The word “sauna” conjures up immense relaxation, calm and rejuvenation after a long, tiring and stressful day. But not only is a Sauna routine relaxing and indulgent, it has wonderful health benefits too.
For centuries, we have seen the use of heat treatments for healing the body. The use of sweat lodges and hot air baths was a prevalent practice among Europeans, Native Americans and in Chinese medicine for the purpose of detoxification, reducing stress and for relaxation. Traditionally, saunas consisted of enclosed areas which were heated by directly lighting a fire underneath and a sauna was created by burning materials or heating rocks on fire. This produced heat and smoke that was carried up to the sweat lodge.
Centuries later, with the advancements in technology, Infrared lamp saunas were invented by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and from there, traditional saunas made way for infrared saunas, which have today, become very popular the world around and are being used by holistic practitioners across the globe.
What Is an Infrared Sauna?
Infrared saunas use light in order to generate heat and help to detoxify and relax the body. This type of sauna is also called a far infrared or near infrared sauna, where “far” or “near” is essentially where the infrared waves fall on the spectrum of light. Unlike a traditional sauna that heats the air around you, which in turn heats your body, the infrared sauna directly heats your body without affecting the surrounding air.
The effect of a sauna on the body is very similar to when you exercise moderately like increased heart rate and sweating. An infrared sauna helps to achieve these at a lower temperature than a conventional sauna and is therefore tolerated better by people who cannot bear the high heat of steam rooms and dry saunas.
There have been several studies that show the use of infrared saunas having health benefits for conditions such as reduction of pain, cardiovascular healing, muscle and joint support, etc. along with the major benefit of detoxification. Infrared sauna sessions also have parasympathetic healing benefits, which help the body to deal will stress and treat several conditions such as depression, insomnia, autoimmune disorders and hormonal imbalance.
While the health benefits of infrared saunas need to be studied in greater detail, nevertheless, there are no adverse effects of using an infrared sauna and it is a great way to induce relaxation. Infrared sauna treatments are inexpensive, powerful and safe.
How Do Infrared Saunas Work?
Infrared saunas generate far-infrared radiation (FIR), which is directly delivered to the body. The infrared radiation (IR) band covers the range of wavelength between 750 nanometers – 100 micrometers, photon energy range between 12.4 milli-electron volts – 1.7 electron volts and a frequency range of 400 terahertz – 3 terahertz. This causes the infrared saunas to produce heat and positive radiation effects in our body when detected by the thermoreceptors in the skin.
FIR waves can alter cells, DNA or proteins, cell membranes and cell fluids. When the alteration takes place at the cellular level, mitochondrial activity occurs that impacts metabolism positively. The FIR photons are absorbed by the molecules in your body and the function of water in the cells is altered. There is also a change in the proteins present in the body tissues, known as the mesostructure effect, which is vital for the overall biological activity in your body.
Infrared treatments work very quickly i.e. within 15-20 minutes. They are capable of bringing about significant changes in the body chemistry, thereby helping to bring relief if you’re suffering from chronic pains, low energy, inflammation and poor circulation.
Types of Infrared Saunas
There are essentially 2 types of infrared saunas – far infrared and near infrared saunas.
Far infrared saunas emit far infrared light waves and commonly use a ceramic, metallic or black carbon element for heating. On the other hand, near infrared saunas use reddish incandescent heat lamps for the purpose of heating. Near infrared lamps can be found in any hardware store very easily and are quite inexpensive too. Near infrared light not only emits heating light waves, it produces colorful waves too. So, not only do these waves heat the body, they may affect the way energy moves through the body and can help in certain body functions such as digestion, etc.
The infrared waves from the sauna penetrate the skin and heat the body from within. They penetrate deeply into the body and produce heat, which can be concentrated in a focussed area and do not actually heat the air and the room around you.
Traditional vs Infrared Saunas
The differences between traditional and infrared saunas are:
The main difference between a conventional sauna and an infrared one is the heat when you’re inside the unit. Conventional dry saunas get heated to temperatures up to 185 – 195oF and if you’re sensitive to heat, this can get quite uncomfortable. Infrared saunas work on more milder heat, around 120-150oF. However, since the heat from infrared saunas penetrates deep into the body, they produce more sweating at much lower temperatures.
A steam sauna has a lower temperature when compared to a conventional dry sauna; however, since it uses a large amount of heated steam, the humidity in the case of a steam sauna is very high. On the other hand, infrared saunas don’t use steam and use the heat produced by the infrared heaters instead.
A conventional dry sauna heats the air inside the unit. As the temperature of the air increases, the temperature of your body also increases caused due to the absorption of heat by convection. This causes plenty of sweating via the open pores and causes your body to cool. In the case of an infrared sauna, this also heats the surrounding air but to a much lesser extent and the infrared sauna emits a particular wavelength of infrared light via the infrared heaters placed in the sauna unit. These infrared waves are absorbed by the body directly causing the body temperature to rise and the effect is the same as a traditional sauna, but with much lesser heat involved.
Another major difference between the conventional and infrared saunas is the amount of power that is used to run the unit. Conventional saunas need more power for the operation of the unit. Around 6 kW of power is used by a traditional sauna when compared to the 1.6 kW used by an infrared sauna. Thus, a conventional sauna is around 3 times more expensive than an infrared sauna and this can make a significant difference depending on how much you use the sauna.
Infrared Sauna Benefits
Infrared saunas have fantastic health benefits and are an effective means of natural healing. The infrared light penetrates the tissues of the body and produces a whole host of anti-aging and other health benefits and is a wonderful way to improve overall health and wellness. There are several benefits of infrared saunas such as:
Sweating is a great way by which the body heals and remains healthy naturally. The infrared light waves from the sauna heat the body directly causing the core body temperature to rise, which results in deep sweating and detoxifying at the cellular level. Detoxification is extremely vital as it strengthens the immune system, enables the biochemical processes of the body and causes it to function efficiently. Detoxification also helps in preventing and reducing problems such as fatigue, autoimmune diseases, autism, ADHD, colitis, fatigue, etc.
Helps to Relax
Infrared saunas are extremely beneficial to reduce stress and helps you to relax. Infrared saunas work with gentle heat, which is therapeutic and promotes improved sleep and relaxation. The soothing warmth of the sauna can help to ease your tired muscles and relieve stress. Sauna sessions will help to refresh you immensely.
Helps to Reduce Chronic Pain
Many studies have shown that infrared sauna therapy can help to reverse chronic pain with almost no side effects. The heat penetrates the joints, muscles and tissues and helps to relieve minor aches and pains and also chronic conditions like fibromyalgia. A recent study in Japan showed that after an infrared therapy session, patients with chronic pain experienced almost 70% reduction in pain levels.
In fact, infrared sauna therapy has been shown to be extremely beneficial in the case of people suffering from ankylosing spondylitis and rheumatoid arthritis and many people experienced reduced symptoms of stiffness and pain due to these conditions. Infrared sauna therapy also helps to reduce fatigue. In the recent years, sauna therapy has been included as an important component of pain management to decrease muscles spasms, pain and hasten recovery.
Lowers the Effects of Diabetes
Studies have shown that infrared sauna therapy can help to improve the quality of life in people suffering from Type-2 diabetes. It helps to reduce symptoms such as depression, chronic fatigue, pain, heart problems, etc. that are related to Type-2 diabetes and contributes to your overall well-being by treating the symptoms of diabetes naturally.
Improves Heart Function
Infrared sauna therapy sessions can help to normalize cholesterol levels, blood pressure and also in the cases of congestive heart failure. An infrared sauna is a great way to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and improve heart health.
Aids in Weight Loss
Infrared sauna sessions can help in weight loss. Sauna therapy sessions are like doing moderate exercise, but are more relaxing and can be very beneficial for people who suffer from medical conditions such as respiratory problems, cardiovascular ailments and osteoarthritis. According to a study published in the American Medical Association (AMA) Journal, around 600 calories can be burned in an infrared sauna session of 30 minutes.
An infrared sauna session causes the core body temperature to rise, causing the body to work hard to cool down and produce sweat. Using the infrared sauna also increases the metabolic rate, heart rate and cardio output, thus burning more calories resulting in weight loss.
Improves Overall Well-Being and Quality of Life
Infrared sauna therapy can help to improve circulation, reduce blood pressure, heal wounds, strengthen the immune system, enhance cell and tissue growth and it has anti-aging effects too. Infrared sauna therapy helps in cognitive therapy and also helps in overall wellness and improving quality of life.
Who Can Benefit from Infrared Saunas?
Studies have revealed that infrared sauna therapy has benefited people with various health problems without any side effects, such as people suffering from:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Congestive heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Depression and anger
- Chronic fatigue
- Chronic muscle and joint pains
- Poor digestion
Are Infrared Saunas Safe?
Infrared sauna releases infrared light waves which are not visible to the eye and compared to a traditional sauna, heating occurs at a much lower temperature. Typically, a sauna session lasts for around 20-30 minutes and the light should touch all parts of your body. You may require to turn up the heat gradually every few minutes till it reaches the maximum level.
When the infrared sauna heating is at the maximum level, the heat penetrates your body and produces a lot of sweating, which is very relaxing. There are no side effects of using infrared saunas and this therapy can be used very safely for most people, even those who cannot tolerate heat treatments and other types of saunas, usually tolerate infrared therapy very well. FIR waves are very gentle and don’t have any harmful effects and this gentle radiant heat can penetrate the skin up to 4 cms or 1.5 inches and is not painful or does not cause any burning.
Investing in an infrared sauna for your home may be seen as an indulgence by some; however, in terms of the benefits infrared saunas offer, they can be a fantastic investment for your health. Infrared saunas are very compact and require little or no maintenance. They do not require water or any plumbing and they run on your household electricity and cost very little to operate. When compared to traditional saunas, infrared saunas offer more benefits and will not make a dent in your savings. It’s a great idea to get an infrared sauna for your home and if that’s not possible, indulging in a few sauna sessions at your local gym can be a great way to relax and de-stress.
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