For countless generations, sauna users have known that a sauna can ease pain and reduce stress. In addition, modern research has shown that it offers cardiovascular benefits similar to what you derive from exercise, that frequent regular use can lower blood pressure, and that some psoriasis sufferers gain relief from having their skin dried out. Some studies have shown that it eases mild depression, others that it helps control chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. There was even a study that suggested regular sauna use reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Today we have far infrared sauna, which uses a fundamentally different heating technology to achieve the same health benefits as conventional sauna. Here are five ways in which infrared sauna differs from conventional sauna.
1. It heats the user, not the air. This is the biggest difference. A conventional sauna works like an oven: it heats the air inside to about the hottest temperature a human being can tolerate (usually 185-190 degrees), and you get in it and let the air heat you until you achieve a skin temperature of about 100 degrees. In contrast, the infrared sauna uses infrared technology to heat the person rather than the air. The infrared sauna user, then, achieves a skin temperature of 100 degrees in a cooler environment (typically 120-140 degrees). This means it’s easier to breathe in an infrared sauna. In fact, some people who can’t tolerate conventional sauna can benefit from infrared sauna.
2. It promotes faster, more vigorous sweating. According to a review of the literature published in Canadian Family Physician in 2009, “As infrared heat penetrates more deeply than warmed air, users develop a more vigorous sweat at a lower temperature than they would in traditional saunas.” The article went on to say that infrared sauna creates a cardiovascular demand similar to walking at a moderate pace.
Photo: the infrared sauna at Peak Recovery & Health Center
3. It is ready immediately. From a cold start, a conventional sauna usually takes 30-40 minutes to achieve a temperature of 150-160 degrees. Because it doesn’t have to expend heat on the air, an infrared sauna is ready as soon as it’s turned on.
4. It is a more private experience. One of the hallmarks of the conventional sauna is that it is large enough to accommodate several people, or even whole families. Thus, conventional sauna in many cultures is a highly social occasion. An infrared sauna, on the other hand, is usually smaller than a conventional sauna, and the emphasis is on the benefits of the heat to the user. People most often use it alone and enjoy the privacy.
5. Finnish people refuse to call it a sauna. The Finns, who probably have the longest continuous tradition of heat bathing of any culture, apparently take their sauna seriously, to the point that the Finnish sauna authorities say that infrared sauna is not sauna at all, because it doesn’t use heated rocks. They are certainly entitled to their opinion, but I really don’t think you need the presence of rocks to get the benefit of cleansing heat.
If you want to try infrared sauna, check with your doctor. Make sure you don’t have subnormal blood pressure — any kind of sauna will lower your blood pressure, and there can be a risk if your blood pressure gets too low. Then book a session at Peak Recovery & Health Center. You will find it very relaxing, even if you’re Finnish.