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.Exercise, especially when done at high intensity, is one way to build your endurance, and perhaps it’s not a coincidence that this will also increase your body temperature at each session.Hyperthemic conditioning, or “acclimating yourself to heat independent of aerobic physical activity through sauna use,” also boosts endurance because it induces adaptations in your body that make it easier for you to perform when your body temperature is elevated.In short, as your body is subjected to reasonable amounts of heat stress, it gradually becomes acclimated to the heat, prompting a number of beneficial changes to occur in your body.These adaptations include increased plasma volume and blood flow to your heart and muscles (which increase athletic endurance) along with increased muscle mass due to greater levels of heat-shock proteins and growth hormone.In one study, those who had a 30-minute sauna session twice a week for three weeks after their workouts increased their time it took to run until exhaustion by more than 30 percent!1 Other physiologic adaptations that occur from hyperthermic conditioning include:2
Improved cardiovascular mechanisms and lower heart rate3 Lower core body temperature during workload Higher sweat rate and sweat sensitivity as a function of increased thermoregulatory control4 Increased blood flow to skeletal muscle (known as muscle perfusion) and other tissues5 Reduced rate of glycogen depletion due to improved muscle perfusion6 Increased red blood cell count7 Increased efficiency of oxygen transport to muscles8
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.Once you hit the age of 30, you enter what’s called “somatopause,” at which point your levels of HGH begin to drop off quite dramatically. This decline of HGH is part of what drives your aging process, so maintaining your HGH levels gets increasingly important with age.Some athletes choose to inject HGH for its performance-enhancing potential, though it is a banned substance in nearly every professional sport. I do not recommend injecting HGH, however, due to the potential side effects, the cost and, more importantly, its potential to cause more long-term harm than good.Besides, as we now know, taking such risks is unnecessary because there are ways to naturally optimize your HGH. I’ve discussed the use of high-intensity exercise and intermittent fasting to boost HGH in the past, but sauna use is another complementary strategy. As reported by Dr. Patrick, research shows:9
- You can boost your HGH levels by two-fold by taking two 20-minute sauna sessions (at 176 degrees F) separated by a 30-minute cooling period
- Two 15-minute sauna sessions separated by a 30-minute cooling period may boost your HGH by five-foldSauna use combined with exercise may lead to even greater, synergistic increases in HGH as well as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is beneficial for your brainAdditionally, if you combine it with niacin as discussed in my interview with Dr. Yu, then the sauna can be a powerful tool to help you mobilize and eliminate stored toxins in your body.