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How long did they stay in the sauna and how often? I’m trying to figure out the minimum effective dose for depression. I have PTSD and this looks promising along with my exercise and therapy. Especially since it helps me recover.
We’re preparing to publish a podcast with a researcher out of Finland that is sort of at the forefront of sauna research where they are doing large 20-year follow-up trials… and one of the things that is made especially clear in this podcast is the general consensus on dosing (in terms of time, frequency, and temperature). The “benefits” aren’t described in the context of depression, but I think the dosing may still be useful as a rule of thumb.
Basically, it seems like consensus is that for the effects the “higher dose” group seems to do better: 65% reduced risk of dementia and alzheimer’s disease & 40% reduction in all-cause mortality for the group doing the sauna 4-7 times per week at 174.2ºF for at least 20 minutes.
The researcher in the interview (Dr. Jari Laukkanen) also clarifies this point by suggesting that 15 minutes may be really not enough to have strong effects because it also doesn’t mimic the cardiovascular effects as well either… once you reach the higher stress point at around that 20 minute time point heart rate goes up and can reach 120 to 150 beats per minute, which (depending on level) is awfully close to legitimate cardiovascular exercise.
Here are the press releases for the trials that established that “dosing”…
That said, of course, be careful! There may be legitimate reasons why a person shouldn’t stay too long in a sauna. In practice it’s hard to know how hot a sauna at a gym even is. I think the safe opinion should be: listen to your body and don’t over do it.
It’s also worth pointing out that many of the things we call saunas here (“infrared saunas”) don’t even qualify in Finland! An infrared sauna in Finland is called a “warming room.” This is because their saunas are quite a bit hotter than most infrared choices.
While I don’t have experience using it, a supporter did suggest that this tent infrared sauna called the relax sauna is an inexpensive solution that does get up to around 170ºF.
Thank you for the detailed response! As for mimicing the cardiovascular effects. Is that comparable to running 3-6 miles? How do they compare it to exercise?
It’s not the same as exercise, but it shares similarities. Some examples: improved arterial compliance, which is a measure of health that diminishes as a function of age and also systolic blood pressure. There’s also some evidence of effects from one domain crossing over into another… e.g. improved tolerance of heat stress improving run times.
I think it would be pretty hard to say how much cardiovascular exercise a sauna session is equal to… if they could even be directly compared. Discussed on the podcast, however, is the fact that heart rate can go as high as 150 beats per minute. If you look up a table of max heart rates by age, like the one at the American Heart Association, it becomes pretty clear that this is very high and, in this respect, clearly mimics cardiovascular exercise for some people.
Ahh I see. I usually use the sauna after exercising and I’ve noticed the benefits mostly in recovery from training. I only do 15 minutes though. Maybe using the sauna directly after working out lowers the time it takes to get to 150 bpm. Any thoughts on that?
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