Far Infrared Saunas Fitness Benefits
by Jenna Greenfield MD
Using an infrared sauna along with a regular exercise routine can significantly increase your physical fitness results! Dozens of studies have demonstrated profound cardiovascular benefits of infrared sauna therapy. Regular far infrared therapy has been proven to prevent and even reverse heart disease, provide cardiovascular conditioning, and improve exercise tolerance. In addition to cardiovascular conditioning, far infrared sauna therapy has also been proven to improve muscle performance, speed muscle recovery after exercise, and promote muscle growth. It has even been shown to promote muscle growth and muscle density in the absence of physical exercise!
Far Infrared Saunas Speed Muscle Recovery After Exercise
Far infrared therapy speeds muscle recovery after a workout, and improves muscle performance during this recovery period. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the soreness that you feel the day after an intense workout, or after using a new muscle group. It is not due to the muscle damage itself, but to the inflammation that is triggered by the muscle damage. Studies have shown that far infrared therapy during the recovery period decreases this inflammation, decreasing pain and soreness, speeding muscle recovery, and increasing muscle performance during the recovery period (1-3).
Far Infrared Saunas Improve Exercise Tolerance and Performance
Far infrared sauna therapy has been shown to improve exercise tolerance in patients with congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease after just weeks of regular sauna use (4,5). It does this by improving blood pressure and vascular health, decreasing inflammation in the blood vessels, promoting heart muscle health, and promoting new blood vessel formation which increased oxygen delivery to the heart and the muscles. While literally every adult in the US has some degree of cardiovascular disease, and reversing any degree will improve exercise performance, the effects of far infrared therapy on young healthy athletes has also been studied with impressive results. Athletes treated with far infrared had significantly higher oxygen uptake, longer endurance, and a higher anaerobic threshold (the point at which your muscles start “burning”) (6). These effects are likely due to increased blood vessel growth and blood flow to the muscles, as well as increased muscle growth also seen with sauna therapy (7).
Sauna Therapy Increases Muscle Growth
A study using mice demonstrated that following a period of muscle disuse, after the animals started using the muscles again, adding heat therapy increased muscle regrowth by 30% compared with the control group (8). Heat therapy has even been shown to increase muscle mass and protein content in the absence of physical exercise! After just one hour of heat therapy, animals had increased muscle weight and protein content seven days later, compared to controls (9).
Heat treatment prior to exercise has been shown to enhance the effects of exercise on muscle remodeling, increasing the protein content in muscles more than does exercise alone. This has been demonstrated in an animals study (10) and a study of muscle cells in culture (11). In the later, one group of muscle cells was put through cyclic stretching (simulating exercise), another group was treated with one hour of heat, and a third group was treated with one hour of heat followed by cyclic stretching. Not only did the heat and stretching together result in the highest levels of muscle protein, but the effect was cumulative. The combination of heat followed by exercise increased protein production more than did either treatment alone (11).
Far Infrared Saunas Increase the Benefits of Exercise
These exciting studies described above show that using a sauna in conjunction with physical exercise will increase the results of exercise! You will increase muscle tone and performance, increase exercise tolerance, and improve cardiovascular fitness, with faster and greater results than with exercise alone. You are also burning more calories while in your sauna as your metabolic rate increases, and there is evidence that far infrared sauna therapy leads to greater fat loss, in part due to “obesogens” (endocrine disrupting toxins that promote weight gain) being mobilized out of the fat cells and excreted in sweat (12). These are exciting benefits of far infrared sauna therapy: greater results with less exercise!
- Hausswirth C, Louis J, Bieuzen F, Pournot H, Fournier J, Filliard JR, Brisswalter J. Effects of Whole-Body Cryotherapy vs. Far-Infrared vs. Passive Modalities on Recovery from Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage in Highly-Trained Runners. J. PLoS ONE. 2011 Dec 7; 6(12)
- Mero A, Tornberg J, Mäntykoski M, Puurtinen R. Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training sessions in men. Springerplus. 2015 Jul 7;4:321
- Perttu VA Noponen, Keijo Häkkinen and Antti A Mero, Effects of Far Infrared Heat on Recovery in Power Athletes J Athl Enhancement 2015 Vol: 4 Issue: 4
- Kikuchi H, Shiozawa N, Takata S, Ashida K, Mitsunobu F. Effect of repeated Waon therapy on exercise tolerance and pulmonary function in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a pilot controlled clinical trial. International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. 2013 Dec 12; 9: 9-15
- Ohori T, Nozawa T, Ihori H, Shida T, Sobajima M, Matsuki A, Yasumura S, Inoue H. Effect of repeated sauna treatment on exercise tolerance and endothelial function in patients with chronic heart failure. Am J Cardiol. 2012 Jan 1;109(1):100-4
- Mantegazza V, Contini M, Botti M, Ferri A, Dotti F, Berardi P, Agostoni P. Improvement in exercise capacity and delayed anaerobic metabolism induced by far-infrared-emitting garments in active healthy subjects: A pilot study. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2018 Nov;25(16):1744-1751
- Kuhlenhoelter AM, Kim K, Neff D, Nie Y, Blaize AN, Wong BJ, Kuang S, Stout J, Song Q, Gavin TP, Roseguini BT. Heat therapy promotes the expression of angiogenic regulators in human skeletal muscle. American Journal of Physiology - Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. 2016 Jun 29; 311(2)
- Kojima A, Goto K, Morioka S, Naito T, Akema T, Fujiya H, Sugiura T, Ohira Y, Beppu M, Aoki H, Yoshioka T. Heat stress facilitates the regeneration of injured skeletal muscle in rats. J Orthop Sci. 2007 Jan;12(1):74-82
- Kobayashi T, Goto K, Kojima A, Akema T, Uehara K, Aoki H, Sugiura T, Ohira Y, Yoshioka T. Possible role of calcineurin in heating-related increase of rat muscle mass. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2005 Jun 17;331(4):1301-9
- Goto K, Okuyama R, Sugiyama H, Honda M, Kobayashi T, Uehara K, Akema T, Sugiura T, Yamada S, Ohira Y, Yoshioka T. Effects of heat stress and mechanical stretch on protein expression in cultured skeletal muscle cells. Pflugers Arch. 2003 Nov;447(2):247-53
- Touchberry CD, Gupte AA, Bomhoff GL, Graham ZA, Geiger PC, Gallagher PM. Acute heat stress prior to downhill running may enhance skeletal muscle remodeling. Cell Stress & Chaperones. 2012 May 17; 17(6): 693-705
- Darbre PD, Endocrine Disruptors and Obesity. Curr Obes Rep. 2017 Mar;6(1):18-27