While some people think that sitting in a sauna is just something that relaxes you or helps treat specific conditions, you may not know that every person could benefit from regular sauna use.
This guide discusses what a dry sauna is, how it is used, and the many health benefits to sitting in a dry sauna regularly.
If you have ever had a question about how or why you should use a dry sauna, then we have you covered.
What is a Dry Sauna?
Saunas have been used for centuries around the world, and today they are more popular than ever.
Sweating, as a form of therapy, goes back several thousand years in cultures from the Middle East to China to Central America.
In Finland, sauna use is still quite extensive, with one-third of Finns using one are a regular basis.
A sauna is any room where people sit and relax in dry, heated air.
When you are inside a sauna, your body tries to cool itself by sweating, which releases toxins and wastes stored in your body through the pores of your skin.
A traditional Finnish sauna uses dry heat with a relative humidity of around 20 percent or less.
People from other cultures or geographic regions may consider a sauna to require higher levels of moisture.
Saunas can reach temperatures upwards of 200 degrees Fahrenheit, which can raise your skin’s temperature around 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
A dry sauna, which is what most people think of when they think of this type of therapeutic room, is made from softwoods that can withstand excessive heat.
Saunas are generally constructed using untreated, unfinished wood because varnishes, paints, and other types of finishes can become toxic in the high temperatures of the sauna.
A typical multi-person sauna has a bench that runs along the perimeter of the room as well as an upper-level seat.
This allows people to sit closer to the ceiling, where the air is hotter, or down lower to cool off.
Dry saunas use some type of heat source to heat the air inside the room as well as a small group of volcanic rock that usually sit directly atop the heater.
The stones become super-heated by the stove or furnace, and when you want to raise the humidity in the sauna, you can ladle water over the rocks, which instantly vaporizes the liquid and releases steam.
To enjoy an authentic dry sauna experience, you would use as little steam as possible to remain comfortable while inside the sauna.
Dry saunas can be heated by many different types of sources, including electric, gas-burning, and wood-burning heaters.
Each has its own benefits and releases consistent heat. Modern sauna heaters are easily controlled and offer vital safety features.
Dry Sauna Benefits
Sitting in a sauna has many benefits for your health.
Researchers and scientists from around the world have investigated the effects of sauna for several decades, and we now have longitudinal data to show its long-term effects, as well.
Below, we illustrate the proven benefits of using a dry sauna regularly.
Dry Sauna Increases Longevity
Sitting in a sauna and exposing your body to elevated temperatures causes the production of heat shock proteins or HSP.
These proteins have been linked to longevity, as they promote the repair and recycling of damaged cells.
HSP also helps to regulate your levels of certain antioxidants, like glutathione, which protects your cells from damage, such as from aging (1).
These mechanisms can help you live longer by allowing your cells to resist disease and deterioration.
The high heat of a sauna also activates a specific gene which is connected to longevity and aging.
The FOXO3 gene activates or suppresses other genes in your body which are responsible for cell metabolism, cell death, stress resistance, and other processes that keep your cells in a healthy state (2).
By exposing your body to heat in a sauna, you are helping to trigger both the FOXO3 gene and the production of HSP, which means your cells can stay healthier longer.
To illustrate this effect, a 20-year study of Finnish men who use sauna bathing regularly, researchers have discovered that, the more you use a sauna, the less likely you are to die.
Using a sauna two to three times per week can decrease your risk of death from cardiovascular events and other causes of death by as much as 24 percent.
Using a sauna four to seven times per week lowers your risk of death to 40 percent (3).
Dry Saunas Improve Your Heart Health
When you use a dry sauna, you are improving your health by helping your heart in several crucial ways.
The heat from a dry sauna promotes improved blood flow while also reducing blood pressure over time, and both are essential indicators of heart health.
The high temperatures of the sauna release the antioxidants that also help fight oxidative stress, which is a leading contributor to heart disease (4).
In a Finnish study of the effects of sauna use on heart health, researchers found that two to three dry sauna sessions per week reduce the risk of dying from coronary heart disease by 23 percent and from cardiovascular disease by 27 percent.
This same study noted that increase your dry sauna session to four to seven times per week nearly doubled your survival rates to 40 percent for coronary heart diseases and 50 percent for cardiovascular disease (5).
Those with existing high blood pressure could see a significant drop on this when using a sauna regularly.
Hypertension is reduced by up to 50 percent when sauna users had four to seven sessions per week (6).
Dry Saunas Reduce Inflammation and Pain
Using a dry sauna could help treat several conditions that are caused by excess inflammation that results in pain.
Heat shock proteins are an anti-inflammatory protein, so when you release these by using a dry sauna, you are helping to reduce the body’s natural inflammatory response that can cause everything from headaches to chronic pain (7, 8).
Heat therapy, like using a sauna, also raises your antioxidant level, which helps reduce oxidative stress, a leading cause of inflammation (9).
Dry Saunas Help to Detoxify the Body
Every day, your body is exposed to chemicals, heavy metals, and other toxins that are now found everywhere in our water, food, and personal care items (10).
It is nearly impossible to escape toxins in our daily lives, and even those who are extremely health-conscious may be surprised to learn how many of these pollutants are in their bodies.
Using a dry sauna can help you release many of these types of toxins effectively.
One of the reasons to use a dry sauna regularly is because “sweat bathing,” as it is sometimes called, encourages you to sweat, which is one of the ways your body excretes wastes and pollutants from your system.
Sitting in a dry sauna and sweating helps to flush a wide range of toxins from your body, including heavy metals that find their way into your system (11).
Sweating is more effective than other excretory processes at ridding your body of heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, lead, and cadmium, some of the most common heavy metal pollutants in our bodies today (12).
Most people do not sweat very much in their daily lives anymore, as we mostly live a climate-controlled existence.
That means you are not using this crucial excretory pathway to its full advantage, but a sauna can change that.
Dry Saunas Boost Mitochondrial Health
Within every cell of your body, you have mitochondria, which are organelles that provide all the energy that each cell will need for its lifespan.
When mitochondria are not functioning correctly, your cell’s energy stores become depleted, and it stops working correctly (13).
Healthy mitochondria are the key to overall health and longevity, as without it, your cells will not work well.
Damaged, malfunctioning, or depleted mitochondria are the precursor to disease, illness, and injury.
Heat stress, such as what your body experiences when you sit in a dry sauna, has a positive influence on mitochondria health (14).
This process makes your mitochondria bigger and healthier, triggers the repair and recycling of damaged mitochondria, and provides protection to your mitochondria against oxidative stress.
When your mitochondria are more fit and energetic, your body will be, too.
Healthy mitochondria, then, are the key to slowing the aging process and fighting disease.
Dry Sauna Use Promotes Weight Loss
When you use a sauna regularly, it can help to regulate your appetite (15), which can play a role in weight loss.
Heat stress from using a dry sauna also boosts your metabolism and your uptake of oxygen to levels similar to those during moderate exercise (16).
Those regularly using a dry sauna lost twice as much weight and five times more body fat than those who did not use a sauna (17).
Dry Saunas Promote Muscle Strength and Athletic Performance
When you spend time in a dry sauna, your production of human growth hormone (HGH) increases.
And the more often you try sauna bathing, the higher levels you will have of this hormone (18), which is responsible for helping you grow strong muscles and resist muscle breakdown.
HGH increases your production of insulin-like growth factor 1, also known as IGF1, while also boosting your cells’ insulin sensitivity (19).
These factors combine to allow for the improved absorption of amino acids, enhances protein synthesis, and a lower protein breakdown within each cell.
These factors combine to enable you to maintain your muscle strength better and to recover more quickly after a workout, leading to less pain and inflammation (20).
By increasing blood flow and improving your volume of red blood cells and plasma, you can also boost your athletic performance with regular dry sauna bathing.
You can enjoy longer workouts before reaching exhaustion (21) when your body is used to high temperatures from sauna use.
This process, known as hyperthermic conditioning, improves your ability to regulate your body temperature (22).
Dry Saunas Boost Brain Power and Improve Mood
When you sit in a sauna, your body produces brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which trigger the production of new neurons while maintaining the health of existing ones.
BDNF plays a role in forming new neural connections, which can enhance memory and learning (23).
Sauna bathing also helps to release endorphins, which are feel-good neurotransmitters that can enhance your mood and help you cope better with stress (24).
Sauna bathing promotes relaxation, which can help you feel more able to cope with psychological difficulties, as well (25).
Using a Dry Sauna Boosts Your Immune System
The heat stress of using a dry sauna raises the internal body temperature, which is similar to the effects of a fever.
This helps strengthen how your immune system responds to any threat, giving you improved ability to fight infection and disease (26).
Those who use saunas regularly suffer from fewer common infections, like colds (27).
Dry Saunas Help You Fight Disease
When you use a sauna regularly, you increase your levels of HSP and activate your FOXO3 gene, and these play a significant role in staving off many diseases and disorders, including degeneration in the brain.
For example, HSP and FOXO3 play a role in repairing tau proteins in your brain that can get misfolded as you age.
This twisting of these proteins is what leads to dementia and other forms of neurodegeneration, and researchers have found that those who use a sauna regularly can reduce their risk of developing these types of diseases by as much as 64 percent (28).
Sauna bathing also decreases your risk of developing respiratory illnesses (29) by reducing congestion and improving lung function.
By helping promote cell death, sauna use can also help prevent many other diseases, including cancer (30).
Cancer cells are not able to adapt to high -heat conditions, unlike healthy cells, so they are quicker to be destroyed by hyperthermic conditioning (31).
Using a dry sauna regularly can help you relax, but it also has significant benefits for your health.
In addition to helping improve your immune system and heart health, sauna bathing also reduces inflammation, improves your mood, improves mitochondrial health, and helps improve muscle function.