At first glance, saunas seem like a sort of new-age torture device to get you sweating, but it is much more than that. Many studies have been done in recent years concerning heat exposure and saunas. So, our investigation will include scientific research and tools for average individuals and fighters alike.
When it comes to fighters, every one of them wants boosted recovery, easier muscle growth, and more energy. Growth hormone is responsible for each of these advantages. Endocrine effects of repeated sauna bathing, a study done in 1986 outlines how saunas can be used to increase growth hormone sixteenfold.
This dramatic increase, however, did not come from a regular sauna session. Instead, subjects were in a 176˚F sauna for 30-minute increments. They would do the sauna session, followed by a cool down, and they repeated this four times in total. This makes for a total of 2 hours in the sauna.
Another important finding in this study was that the more often people did this in a week, the less they would benefit from it. To optimize this practice, fighters could try this once a week after a workout. Then they would see the maximum benefit in growth hormone release. In the study, there was a less dramatic but equally useful find: the decrease in cortisol.
Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, is typically found to be too high in the average person. So, decreasing it whenever possible is useful in its own right. These benefits are useful for everyone, especially fighters, and other athletes. Not taking advantage of this means missing out on one of the greatest uses of simple heat exposure.
Muscle Recovery And Preservation
Most fighters constantly deal with soreness from working out and training, so muscle recovery can be a huge advantage. As mentioned above, a particular way of using the sauna can increase growth hormone, leading to faster recovery.
However, this is not the only way to use the sauna; Sauna use as a lifestyle practice to extend healthspan found some major advantages to regular sauna use. The most useful finding for fighters is muscle preservation.
When a fighter is injured, they may be bedridden for some time, unable to work out. This can easily lead to muscle atrophy. While this can be debilitating, regular sauna use can prevent this degeneration from happening.
Not only is this useful for injured fighters, but it is particularly helpful to anyone who wants to stay healthy. The study outlines how regular sauna use can increase “healthspan.” Healthspan refers to how long your health will remain intact throughout life.
A longer health span means a longer fighting career, but more importantly, more time to do what you love. It is key to mention here that dehydration is a major risk of the sauna, so if you want a longer health span, make sure to drink water and not consume alcohol before getting in the sauna.
Drop Water Weight
Half a pound can be the difference between making weight or getting bumped up for fighters close to the weight. You may be familiar with the wrestlers’ method: to put on a plastic suit, a trash bag, and a bunch of jackets, then run until you can’t run anymore.
While this certainly is a masochistic approach, it is technically a form of heat exposure. And the results are there. But, a much more sane approach to losing water weight is simply sitting in the sauna. Dehydration is a major concern, but if you need to drop a quick half a pound, this works, and it’s way better than the old wrestlers’ way.
To do this, the approach that will be most effective will be the same one mentioned in the beginning. That is four 30-minute sessions with cool-downs in between. This specific benefit is not recommended for people who aren’t fighters.
This benefit is only for those who need to lose some water weight fast. Also note that water weight will not be more than a pound, meaning you can’t cut five pounds just sitting in the sauna. You’ll get dehydrated if you try, so accept that you’ll be bumped up a weight class.
Rest And Sleep
The body is a very interesting place, and some of its key features can be leveraged to promote a healthier lifestyle. One of these features is temperature regulation. Whenever the body is placed under extreme heat, it tries to keep the inside cool to remain safe.
This is very useful when talking about the sleep cycle. Your core temperature cools at the beginning of the sleep cycle at night. Slowly rises throughout the night until reaching a point that will wake you. Using the sauna can be leveraged to our advantage.
The best time to use the sauna is in the evening when you are starting to wind down. Doing this can reduce your body’s core temperature, helping you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep. A full night’s sleep can help tremendously with various things.
For example, growth hormone is naturally released at the beginning of the sleep cycle; this is why you feel refreshed after a good night’s sleep, and your body has recovered a bit. Also, good sleep is key in developing neural connections, helping us complete the learning and remembering of new things from the day. Of course, fighters can benefit from this greatly, but good sleep is great for anyone.
Difficult things are necessary for human thriving, for whatever reason. We’d rather things be easy and rewarding simultaneously, but we know that difficult things are usually more rewarding. When doing things like working out, running, or heat/cold exposure, the mind starts with some “friction.”
This friction is caused by a neurochemical called dynorphin, which, in simple terms, causes discomfort. Luckily, it only releases initially, and it can be pushed past. Once you surpass the discomfort, the brain rewards you with endorphins. This neurochemical is released during “runners high,” and it also releases while in the sauna.
Heat exposure can also cause significant dopamine release, which is the pleasure molecule that fuels the brain. That pleasure can last much longer than something like nicotine or cocaine, which induces big spikes in dopamine for a short period. Heat exposure gives gradual elevation that lasts for much longer.
The biggest factor why sauna improves mood is linked to sleep. Without scientific reference, we all know that a bad night of sleep leads to an awful mood and a foggy mind. As a fighter, being in the proper mental state is extremely important. More tools are more valuable and useful than a clear head, especially in the ring.
Our bodies contain multiple types of fat, but the ones we will discuss are beige and white fat. While white fat has its uses, it’s much less metabolically active than beige fat. Beige fat can eat away at white fat to heat the body when cold.
This is very useful for metabolism and weight loss. An amazing function of heat exposure is converting white fat to beige fat. It can even activate that fat to combat obesity. Testing was done using local heating to one specific area on the body rather than sauna bathing. However, it’s still very much worth mentioning here.
Fighters are always looking for ways to drop weight healthily, and increasing beige fat is an amazing way to do that. Higher metabolism means more weight loss over time. While it is a longer route to losing weight, this method can cause consistent weight loss without the torture of weight cutting.
This is also great for those of you who want to get into fighting and would like to lose some weight. And this has obvious usefulness for people who don’t work out often and want to lose weight. Put simply; if you want your body to burn fat more efficiently throughout the day, this will be very useful for you.
We have already looked into the effect of sauna bathing on sleep, but sleep is a major part of health and cannot be overstated. Better sleep can help prevent cognitive dysfunction as you age. Still, it can also improve your focus and memory throughout the day. However, sleep is not the only reason sauna bathing can help your cognitive function.
Sauna Bathing and Risk of Psychotic Disorders: A Prospective Cohort Study is a research paper exploring how sauna bathing can help prevent cognitive disorders. This finding is remarkable, and it shows how sauna bathing can greatly improve overall health.
In the study, they regularly used the sauna, being 4-7 times per week. An important note, however, is that this study shows that psychotic disorders still sometimes emerge, and the sauna only reduced the chance. So, if you are at risk of psychotic disorder, use the sauna regularly and any other preventative measure that you are aware of.
Fighters suffer from head trauma regularly, especially strikers. Varying mental disorders are quite common for people constantly getting kicked in the head. So, this use of sauna bathing can really help prevent long-term health concerns, along with all of the other ways saunas extend their health span. Hopefully, you can stay in fighting shape longer and stay active and mentally healthy as you age.
Significant friction exists when entering an uncomfortable environment, like a sauna or ice bath. This friction must be pushed past to gain the benefits of the practice, which can strengthen you. Pushing past barriers is the key to mental strength.
When going on a run, for instance, there comes the point where the urge to walk is the only thing on your mind. If you can push past that, endorphins release, and you can get past the pain and exhaustion (as stated earlier in the article).
The same is true for any uncomfortable scenario, and this is particularly useful for fighters. A fighter who can push past pain can reach a higher potential. This goes for working out, training, and competition.
Being mentally tough is one thing that defines you as a fighter; you are actively fighting against yourself. The sauna can be a place to practice that, but after some time, your tolerance will go up, and it won’t be nearly as hard as it was before.
A word of caution, however, is that you do not need to spend hours in the sauna for any reason; heat exposure can potentially damage the body and neural tissue. So it is important to know your limit and when to call it quits. Also, severe dehydration is an ever-present issue in the sauna and cannot be overstated.
Between fights, some martial artists enjoy eating unhealthy foods and drinking alcohol. Engaging in these sorts of activities can lead to the accumulation of toxins in the body. This is usually not detrimental to one’s health but can become a problem if left untreated. Luckily the sauna offers a solution to this problem.
Monitoring and elimination of bioaccumulated toxic elements is a study done in 2011 that showed toxins leaving the body via blood, sweat, and urine. Through experimentation, it was found that most toxins are released through sweat.
My advice throughout this article has been to drink plenty of water. Here’s a good reason: more water means more sweating and urination. This will release more toxins from the body, helping fighters recover from their time off. Even if your level of toxins is low, this is another benefit to sauna use simply from actively sweating and having more water in your system.
Fighters might appreciate this benefit as they are always trying to find ways to become healthier, but anyone can benefit from this greatly. Toxins are a problem in many places in the world, and one of the simplest ways to combat that is simply sweating, and the sauna is a great place to sweat.
Being in the sauna regularly is almost like a workout in itself. It’s almost like a cheat code for better cardio. It also reduces the risk of a cardiovascular event and “all-cause mortality” between 27% and 50%. So how can the sauna be like a cardio workout?
First, when exposed to high temperatures, the body goes through vasodilation or the expansion of blood vessels. This increases the volume of blood and plasma pumping through the body. Next, stroke volume or the blood moved per heartbeat, also increases.
These both lead to a faster, stronger heart rate, like cardio. The paper mentioned much earlier about healthspan also laid out many heart-related benefits, similar to the study shown in this section. Regular sauna use is the best option rather than the intense session once a week to get the full benefits of this.
How can this help fighters? Fighters are always looking for ways to strengthen their hearts and have better cardio; the heart is the most important muscle, after all. A fighter with this advantage can fight better and for longer than a fighter without; even if it’s a small advantage, it can turn the tides of a fight.
It’s easy to see the huge advantage heat exposure can offer fighters and everyone. Saunas are a great way to take care of the body and the mind in the short and long term. So, you can use this article to find which practice suits your needs the most and then find a sauna near you. Gyms and spas are usually the best places. And don’t forget to drink water.