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There’s nothing quite like a 20-minute sweat session in a sauna. You feel more relaxed and rested after you’re done, and the heat helps relieve sore muscles and improves your overall health and well-being.
But if the high temperatures of a traditional sauna are just too much for you to handle, an infrared sauna may offer the benefits of a sauna without the extreme heat.
Unlike a traditional sauna, infrared saunas don’t heat the air around you. Instead, they use infrared lamps (that use electromagnetic radiation) to warm your body directly.
“These saunas use infrared panels instead of conventional heat to easily penetrate human tissue, heating up your body before heating up the air,” explains physical therapist, Vivian Eisenstadt, MAPT, CPT, MASP.
An infrared sauna can operate at a lower temperature (usually between 120˚F and 140˚F) than a traditional sauna, which is typically between 150˚F and 180˚F.
Manufacturers claim that in an infrared sauna, only about 20 percent of the heat goes to heat the air and the other 80 percent directly heats your body.
Supporters of infrared saunas say the heat penetrates more deeply than warmed air. This allows you to experience a more intense sweat at a lower temperature.
Eisenstadt says this environment is more tolerable, which allows you to stay in the sauna longer while increasing your core body temperature by two to three degrees.
The supposed benefits of using an infrared sauna are similar to those experienced with a traditional sauna. These include:
People have been using saunas for centuries for all sorts of health conditions. While there are several studies and research on traditional saunas, there aren’t as many studies that look specifically at infrared saunas:
The lack of solid evidence and wide-spread studies about the possible benefits of infrared saunas leaves the consumer (you) to sort through the claims made by the companies who provide this service.
Similarly, there are no reports of negative effects so far, beyond the cautions about any sauna experience. These include the possibilities of overheating, dehydrating, and interference with medication, as well as the potential dangers for those who are pregnant, have heart disease, or are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, among others.
The good news: Even if your sweat session doesn’t do all of the things it claims to do, at least it still feels good. Plus, it contributes to your overall health and well-being by helping you relax, loosening up stiff or tight muscles, reducing joint pain, and giving you some much needed time to yourself.
Many people will do infrared sauna treatments at a health club, spa, or doctor’s office, while others will purchase and build one in their home. If you decide to give an infrared sauna a try, it’s important to know that they don’t come with universal instructions.
There are guidelines you can follow, but ultimately, how you choose to use an infrared sauna is up to you. Here are some tips to get you started.
There are a few things you should know before indulging in your first session.
If you have any health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart problems, or are under medical care, get cleared by your doctor before your first session. Even though infrared saunas have been found to be fairly safe, you don’t want to take any chances when it comes to your health and safety.