1. Better Mood (And Could Combat Depression)
Perhaps the most apparent benefit of saunas and hot steams is the positive impact on our mood.
According to research, even brief exposure to heat can cause a significant release of beta-endorphins in the brain (1, 2). These opioid hormones primarily serve to suppress pain but can also boost our mood and even bring about a sense of euphoria.
In the long run, controlled heat exposure could promote autophagy (the body’s way of replacing old and worn-out parts of cells) and make brain cells more resistant to stress (3).
Further, data suggests that saunas can have positive effects on people with depressive symptoms (4).
2. Could Promote Cardiovascular Health
Cardiovascular disease is by far the leading cause of death worldwide (5). Fortunately, there are ways to protect ourselves, including by using saunas and hot steams.
According to a Finnish study that observed over 2,300 men over two decades, those going for a sauna session two to three times weekly were 23 percent less likely to experience a fatal CHD event (6).
3. Support Cognition And Brain Health
Saunas have been shown to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)––a key molecule involved in neuroplasticity related to learning and memory (7).
BDNF plays a crucial role in neural development, growth and survival, neurogenesis, and even synapse formation (the connection between brain cells) (8).
Additionally, low BDNF is linked to a higher risk of depression and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) (9).
4. May Promote Longevity
Longevity depends on multiple factors, including genetics, BMI, diet, and lifestyle habits. That said, the Finnish study we mentioned above looked at the impact of sauna on all-cause mortality risk (6).
According to the data gathered over two decades, those using a sauna were far less likely to die from all causes, with the protective effects being more pronounced in those going for a sauna session four or more times a week.
One potential mechanism could be the ability of heat exposure to activate the protein-coding gene FOXO3, which has been shown to promote autophagy in various bodily cells (10).
FOXO3 is also known to improve the expression of genes related to DNA repair, autophagy, tumor suppression, resilience to stress, and more––basically, all good things (11, 12, 13).
3. Feet Low Foot Placement
Extensive research finds controlled heat exposure to be safe, beneficial and well-tolerated in people of all ages.
With that said, we recommend consulting your doctor before using saunas or hot steams, as there are some risks in certain people.
For instance, folks with previous cardiovascular issues might opt-in for shorter sessions at a lower temperature or stay away from saunas and hot steam altogether.
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11. Tsai WB, Chung YM, Takahashi Y, Xu Z, Hu MCT . Functional interaction between FOXO3a and ATM regulates DNA damage response. Nature Cell Biology. 2008 Mar 16;10(4):460–7.
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