If you’re into fitness, you’re used to getting sweaty. Whether you're crushing an obstacle course race or building strength in the gym, a side of sweat is just part of the gig. Recently, a new trend—the infrared sauna—has made it part of the recovery game, too.
Wondering what makes infrared saunas so special, and whether a good sweat session deserves a spot in your routine? We got the 411 from the experts.
How Do Infrared Saunas Work?
Traditional saunas heat your body by heating the air around you. Infrared saunas, on the other hand, utilize infrared light, which heats your body directly, explains Aaron Zack, co-owner and CEO of infrared sauna maker Sunlighten.
As a result, infrared saunas are typically set to a much lower temperature than your typical sauna. They typically come in around, 110 to 130 degrees—often 50 degrees lower than traditional saunas.
“The gentle heat penetrates your skin's surface and raises your core body temperature for a deep sweat,” Zack says.
Since they essentially heat the body from within, infrared saunas are often more comfortable to sit in.
Benefits Of Infrared Saunas
The perks of infrared saunas don't end with their comfort factor. In fact, they've been credited for a number of health benefits.
According to Luke Greenberg, DPT and co-founder of MotivNY, the heat has many potentially beneficial effects on the body. Some of the most notable: increased blood flow and sweat rate (which means we clear metabolic waste more efficiently) and a reduced rate of muscle glycogen consumption.
While the boosted blood flow and sweat rate help our body detox and recover, that decrease in our muscles' use of glycogen spells good news for our performance. “This means that energy is used in the bloodstream at a less rapid rate, so you can potentially go for longer,” says Greenberg.
Plus, according to The Mayo Clinic, early research on infrared saunas shows some promise for a number of chronic health issues, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, congestive heart failure, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Infrared sauna-ing may also offer some relief from pain. In one study, for example, researchers from the Netherlands' Saxion University of Applied Science found that infrared sauna treatments can assist in reversing chronic pain.
Getting all warm and toasty can also boost your overall sense of well-being. In another study, Japanese researchers discovered a positive correlation between sauna usage and mood, when used in combination with other holistic treatments.
How To Use An Infrared Sauna
While current research hasn't identified risks or negative side effects associated with using infrared saunas, consult with a physical therapist or physician before regularly incorporating infrared sauna use into your routine.
Once you get the go-ahead, Greenberg recommends using a sauna two to three times per week for 45 to 60 minutes to support recovery and endurance—and reap its array of other health benefits.