8 Ways Sauna-induced Hyperthermic Conditioning Can Help You Live Long and Strong
Three doctors reveal what they know about how sauna-induced hyperthermic conditioning can dramatically improve various chronic health conditions, and even make you more physically fit. Find out how the simple sauna can contribute to your long and strong life.
Dr. Jari Laukkanen knows hot saunas. Armed with an MD ad PhD he has done two studies that show that consistent sauna use can extend healthspan by preventing or diminishing the advent of some of the most chronic and debilitating diseases we face as we get older, such as:
- Heart disease (the number one killer);
- Dementia; and
Dr. Rhonda Patrick also knows hot saunas. Armed with a PhD, she can transfix you with the studies indicating that consistent use of saunas can result in improvements in:
- Cardiovascular conditioning;
- Muscle mass;
- Memory and neuronal activity; and
My mother knows cold showers. Armed with 84 years of experiencing (and a nursing degree), she just told me that the benefits she’s derived from her life-long habit has been verified by science; namely (for her):
- Increases alertness;
- Refines hair and skin;
- Eases stress; and
- Promotes a sense of wellbeing.
In this article, you’ll discover:
- That hyperthermic conditioning can reduce your risk of heart disease and improve cardio conditioning;
- That hypertherimc conditioning can reduce your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s and improve brain function;
- That hyperthermic conditioning can increase muscle mass and human growth hormone;
- That hyperthermic conditioning can improve blood sugar;
- Which type of saunas are best for specific health benefits desired; and
- Why cold showers can improve your health.
Before we dig into all this, let me set the stage by first giving my thanks to Dan Pardi for bringing Dr. Jari Laukkanen’s work to my attention via a weekly email he sends to his subscribers. He there wrote about Dr. Laukkanen’s study focusing on how frequent sauna use diminishes the advent of dementia and Alzheimer’s. (1)
Intrigued, I searched for and found another of Laukkanen’s sauna studies, one that focused on how sauna use impacts heart disease.
All this made me think about Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s research and videos about the health benefits of regular hot sauna use, the effects from which are called “hyperthermic conditioning”.
After reading about the substantial health benefits derived by sauna-induced hyperthermic conditioning, my hope is that you become sufficiently intrigued to seek out a sauna and use it liberally.
Now that the stage is set, let’s examine the eight ways that hyperthermic conditioning can help you live a long and strong life.
1. Hyperthermic conditioning can lower heart disease risk
According to an article published online by JAMA Internal Medicine, a study conducted by Jari Laukkanen, MD, Ph.D., Head of the Cardiology Department at the University of Eastern Finland, showed that:
Increased frequency of sauna bathing is associated with a reduced risk of SCD [sudden cardiac death], CHD [fatal coronary heart disease], CVD [fatal cardiovascular disease], and all-cause mortality.
Why might this matter to you?
Because in America, and much of the rest of the industrialized world, heart disease is the leading cause of death:
The cohort (subjects) examined in Dr. Laukkanen’s study was a group of 2,315 middle-aged men (42 to 60 years old) from eastern Finland. Here’s the results:
- Compared with men who reported one sauna session per week, the risk of SCD was 22% lower for two to three sauna bathing sessions per week and 63% lower for four to seven sauna sessions per week.
- The risk of fatal CHD events was 23% lower for two to three sauna sessions per week and 48% lower for four to seven sauna sessions per week compared to once a week.
- CVD death also was 27% lower for men who took saunas two to three times a week and 50% lower for men who were in the sauna four to seven times a week compared to once per week.
- For all-cause mortality, sauna bathing two to three times per week was associated with a 24% lower risk and four to seven times per week with a 40% reduction in risk compared to only one sauna session per week.
- Time matters — Compared with men who spent less than 11 minutes in the sauna, the risk of SCD was 7 % lower for sauna sessions of 11 to 19 minutes and 52% less for sessions lasting more than 19 minutes. Similar associations were seen for fatal CHDs and fatal CVDs but not for all-cause mortality events. (2)
(I presume women would benefit equally, but they weren’t in the study.)
2. Hyperthermic conditioning can lower dementia and Alzheimer’s risk
This was the second study Dr. Laukkanen did to test the beneficial health effects of sauna use, this time focusing on dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Why might this matter to you?
Because the already-high incidence dementia and Alzheimer’s is increasing, and if you’re aim is to live a long life, well, at some point you just might be bumping up against an assault on your mental faculties.
This graph shows data from 11 European population based studies that were pooled in 2000 to obtain stable estimates of prevalence of dementia in people 65 and older:
Source: BMJ Journals
This graph depicts the incidence of age-specific prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease (per 100 population) across various continents and countries:
I hopped around the Interwebs to find more a more recent graphical depiction of what challenges our brains might be facing in the future, and found the following graph published in 2008 showing historical incidences of and projections for all forms of dementia in Canada:
Dementia appears to be increasing at 1.6X per decade – rising to 8 out of every 10 Canadians. (3)
The same source makes this assertion:
Now that we’ve established that the risks of facing dementia and Alzheimer’s is too great to ignore, let’s return to Dr. Lukkanen so he may persuade us to go sauna-hopping.
The cohort studied was a group of 2,315 apparently healthy men (just men, again) aged 42–60 years. His conclusions:
As compared to those who only took a sauna once per week, men who took saunas 4-7 times per week experienced…
- A 66% lower risk of dementia, and
- A 65% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. (4)
Simply put by Dr. Lukkanen:
We found that the risk of sudden cardiac death and fatal cardiovascular events was significantly decreased in men who had the sauna more than 4 times per week. There was also very clear risk reduction. (4)
Here’s an interview with Dr. Lauhhanen conducted by Dan Pardi about his fascinating difference Lauhhanen found between the brain health in men who frequently take a dry hot sauna compared to those who sauna less frequently. As Dan said,
If these results came from a new pill, it would be called a miracle. (1)
3. Hyperthermic conditioning increases cardiovascular conditioning
I covered the next four benefits of hyperthermic conditioning in an article I wrote called, 5 Biohacks for Longer Life, Athletic Prowess and A Better Brain, which (in part) profiles Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s research on the topic.
Regular use of a hot sauna conditions your body to accommodate high ambient temperatures and the resulting stress response. This has a carryover effect when your body’s temperature increases through exercise, because blood flow to the muscles improves, which increases nutrient uptake to muscles, and better glucose and oxygen transport to muscle cells.
In addition, hyperthermic conditioning:
- Improves endurance training outcomes because muscles rely less on local glycogen stores;
- Increased blood flow to the heart improves cardiovascular conditioning, as it lowers the heart rate required for the same workload;
- Allows improved heat acclimation so your body begins to sweat at a lower core body temperature.
You get all these benefits from 30 minutes sitting in a sauna twice a week. After about six weeks of such heat work, runners experienced a 32% increase in the distance they could run before exhaustion, and that corresponded with a 7% increase in plasma volume and a corresponding 3.5% increase in their red blood cell count which is thought to be a compensation for increased plasma volume. (This is all in the video below.)
4. Hyperthermic conditioning increases muscle mass
This happens via three mechanisms:
- The induction of Heat Shock Proteins (“HSP”).
- The induction of Human Growth Hormone (“HGH”).
- By improving insulin sensitivity.
Heat Shock Proteins are activated by the stress put on the body by heat.
This is a good example of “hormesis”, a biological phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect (improved health, stress tolerance, growth or longevity) results from exposure to low doses of an agent that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given at higher doses. (5)
The stress response from the heat increases the expression of genes that can deal with it, which are the HSP. They repair the proteins damaged by the heat, prevent oxidative stress, and improve glutathione recycling.
Given this, HSP can cause a net increase in protein synthesis, which is necessary to maintain, or increase muscle mass. The workforce load of the exercise stresses and breaks down muscle tissue; the protein synthesis is necessary to build it back up and make the muscle larger and stronger.
With hyperthermic conditioning via the sauna, the body develops a higher expression of HSP even under normal temperatures caused by exercise, resulting in an increased capacity for the body to favorably respond to the exercise.
5. Hyperthermic conditioning increases human growth hormone
Human Growth Hormone can be increased by sauna use, and it facilitates muscle growth through:
- IGF-1 (“Insulin Growth Factor 1), a protein that has an anabolic effect, by increasing mTOR (a type of protein that regulates cell growth, proliferation, motility and survival).
- Decreasing protein degradation by activating so-called FOXO genes that regulate expression of genes involved in cell cycle arrest, apoptosis, DNA repair and oxidative stress resistance. (6)
The effects of sauna use on HGH are dependent on:
- Time in the sauna,
- Frequency, and
HGH can be increased two fold over baseline by two back-to-back 20-minute sauna sessions at 176 degrees Fahrenheit (80 degrees Celcius).
If that’s insufficient, you can get more extreme. Two one-hour sauna sessions separated by at 30 minute cooling off period for three consecutive days increased HGH expression over baseline by 16 fold!
6. Hyperthermic conditioning increases insulin sensitivity
Insulin sensitivity can be improved by sauna use. To understand this, first know that besides having a role in glucose homeostasis, insulin also has a role in protein metabolism.
When you’re sensitive to insulin (the preferred condition), and it’s released, the body takes up glucose in its muscle cells. This action affects protein synthesis by activating Akt which augments protein synthesis by mTOR, and also increases the uptake of amino acids (protein) into muscle cells.
To understand how this relates to the sauna, examine mice studies. When diabetic, obese mice were put in their version of a sauna for three 30-minute sessions per week for 12 weeks, they showed a 31% decrease in insulin production (became more insulin sensitive).
7. Hyperthermic conditioning makes your brain better
The science behind why and how sauna-induced hyperthermic conditioning makes your brain better confounds me at the moment, but suffice to say that hypertermic conditioning has been shown, says Dr. Patrick to:
- Enhance learning and memory, and
- Improve the connection between brain neurons.
Want to learn more about this?
Watch Dr. Patrick speak about hyperthermic conditioning for hypertrophy, endurance and neurogenesis. Translation: heat conditioning for increasing (muscle) mass, endurance and the growth and development of nervous tissue.
In the video below, she discusses how conditioning the body to heat stress through sauna use causes adaptations that increase athletic endurance (by increasing plasma volume and blood flow to heart and muscles) and muscle mass (by boosting levels of heat shock proteins and growth hormone). She also discusses the profound effects of hyperthermic conditioning on the brain including cognitive function.
8. Hyperthermic conditioning increases longevity
It should come as no surprise that consistent use of a sauna could extend lifespan, given all the health benefits already described.
In the next video, Dr. Patrick summarizes a recent study that found that frequency of sauna use was associated with decreased risk of death. Using the sauna 2-3 times per week was associated with 24% lower all-cause mortality and 4-7 times per week decreased all-cause mortality by 40%.
Rhonda discusses some possible mechanisms that could be responsible for the effect on longevity including the increased production of heat shock proteins (HSPs) and activation of the longevity gene, Foxo3.
Heat stress increases the production of heat shock proteins, which prevent protein aggregation and protect against cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. The FOXO3 that heat stress activates in turn activates many other genes that protect against the stress of aging including DNA damage, damage to proteins and lipids, loss of stem cell function, loss of immune function, cellular senescence and more.
Watch and listen to how Dr. Patrick explains how hyperthermic conditioning could boost longevity:
If you want to learn more about how sauna use can increase longevity, you can get Dr. Patrick’s report, which she’ll send after submitting your email here.
Get Your Own Sauna
If you do not have regular and unfettered use of a sauna, consider buying your own. It’s on my list, and there are plenty to choose from. (See these on Amazon.com.)
Depending upon what benefits are desired, you may choose from the regular sauna and those that emit different infrared wavelengths.
The Three Infrared Levels and Benefits Derived
Infrared saunas are made with three different infrared wavelength levels: near, middle, and far.
These different levels represent the different sizes in infrared wavelengths and refer to the intensity of the treatment.
Dr. Amy Meyers reports that:
Near-infrared levels are best for wound healing and increased immune function
Middle-infrared levels are ideal for increasing circulation and promoting muscle relaxation
Far-infrared levels are used primarily for detoxification purposes
Further, Dr. Meyers underscores these primary benefits of infrared sauna therapy:
- Detoxification — When compared to traditional Swedish saunas, infrared saunas allow you to eliminate about seven times more toxins.
- Relaxation — By helping to balance your body’s level of cortisol, your body’s primary stress hormone.
- Pain Relief — If you suffer from muscle aches or joint pain, infrared saunas can relieve this form of inflammation by increasing circulation and relaxing your muscles.
- Weight Loss — an increased heart rate caused by increasing your core temperature is similar to what’s experienced when exercising. An article titled, Effect of Sweating, in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that a 30-minute infrared sauna session could burn roughly 600 calories.
- Improved Circulation — As the heat from infrared saunas increases your core body temperature, your circulation will increase along with it. The middle-infrared level especially can stimulate blood flow, improve muscle recovery, and decrease pain and inflammation after intense exercise.
- Skin Purification — Infrared sauna technology can help purify your skin by eliminating toxins from your pores and increasing circulation, resulting in clearer, softer, and healthier-looking skin.
If you’re new to infrared saunas, Dr. Meyer’s recommends that you begin with four-minute sessions at 100-130 degrees Fahrenheit and slowly working your way up to 15-30 minute sessions.
If using a regular sauna, you can still achieve some degree of detoxification with 10-20 minute sessions at 190-200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dr. Meyers has an infrared sauna in her home made by a company she recommends, Sunlighten Saunas. I looked them up on Amazon and found quite a few selections ranging from $500 to $650.
Here’s a couple of examples:
For more on Dr. Meyer’s take on saunas, go here.
Now That You’re Hot, Get Cold
Remember at the outset of this article, I mentioned two experts that know about hot saunas, and one that knows about cold showers; me own mum. When I told her that the topic of this week’s blog post was hyperthermic conditioning via hot saunas, she said, “Don’t forget to mention the value of cold showers as well”, and then cited a Dutch study she recently read.
I looked it up.
As published in PLOS ONE, an Open Access journal for scientific research, in 2016 scientists in the Netherlands conducted a study to determine the cumulative effect of a routine hot-to-cold shower on sickness, quality of life and work productivity.
Participants experienced a 29% reduction in sickness absence for (hot-to-) cold shower regimen compared to the control group. (7)
As moms always are, mine was right about the value of cold showers, so I did some more poking around and found a Medical Daily article entitled, 7 Reasons Why Taking A Cold Shower Is Good For Your Health.
I’ll quickly list the reasons and if you’re interested, read the article.
- Increases alertness
- Refines hair and skin
- Stimulates weight loss
- Speeds up muscle soreness and recovery (this I can attest to)
- Eases stress (once you’re done hyperventilating)
- Relieves depression
If you never make it to the sauna, experiment with a hot and cold sequence in the shower, say 15 seconds of each for a total of five sets. Begin with less time per cycle, if needed, and then power up over time.
Go find a sauna, infrared or regular, and use it consistently. Or buy one to use at home.
If you do, you just might:
- Reduce your chances of getting heart disease
- Reduce your chances of getting dementia and/or Alzheimer’s
- Improve brain function
- Improve cardiovascular function
- Increase muscle mass
- Increase human growth hormone
- Reduce blood sugar
- Increase lifespan
- Detox heavy metals and various chemicals
- Sweat a lot
All that said, if rounding up a sauna is too troublesome or expensive, climb into your shower and torment yourself with intermittent bouts of hot and cold water. Mom will approve.