Traditional Sauna

Hyperthermal conditioning and the health benefits of the sauna

Sauna heat dilates blood vessels and contributes to the proper functioning of the cardiovascular system. In fact, a review of Harvard data showed a potential 40+% reduction in the risk of heart attack by using a sauna 4-7 times a week. The approach would reduce the risk of heart attacks and coronary artery disease by lowering, in particular, blood pressure. 

In many ways, thermal conditioning or sauna use is similar to cardiovascular exercise. Furthermore, acclimatizing the body to an increase in temperature, independently of physical exertion thanks to the sauna, could induce adaptations that reduce the negative impact of heat in endurance sports.

These adaptations are numerous :

In addition, hyperthermal conditioning helps reduce lactic acid build-up in the blood and muscles during exercise.(6) A study of sauna use after running showed that a 30-minute sauna session after training, done twice a week for three weeks, resulted in a 32% increase in running time before exhaustion!

Benefits for the muscular system

Exposure to heat can increase the amount of Heat Shock Proteins (HSP). These are specialized proteins that are protective and regenerative in nature.

These proteins can produce the following effects :

In short, hyperthermal conditioning is said to enhance the anabolic process, through massive induction of growth hormones. (1,2) In humans, it has been shown that the main anabolic effect of growth hormones lies in their ability to inhibit muscle protein breakdown (anti-catabolic effect). This anabolic process can therefore be triggered by the production of growth hormones due to exposure to heat.

”For example, 2 sessions of 20 minutes of sauna at 80°C, separated by 30 minutes of cooling, can double growth hormone levels compared to normal. And 2 sessions of 15 minutes at 100°C multiplies this normal level by 5(2,3)!”

And best of all: combining heat exposure with a workout creates a synergy that increases growth hormones even further!

Benefits for the nervous system

The HSPs secreted during heat shock are thought to promote the construction of nerve axons, thus increasing the potential for nerve impulses. This is a good thing, given that the two main components of strength in training are, first, an efficient nervous system and, second, a well-developed muscular system. So, using a sauna improves the potential for nerve impulses, promoting better muscle building.

Psychological and cognitive functions

Sauna use increases stimulation of endorphins (the happy hormone) and serotonin (the body’s natural painkiller), as well as a molecule called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the brain. BDNF stimulates neurogenesis in the brain and protects new neurons from damage. Improving BDNF levels is therefore important for cognitive function. Moreover, low or abnormal levels of BDNF can be the cause of many mental and psychiatric illnesses.

Saunas can also reduce stress by rebalancing the stress response axis. They can help lower cortisol and, consequently, treat stress-related health problems. Saunas also enhance the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which can help improve cognitive performance.

How can using a sauna help you?

There are many ways to optimize the use of a sauna. Let the team of professionals at Axxeleration Physio + plan and optimize your thermal conditioning sessions according to scientifically proven protocols and your treatment goals and conditions. 

Please note that the sauna is not recommended if you have serious health problems or are pregnant.

References

  1. Leppaluoto, J. et al. (1986). Endocrine effects of repeated sauna bathing. Acta physiologica Scandinavica 128, 467-470.
  2. Kukkonen-Harjula, K. et al. (1989). Haemodynamic and hormonal responses to heat exposure in a Finnish sauna bath. European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology 58, 543-550.
  3. Hannuksela, M. L. & Ellahham, S. (2001). Benefits and risks of sauna bathing. The American journal of medicine 110, 118-126.
  4. Ricardo J. S. Costa, M. J. C., Jonathan P. Moore & Neil P. Walsh. (2011). Heat acclimation responses of an ultra-endurance running group preparing for hot desert-based competition. European Journal of Sport Science, 1-11.
  5. Scoon, G. S., Hopkins, W. G., Mayhew, S. & Cotter, J. D. (2007). Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners.Journal of science and medicine in sport / Sports Medicine Australia 10, 259-262.
  6. Michael N. Sawka, C. B. W., Kent B. Pandolf. (2011) Thermoregulatory Responses to Acute Exercise-Heat Stress and Heat Acclimation. Handbook of Physiology, Environmental Physiology.

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