is to deride traditional wisdoms or practices as outdated, irrelevant, or the delusions of superstitious primitives, traditions don’t arise out of nothingness. And when the same or similar tradition arises in nearly every culture and people ever known, it’s time to pay attention and dig deeper. Universal human traditions don’t always harbor truth and insight into the human mind, body, and condition, but they’re always worth checking out. Confirm before you discard.

Luckily, we don’t have to guess: extensive research into the health benefits of saunas, steam baths, IR saunas, and other forms of acute heat exposure confirms that the human universal of getting really, really sweaty, hot, and steamy on purpose has merit.

The latest piece of sauna research concerns something we’re all thinking about: all-cause mortality. Researchers tracked the health and sauna habits of 2,315 Finnish men with a median age of 53 for over 30 years, finding remarkable correlations between sitting in a really hot room with a bunch of naked men and protection from fatal heart attacks.

Men who used the sauna two to three times a week had a 23% lower risk of fatal heart attack compared to men who used it just once a week. Men who used the sauna four to seven times a week had a 48% reduced risk of fatal heart attack compared to once-a-weekers. The more frequently men used the sauna, the greater the protection. Similar connections were found for all-cause mortality, too.

This was observational, of course, and the researchers themselves state that further research is required to identify a potential mechanism for the protective effects.

What could be going on? Let’s look at what happens when you enter a 174° F/80° C sauna.

  1. Receiving between 300-600 watts per meter squared, your skin heats up to around 41° C, or 105° F.
  2. This initiates compensatory cooling, which your body achieves through profuse sweating at a rate of 0.6-1 kilograms per hour.
  3. Sweating can give off 200 watts of heat, but this isn’t enough to offset the total heat load. Your insides start to heat up.
  4. Your core body temperature rises. 30 minutes at 80° C (or 174 degrees F), the typical temperature for saunas, raises an adult’s body temperature by 0.9° C.

For all intents and purposes, this is really stressful. Our bodies don’t want to get too hot — that’s why we have mechanisms in place to prevent overheating, like sweating — but our bodies also don’t want to exercise too much or go without food. Doesn’t mean those aren’t good for us in the right doses, and the same goes for temporary overheating.

So yes, sauna usage is stressful. After an initial drop in cortisol, it transiently increases sympathetic nervous system activity, the “fight or flight” side of things. Stress hormones increase as the temperature (and your body temperature) rises, and by the end of a thirty minute session cortisol is markedly elevated (particularly in women). This isn’t a surprise. Intense exercise also raises cortisol in the short term. And like regular exercise, longer term sauna usage (daily for four weeks in one study) actually reduces stress hormones.  It’s a classic hormetic response, where acute doses of the stressor increase oxidative stress and provoke a compensatory adaptation by the organism.

How does this translate into better health?

Oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress describes an imbalance between the burden of reactive oxygen species and the body’s ability to deal with them. Whether it’s Alzheimer’s, atherosclerosis, diabetes, depression, or cancer, your oxidative burden plays a (likely causative) role. We have several well-known tools at our disposal for lessening the burden, like exercise, good sleep, smart supplementation, meditation, and others, but targeted heat stress can also help lower oxidative stress in both sick and healthy people.

Lower urinary prostaglandins: In patients with established risk factors for heart disease, daily sauna therapy (15 minutes at 60° C in an infra-red sauna for two weeks) lowered urinary levels of an oxidative stress biomarker. Endothelial function also improved in the sauna group.

Increased antioxidant capacity: After initially increasing oxidative stress, sauna therapy triggered compensatory adaptations and activated antioxidant defenses in the blood of healthy volunteers.

Decreased oxidative stress in chronic heart failure: Patients (and some hamsters) with chronic heart failure underwent infra-red sauna therapy (at 60° C) daily for four weeks. After the trial, markers of oxidative stress had dropped and endothelial function had improved.

Improved lipid profiles: In both men and women, sauna use lowers LDL and triglycerides while increasing HDL.

Improved insulin sensitivity: Sauna use increases insulin sensitivity.

Physical performance.

A large body of sports science shows that heat acclimatization — increased heat tolerance — allows athletes to perform better in high heat environments and increase their work output while reducing the overall metabolic, cardiovascular, and muscular strain. One way to increase heat acclimatization is to train in hot weather. Another is with regular use of saunas.

Post-workout sauna sessions improve endurance performance in runners: For three weeks, endurance runners sat in 89° C (+/- 2° C) humid saunas for 31 minutes following training sessions. This amounted to an average of 12.7 sauna sessions per runner. Relative to control (no sauna), sauna use increased time to exhaustion by 32%, plasma cell volume by 7.1%, and red cell volume by 3.2% (both plasma cell and red cell volume are markers of increased endurance performance).

Post-workout sauna use increases plasma volume in male cyclists: Following training sessions, cyclists sat in 87° C, 11% humidity saunas for 30 minutes. Just four sessions were sufficient to expand plasma volume. This is important because increasing plasma volume improves heat dissipation, thermoregulation, heart rate, and cardiac stroke volume during exercise.

Growth hormone.

Exogenous growth hormone is a popular and potent anabolic agent, increasing whole body protein synthesis and promoting muscular hypertrophy and fat loss. It’s well known that intense exercise, fasting, and a good night’s sleep can all naturally increase growth hormone levels, but there’s another, lesser-known method: sauna usage.  Several studies show the powerful effect heat stress can have on growth hormone levels.

  • A 1976 study found that Finnish sauna usage increased growth hormone 140% over baseline.
  • In 1986, a group of Finnish researchers subjected 10 healthy men to twice-daily hour-long sauna sessions for seven days. On day three, serum growth hormone had increased 16-fold over baseline levels.
  • A 1989 study examined the GH response to varying sauna dosages, finding upwards of 5-fold increases in GH.

There’s even evidence that you actually can “sweat out the toxins” in a sauna, contrary to conventional wisdom.

Sweat (along with blood, urine, and probably tears) contains bioaccumulated toxinsBPA shows up in sweat, too, even when it doesn’t show up in the blood or urine. Same goes for certain phthalate compounds and their metabolites. Sweat has also been shown to contain arsenic and lead in exposed individuals. So, if acute heat exposure makes you sweat profusely, and various toxins show up in sweat, heat exposure might be helping you clear some of those out. whether that’s in the dry sauna or in a class full of slippery Bikram yoga practitioners, it’s probably getting rid of some industrial toxins you’ve inevitably accumulated.

Still, that’s indirect evidence. Do we know if using saunas can actually eliminate toxins from the body?

Maybe. In one case report, repeated use of a sauna normalized mercury levels in a person with elevated concentrations. And when meth lab-busting police officers with chronic illnesses caused by high exposure to methamphetamine production chemicals tried sauna therapy, they experienced significant improvement.

The human studies are impressive, but animal studies suggest other effects from sauna therapy:

I wouldn’t be surprised if similar mechanisms are in place for humans, too.

By now, you’re probably convinced: sauna sessions aren’t just enjoyable, they’re functional.

What are your options?

Dry sauna: The dry sauna is the most traditional and common form of sauna, using exclusively dry heat. Most “saunas” you see are dry ones, and most research focuses on them. Dry saunas are typically between 160-194 °F.

Steam sauna: It’s a sauna with steam. Steam saunas are more uncomfortable and raise body temperature to a greater degree than dry saunas, but you may have trouble sticking around long enough to get the same benefits you would from the dry sauna.

Infrared sauna: Instead of heating the air, infrared saunas use infrared lamps to heat your body directly. The temperatures used are signifciantly lower (around 120-130 °F) than dry or steam saunas. An infrared sauna therapy known as waon is used in Japan to treat heart failure, peripheral arterial disease, cardiovascular disease, and fibromyalgia, and it can even improve exercise tolerance. Infrared radiation may also improve wound healing,

Don’t get stuck in limbo trying to “optimize” your sauna choice. Just getting into the sauna — any sauna — and getting really, really hot is key. Regular use (at least once a week and ideally more frequently) is better than infrequent use.


Alcohol: Never drink alcohol before or during a sauna stint. This increases the risk of dying, which you don’t want. Many sauna-related deaths involve intoxication.

Multiple sclerosis: Although the changes are transient and totally reversible, sauna usage has been shown to worsen MS patients’ cognitive function and motor control for about an hour.

Strength athletes: Owing to the effects on plasma volume, growth hormone, and insulin sensitivity, sauna therapy is likely going to be beneficial for strength athletes. Immediately prior to training or competition, however, the sauna may have mixed effects. In male athletes, strength endurance and 1 rep max leg press drop in response to preworkout sauna use; 1 rep max bench press is unaffected; maximum power (vertical leap) improves. Another study found that in female athletes but not in males, maximum power decreases after sauna use. It’s probable that these performance disturbances are caused by dehydration, so rehydrating after sauna use might restore performance.

It goes without saying, but be careful. Heat stress is, well, stressful. If you think you’re getting too warm, you probably are and should get out. Heatstroke can happen without warning.

Keep something refreshing to drink on hand in case you get wobbly. Coconut water, mineral water, regular water with a pinch of sea salt are all great ways to maintain hydration when losing a ton of water.

That’s it for today, everyone. Do you use a sauna? If so, what kind? What have you gained from it? Any miraculous stories? Tell me all about it!

Thanks for reading.

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TAGS:  hormesis, hormones

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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81 thoughts on “Why Some Like It Hot”

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  1. Always wanted a home sauna. Thanks for the reminder!

        1. Great find. I need to research this more myself, though I wonder how much the electricity bill would increase from running one of those on a regular basis.

        2. Just did some research: the model you found only runs when it’s pre-heating (it takes about an hour) and when it’s being used. It uses 1450 watts, which here in Nebraska equates to about $0.17 per hour.

      1. Very creative! I’ve hot boxed a few but never made a sauna

  2. Yes you’ve reminded me as well that there is a really easy way to convert your shower into a (steam) sauna. I’ll dig around for my notes, but I think a quick google search will lead one to instructions.

  3. I imagine it also simulates running a fever which might kill off sub clinical or early infections before your immune system has time to react on it’s own. We all know a pebble of prevention is work a rock of cure thanks to Grok 🙂

  4. We have an infrared sauna installed in our basement that reaches 171 F. I really don’t know what we would do without it in the winter. Provides much needed heat, and along with a low carb diet, my skin looks fantastic 😀

  5. If I feel run down, I go to our local 24 hour fitness and after showering, sit in the steam sauna, then hop in the cold lap pool, then back and forth a few times. It’s very invigorating and I feel like it gives my immune system the kick in the butt it needs to fight things off. I don’t think I stay in the sauna 30 minutes though, after reading this I may try to stay in the sauna longer.

    1. I have started to sauna. I have targeted 20 minutes, and, gosh, sitting in a sauna for 20 minutes is difficult. Both mentally and physically. The clock moves sloooowly. So, aside from the heat benefits, I now try to use my time in the sauna to practice mind relaxation and thinking. We do not get enough opportunities to just think. I might have to check up on meditation techniques.

  6. How timely- I’m actually going to the local banya tomorrow! Unfortunately, at $40/visit, it’s much too expensive to do regularly. Banya visits have become something reserved for special occasions, or for particularly stressful weeks when a healthy dose of heat stress takes the edge off of everything else going on. Of course, Russian-style banyas also have well-equipped kitchens, so a banya visit usually ends in an eastern European feast.

  7. I could never get into the sauna. I’ve tried, but there’s nothing “relaxing” to me about sitting for 30 minutes and sweating. I’m more of a cold weather type person, too, and I’m miserable when it’s hotter than 70-75 degrees. Maybe that has something to do with it?

    1. I find the sauna itself not to be particularly relaxing (more “intense”) it’s after getting out and grabbing a shower that I feel much better. Kinda like exercise really!

    2. Maybe the fact that the sauna is so difficult is a sign you should try to develop its use? I experience the sense of “I gotta get out of here”. But over time I have relaxed. If you agree with the data about the benefits you might want to try to ‘practice’ sauna the same as you would any exercise you want to try.

  8. There are huge differences in your reaction to a steam bath, a sauna, or a hot tub.

    One other things not mentioned is an increase in EPO and your red blood cells. I suspect a majority of the cardiovascular benefits is just increased circulation.

    The detox is largely a myth. You skin and hair will look much better but again not from detox.

    the best part of a sauna is the cold shower after.

  9. Looks like those who live in some of the lower, dryer states could almost achieve the temperatures of an infrared sauna without much more effort than leaving the house.
    In (north) Florida we don’t get quite that high, but I’m still grateful for my air conditioner!

    1. 3 summers ago on OKC IT WAS OVER 100 for 67 straight days. Yeah and I had no AC.

  10. Mmmmmm HEAT yesssssss!

    I tried the “cold shower” experiment and it did NOT go well. It made it difficult for me to warm up the rest of the day. I also notice that if the room I’m in has blowing from the ceiling (heat or cold) I get chilled and if I’m sitting (as in a class where you have to sit there for a while) I will pass out from the cold. I used to think I was falling asleep and then after some digging found it is very similar to hypothermia and how it progresses, just for me it can happen in 70 degrees. I could cover up and it would happen faster just from the air I breathe in so that didn’t work. I start to think “what is he talking about” because my mind can no longer string words together as a sentence, just one at a time, and then I’m gone. If I get up and run my wrists under hot water I can revive a bit but if I don’t catch it time well, down I go.
    Yesterday the “office air” made my nose freezing even when we cranked our heat up to 75. I wish I could figure out how to make THAT stop, cold nose = headaches.
    So yes, sauna = GOOD for me.

    1. I used to have something similar. The doctors finally figured out it was cold urticaria (essentially I’m allergic to the cold). It has since gone into remission because of my changed lifestyle. Better eating, more exercise, and reduced stress. I think it was highly stress related for me as I still relapse if environmental stressors increase. While it was at its worst, I took a normal daily allergy antihistamine pill and that helped a lot. In emergencies I took Benadryl to keep from passing out. Then once I got it under control, lifestyle decisions were enough and I no longer have to take the antihistamine pill. I don’t know if this is the same thing, but it might be worth taking up with your doctor.

      1. I will look into it, thanks.

        I don’t have any “allergy” symptoms with my condition. I noticed today that I got a cold nose from the air in our office. I don’t know if it was the humidity or the constant blowing or both. I cranked my heat up to 79 by my desk and it wasn’t as painful.

        I have taken antihistamine pills when I go for too many days of poor sleep. They knock me OUT, don’t know if it’s hindering my REM but it at least gets me through the night with my eyes closed and brain off, well, at least it feels that way.

        I do get hives from stressful situations, like a virus will hit me and once my body is on the mend I will break out in hives, it seems as though it’s a signal I’m on the mend? I also got them from accidentally getting a sun burn, didn’t realize it was happening and then it’s too late, By the next day I was burned AND had hives where the burn wasn’t (stressed my body apparently). On those occasions the antihistamine has no effect, other than putting me to sleep again.

        I think I just need to move to a place where there is more warm days than here in Oregon. Or, maybe make my own sauna helmet that I wear during the cold weather and indoors if there is AC on, yeah, attractive. Just doing my part to keep Portland weird.

        1. It sounds like a trip to an allergist wouldn’t hurt. I have chronic cholinergic urticaria, which means that if my average body temperature raises or lowers by about 1 degree (think: showering, working out, being out in hot temps and then cooling down), I break out in hives. Zyrtec (or the generic version which I can’t spell without looking up) helps tremendously. Basically, I have an allergic reaction to changes in body temp, like the poster above, and it sounds like you should see an allergist because you’re describing several symptoms that accompany certain types of urticaria. Also, taking Zyrtec (not all antihistamines work, not sure why) after I break out doesn’t work. I have to take it daily to keep symptoms under control. That said, I’m NOT a doctor, nor do I pretend to be one on the internet, which is why I suggest seeing one.

      2. Hey Kelly I realize this is an old thread, but I have cold urticaria. It started about 2 years ago and seemingly came out of nowhere. Did you ever have a sauna though when you were still symptomatic? I’m looking into buying one bit am worried the cooling down after it will create a hive reaction. Cheers Sam

        1. Hi Sam,
          I can’t remember if I ever had a sauna back then, but as it happens I had a brief relapse this year. I think it was due to lots of stress and a cold shock from coming home to Canada during the winter from a vacation in Mexico. The hives lasted for 4 days without subsiding and I finally jumped into our steam shower and they went away. They didn’t come back upon cooling down. This is pretty anecdotal, but it is my experience. If it were me trying to control the urticaria, I would be sure to clothe myself right away after the sauna so I cooled down slowly. The dramatic changes across my skin seem to be what triggers it for me. Another option is to try a sauna in a local spa or health club to see if it triggers it before you make the big purchase. I hope you figure it all out. It sure can be an annoyance.

  11. This is how we do it in Finland:

    Summer: 10-15 minutes in the sauna, then cooling off by taking a dip in a cold lake, another round in the sauna, cooling off again etc.

    Winter: 10-15 minutes in the sauna, cooling off outside (maybe rolling naked in the snow if there are no neighbours nearby), going to the sauna again and so forth.

    I love the relaxing effect of a wood heated sauna!

  12. Great article; I’ve always preferred extreme heat to extreme cold and certainly enjoy a nice hot sauna-like bath every now and then. However, is there any research concerning the stereotypical worries about male infertility and frequent sauna usage? Thanks in advance.

  13. This reminds of an incident some 30 years ago when I was house sitting for an attorney who had gone on an extended work/pleasure vacation. They had a very nice sauna, and I invited a friend over to visit. We decided to try out the sauna and when we got hot enough, would run outside (minus 20f in Fairbanks, Alaska) and make snow angels in the deep snow, then run back in and get back in the sauna. About the fifth time doing this routine, after just having jumped in deep snow, we ran in to find that the door into the house was locked. Luckily, we were in the unheated garage, so it was about 20° above. I was unsure how to get back into the house; every window was large and triple paned. The nearest house was a quarter mile, and walking through deep snow au naturale, and appearing at someone’s door in that condition wasn’t an option. Finally, about 20 minutes later, I figured out that I could remove the hinges on the door by removing the pins and hammering the hinges enough to allow the door to come out. That was the end of the sauna that day.

  14. I’m curious about a steam room vs a sauna or steam sauna. We hope to add steam when we re-do a bathroom and I love sitting in a steam room at the gym. I’ve heard that the benefits of a sauna are higher, though I don’t really enjoy sitting in a sauna. Anyone know more than I do about if or why?

    1. I believe steam room and steam sauna are the same thing. I would absolutely love to add steam to our shower when we re-do it as well, might be a bit too pricey to fit in our remodel budget though. Upside is a steam shower uses drastically less water than a hot bath (though more electricity)

      From my subjective experience a steam room is great (especially if you have a cold!) but I can’t handle 30 minutes in a steam room (maybe 15) so it could just be a matter of time exposed. Both raise your body temp and get you sweating so I’m sure you can’t go wrong!

  15. I haven’t been going regularly enough to notice any long lasting effects but for me 20-30 in the sauna then a shower seems to just bring about a couple hours of just “ahh” relaxation to me that’s almost hypnotic. When I’m freaking out about this or that the sauna itself is stressful but it focuses the stress on the heat; follow that with a cool or slightly warm shower and I just feel better. Couple that with these other potential benefits and I really need to make it a habit!

  16. I attended an Indigenous sweat lodge ceremony a few weeks ago. It was my first time but definitely not my last. I thought I was going to feel tired afterward, but I felt energized and alert.

  17. If you ever get a chance to try a temazcal, it’s amazing! I participated in a temazcal ceremony at a spa in Mexico – you crawl into a clay dome with a pit in the middle, where they place heated rocks, and they seal it with a thick blanket over the door. There was a guide who would throw water with herbs soaking in it over the rocks to create purifying steam. She also chanted in a native language and threw different herbs on the rocks so they sparked and let out different scents. I was glad she was chanting in a language I didn’t understand, because it made the experience more mystical/spiritual/touching, even though I’m not the spiritual type. When we emerged I felt unexpectedly renewed.

    1. Oh and at one point she gave us giant aloe leaves and we smeared the aloe juices all over our bodies

  18. Very interesting… will have to look into utilizing this into my training.

    My gym doesn’t have a sauna but perhaps one of those sweat suits would achieve the same results. Anyone have any input on that idea?

  19. My family is a bunch of Finns in Minnesota. When I’ve visited, we always have to spend time in the sauna. It’s a little wooden building down by the lake. You put logs in the stove in the back which heats up the inside. After many years of use, the pipe chimney inside develops small holes and it can get a tiny bit smoky inside, which smells good. The more daring among us can sit at the top of the bleacher seating while us wimpy Californians usually sit on the lower seats. There’s a hand pump to bring in water from the lake which you splash all over the hot rocks to create steam and also fill up a big 55-gallon drum which you can use for bathing. When you feel like you are dying and can take no more, you fling open the door, run down the dock and jump into the lake! Then you run back inside and do it again.

    Here in California I have to settle for hot springs. There are many great ones not too far from where I live. The sulfur water makes my skin feel soft. Sometimes the water is too hot, so the best hot springs have a cool stream nearby so that you can regulate the temperature. Even way back in the wilderness you can find springs that have concrete and rock lining, seating around the pool, benches for putting your shoes back on, brushes for cleaning and pipes for regulating the flow of water. There’s almost always some leathery naked guy who looks like he lives there, too, no matter what hot spring you go to.

  20. Now imagine a 4 hand massage followed up by a Turkish hammam (-: I enjoyed the above while vacationing at a Turkish resort (Anatalya)…

  21. I’m definitely intrigued, but I wonder if many of these same benefits could be experienced by spending plenty of time outside during the hot (and possibly humid) summer months.

    1. A cyclone went through several weeks ago and apart from increased labour using a chainsaw and moving broken branches, I’ve been tending to small fires for a couple of hours most days. Sweating profusely, and feeling the direct heat when feeding the fire. The daytime temps are in the mid 30Cs. About 3kg have gone without other particular changes, and I’m hopeful tolerance for working in hot weather is improved. Only downside may be the difficulty I have in taking in enough fluid.

  22. Another contraindication and real-life example of “not getting too hot”: menopausal hot flashes. Heat can set them off, and when they ARE set off, they’re immediately followed by a cold flash–the body’s way of cooling off.

    I’ve noticed that I’m now much more tolerant of cold weather (in spite of arthritis) than hot weather because hot weather tends to set off hot flashes more frequently. Cold weather barely sets them off at all.

    I look at the senior trend to migrate to southern states, and suspect that it’s because of ailing thyroids. The opposite trend of moving north in later years is probably due to remaining hot flashes, coupled with a healthy thyroid.

    1. I, for one, enjoyed every one of my hot flashes. At least for a few seconds I was too hot, people around me could feel the heat radiating off me, that was funny.

      I did NOT sweat with them so the cold flash after wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Now that I eat well, the hot flashes I do get once in a great while are not as intense, sigh. I still enjoy them when they come on though.

  23. I poured water for sweat lodges for many years, had to stop because of dry conditions in the mountains where I live. I’m now building a gas fired sauna. (safer for the forest) I’ve noticed changes in my health, mood, interest in life etc without sweating. You just can’t get that clean inside and out feeling any other way.

  24. I used to love taking saunas at the gym. I could stay in for a long time. But I haven’t been to a gym in decades so I lost that perk. And I don’t want to pay for a gym membership just for the sauna. So what’s left? Purchase one of those little ones that go off infra-red light? But what about the glue or the wood it’s made of? That can be troublesome. And they’re expensive, as well. So what’s a guy to do? I’d love to be able to sauna without joining a gym. Stuck.

  25. Timely post Mark. I recently got back from a bachelor party in vegas and I have an IR in my house. I hydrated all day upon getting back and then enjoyed a nice long sauna session. Felt immensely better after. I’d like to think it helped removed the immense amount of grey goose from my body.

  26. What about diabetes? Sounds like the cortisol response could raise blood sugar.

  27. I just built an outdoor sauna in Berkeley, California. It’s wonderful! I found it used & we took it apart & rebuilt it.

  28. How does being in a hot tub compare?
    I can last a lot longer in my gym’s hot tub than in their sauna or steam room, but if it’s a really significant difference, I’ll try to visit the other two more often.

  29. Ganbanyoku is quite popular in Japan too. Absorb heat through lying on heated volcanic rocks/slate. They advise to start on your stomach, to heat your insides first.

  30. What about taking the sauna and then jumping into a cold river, pool or shower as many of the Native American Indian did. Is this also a good idea as part of the whole experience. My Russian great, great grandfather did it or so I am told. Hot/cold what are the pros and cons?

  31. Another contraindication is pregnancy. Pregnant women aren’t supposed to use saunas, as the heat can harm the baby.

    I like saunas, myself, but I’ll be abstaining for the next 7 months.

    1. Finnish women go to sauna all throughout the pregnancy if they feel up to it. And they have been doing it for centuries. There is no reason why you shouldn’t do it.

  32. I love the sauna at my gym. Most of time I’m in there by myself – I turn the lights down and at times I’m so relaxed (albeit sweating) that I’m afraid I’ll fall asleep on the bench! It feels intoxicating to me, especially during this crazy cold winter we had in the northeast. I usually stay in 20 minutes, do a cool shower and go back for a second 20 minutes if time allows.

  33. We have a steambath at home but i never dared to use it because of my chronic heart failure… apparently it was a wrong decision.
    I’ll have to try it out, perhaps in combination with meditation

  34. I wonder if sitting in a sauna regularly kills the parasites that exist in our bodies……?

  35. Love my sauna sessions!!!!
    Growing up my dad had a small one in our basement.

    I take a sauna for about 10-15 minutes 4 times a week after my workout.
    I look forward to it like crazy. The heat relaxes me and when I have the time I will stay for about 20-25 minutes. I like doing light stretching when no one elseis in there.
    And fyi, i take my iphone in and usually listen to some meditation or relaxing yoga music. It’s wonderful , just wrap your phone in a towel to shield it from the heat a bit…your ear phone cord can get very hot so be careful with that. But after a year of using it my iphone seems to survive the ordeal just fine 🙂

    Mark, was there any research on massaging yourself while in the sauna? Ssems to be a common practice in europe.
    Feels good to move and rub all your sweat around lol
    I do it and its just a nice feeling.


  36. This is timely. I’m experiencing some pain/stiffness in my shoulder and feel that sitting in an IR sauna would do me a world of good. I think it would be worth a gym membership to have access to one. They also say that sitting in an infrared sauna for 30 minutes burns 600 calories and improves sleep…that plus clearer skin makes it all the more interesting!

  37. Its interesting that both exposure to heat in a sauna and exercise both cause an increase in core body temperature. There’s something else that causes an increase in core body temperature: a fever. In the case of a fever, though, its your body’s response to an infection. While I understand that causation is not correlation, I’d wager there’s a relationship to people exercising regularly and/or using saunas and healthier immune systems. In the same way that a fever raises the core body temperature to kill off the bad bugs, exercise and/or sauna exposure can also raise your core body temperature and probably work to help kill off some of those bugs before they multiply enough to cause your body to induce a fever to kill them. Just imagine if you’re active enough to increase your core body temperature 6 days a week. That’s like having a low-grade fever 6 times a week. Definitely makes you wonder if this is a side-benefit of exercise. We all know that exercise breeds a healthier immune system through a myriad ways. But makes you wonder if the core body temperature/low grade fever is one of them.

  38. My husband put in a traditional Finnish Sauna and it was a great investment. We have enjoyed using it on average two or three times a week and reaped its benefits. Much better than parking oneself in front of the TV! Sweat is GOOD!

  39. Mark, thanks so much for this article! I bought an infrared sauna last year. Just recently I tried to look up sauna benefits but I couldn’t find anything not written by a sauna sales website. This article goes a move and beyond in explaining the benefits. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.

  40. I bought an infrared sauna in December of last year. Your article has inspired me to get more serious about using it on a more regular basis which was my original intention. I tend to use it one or two times a week. I get in for 30 minutes but I never sweat. I thought my body would eventually learn to sweat but so far not so. I feel slightly nauseous and wobbly when I get out, maybe the beginnings of heat stroke? I just sit down for 5 or 10 minutes and then feel fine. In hot weather I tend to just get red faced and do not sweat much. Same in the sauna.

    Somehow I doubt I will use it in the summer. We don’t have air-conditioning and I just let my body acclimate to the heat. That usually takes a couple of weeks. I really hate air-conditioning so I am glad I don’t live where it gets really hot for extended periods of time. The sauna is nice for 30 min but I don’t want to live in a sauna.

  41. Here in PHX, I just go outside most months of the year…then when I start to feel like I’m beginning to overheat, I jump into the pool.

    Also, for some reason, being out in the heat/sun seems to knock my appetite for garbage food/sugar/booze way down. Anyone know why??

  42. Back when I was at my heaviest, I couldn’t tolerate the sauna, felt like I couldn’t breathe. Now I love it, especially the steam. Not having one of my own, I occasionally go to the one at 24-Hr and afterwards use the hot-tub to relieve muscles and work on fascia issues. Mark noted that regular weekly use is better than infrequent, so I guess now I have a reason to build it into my schedule once or twice a week.

  43. I cruise often (like two times a year) and every time I use the ship sauna at least twice a day, I prefer the steam sauna

  44. If this has already been mentioned, forgive me for not reading all the comments thoroughly: I found a single person portable far infrared sauna on Amazon.com for about $300. I use it 3 to 4 times a week in the winter, less in the summer. It hasn’t been without issues, but the supplier has provided me with replacement parts when I’ve had problems. While I’d love to build a sauna on our back patio some day, this has done the job for me in the interim (my husband isn’t big on using a sauna, so it’s not high on the family priority list). I look a little silly in it (check out the photos on Amazon, and you’ll see what I mean!), but I don’t care, I love it. One thing I did was look to check which ones had low EMF ratings. There are several brands and models online, so shop carefully. Happy sauna-ing!

    1. Great post! I’ve used saunas regularly some years, rarely others (mostly due to availability). One big difference I notice is that when I am in the sauna regularly (2 or more times/week) in the winter, my cold tolerance goes way up. My typical cycle was 15 mins in the sauna (about 175 degrees F), then a cold water plunge or dousing, repeated 3x/session. I’ve speculated that it might have to do with the increased body temp, or the dilation and contraction of blood vessels (= better circulation), but it made a big difference in how long I could be out comfortably in the deep cold. I live in Vermont, so there are plenty of chances to test that cold exposure.

      I suspect that’s one of the major motivations for sauna use in traditional northern cultures worldwide, as it makes the winter much more pleasant….

  45. What about hot tubs? Do they have the same benefits? If so, would the side effects of typical chemicals outweigh the benefits?

  46. I go to 24 HR Fitness a few mornings a week before work. It’s my routine to leave about 15 minutes at the end of my work out time to have my sauna time. I have always loved the dry heat. There is a regular group of us in the morning, so the time goes by quickly when we are visiting in the sauna. It relaxes me, warms me up and when it’s not crowded gives me a quiet meditative place. I try for three times a week and have been doing this for years. I like the idea of adding a little sea salt to my water bottle.

  47. How about a simple hot bath? We have a big claw foot tub in our house, which we do enjoy on occasion.

    Might that convey the same benefits if the water is hot enough and one sits there long enough?

    Please, Mark, do tell!

  48. I love saunas and miss living in Europe where they plentiful and affordable. Here in N. Carolina they average $40/session. Today I went to a hot yoga class(not Bikram) and the room was around 110 F. Wow! I felt amazing afterwards, and 4 hours later I’m still all relaxed and loosey goosey. A sauna and yoga combined— the best of both worlds.

  49. Has anyone experienced weight gain using an infrared sauna, is this indicating too much stress on the body?

  50. Controlling sauna equipment with a smartphone
    I bought the smart sauna timer from Thermomart in the following link,
    The product works. It’s good quality. It is easy to download the app and I paired it in 15 minutes.
    This timer saves me $30-$50 a month and also I do everything on my cellphone or by voice (by Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant) from anywhere!
    The Timer can be programmed as scheduled (24 hours 7 days with 8 events) or loop timers if you want to use more event every day. It has a countdown timer too.
    It has a waterproof box and it is suitable for outside. I use the sharing system and now my wife can control the sauna pump too.
    Would definitely recommend purchasing.

  51. great info. Thanks. I just got a new gym membership and they have a suana, jacusi, and swimming pools. I also do endurance sports, mostly surfing and SUP. I have noticed a great improvement in recovery time. Have you done research or have found info on swimming in cold or hot ocean water. I know the sea is good for me. Also I occasionally smoke cigarettes, and some weed. any info on how a sauna can help lung capacity or help the onset of COPD( chronic obstructive pulminary disorder). i know its bad but hard to quit with stress and depression.