Try This: Sauna Bathing for Longevity, Cognition, & Heart Health

Exercise is king when it comes to optimizing our cognition, cardiovascular health, and longevity. 

Certain life circumstances, such as injury, sickness, or simply getting older, however, might make engaging in regular exercise difficult for some people.

But there’s another tool you can use to get the benefits of exercise: sauna.

Today we’re talking about the advantages of sauna bathing for the brain and body and how it can help take your fitness to the next level.

Don’t have access to a sauna? No problem! I’ve got you covered with a wide range of options in today’s Try This protocol. 

And I want to give a special shout-out to Dr. Rhonda Patrick, one of the OGs in the sauna space, whom I borrowed some of the research studies from to put this newsletter together!

Let’s jump in!

The Amazing Benefits of Sauna for Cardiovascular Health ❤️

Sauna mimics exercise by increasing heart rate and blood pressure, but what’s even more interesting is what happens to these markers after a session. A study comparing the effects of sauna to riding a stationary bike found similar decreases in heart rate and blood pressure from baseline after the intervention (1).

Another study in Finnish men showed a 40 percent reduction in all-cause mortality and a 50 percent reduction in fatal cardiovascular events in those using the sauna four-to-five times weekly vs once a week (2). Not a bad deal for parking your butt on a bench and sweating it out!

Regular Sauna Bathing Increases Neuroplasticity 🧠

Sauna does amazing things for your brain health and cognition too. It provides good stress to the body (a topic known as hormesis, which we’ll cover next), which forces our bodies to level up and perform better. One way it does this is by upregulating the production of heat shock proteins (HSP).

The main job of HSP is to repair misfolded and damaged proteins that contribute to plaque buildup and the development of Alzheimer’s and dementia. In the same Finnish cohort study, engaging in four-to-seven sauna sessions per week was also associated with a 66 percent lower risk of dementia and a 65 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s (3).

Regular sauna sessions also upregulate the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This stuff is like Miracle-Gro for the brain. It boosts neuroplasticity (the growth of new neurons) in the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory. And as a bonus, it also helps relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.

This combination of heat shock proteins, BDNF, and increased blood flow to the brain is the ultimate brain-boosting biohack for cognition, memory, learning, mood, focus, and more.

Sauna Is a Hormetic Stressor (the Good Stress!) 🔥

The heat stress from the sauna activates cellular repair processes, antioxidant pathways, and longevity genes. For example, in addition to HSP and BDNF, the sauna also turns on Nrf2, an antioxidant gene that lowers inflammation, and FOXO3, a longevity gene that promotes healthy aging and stem cell function to provide a healthier environment for the cell.

Sauna Can Help Preserve Muscle Mass & Boost Your Workout Gains 💪

Regular sauna sessions have also been shown to protect against sarcopenia (muscle loss) by maintaining mitochondrial strength and density in the muscle tissue (4).

That means if you’re sick, injured, or unable to work out for several days, weeks, or months at a time, you can use sauna to prevent the loss of muscle mass. Pretty sweet!

What’s even sweeter? Exercise and sauna bathing combined can help you double down on your fitness gains even more.

Minimal Effective Dose (According to Experts)

Dr. Andrew Huberman and Dr. Susanna Søberg (one of the leading pioneers in hot and cold therapy who was recently on the podcast) recommend a 20-minute sauna session three times per week at 176–212 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dr. Rhonda Patrick also shared her protocol on the Joe Rogan Experience and the MedCram podcast: 180 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes. Depending on her schedule and workouts, she’ll do two-to-five sessions per week.

It’s important to note that Dr. Patrick is heat adapted, so she can handle a longer frequency and duration. However, according to the research, a minimal dose of 20 minutes per session (broken up, if needed) is ideal for cardiovascular health benefits.

If you’re just getting started with a sauna routine, you’ll want to start at the lower end of the time and temperature range and work your way up until you get adapted to the heat.

Try This:

We know that sauna can serve as an amazing tool for optimizing our brain health, heart health, and longevity, but the real question is: how do we find or get access to one?

As always, before getting started with sauna or related heat therapy interventions, be sure to consult with your doctor!

  1. Base level: take a hot bath. If you don’t have access to a sauna, you can get similar benefits by taking a hot bath. In one study, a one-hour hot bath four-to-five times per week resulted in significant improvements in blood flow, artery stiffness, and reduced blood pressure (5).How to do it: If you have a bathtub, fill it with hot water and immerse your entire body (chest cavity included). It should be uncomfortable but bearable, about 99–105 degrees Fahrenheit.Disclaimer: Do not do breathwork while in the hot bath! People have passed out and drowned while doing this. Also, double-check the temperature before getting in so you don’t burn yourself!
  2. Check your local gym or YMCA. Some gyms and YMCAs have saunas and steam rooms available for their members. Check your area for one near you! And if you belong to a gym that doesn’t have one, get a group of friends together and sign a petition asking for one. Your gym works for you, and you’re allowed to make requests.
  3. Get a few friends to go in on a sauna together. Going in on a sauna with a group of friends can help bring the cost down. I haven’t done this myself, but I’ve heard stories from friends who have. Based on everything I’ve read, most research focuses on traditional vs infrared sauna. That being said, both offer value. The key is to make sure you are consistent with either to get the results you want.
  4. Coming soon: TrueMed. My dear friend, Calley Means (who was recently on the podcast), is launching a company that allows the use of tax-free HSA and FSA dollars to purchase healthy food, supplements, exercise equipment, and even…a sauna!Full disclosure: I’m an investor in TrueMed because I believe in the company and its mission. That being said, I’ll keep you in the loop when the company officially launches.

Final Thoughts:

I was inspired to write this newsletter from this JRE clip where Dr. Rhonda Patrick shared how sauna can help provide sedentary or elderly adults who may not be able to work out otherwise with the benefits of exercise.

My big sister, Harshal, and her husband, Neel, recently got my mom, now 69 years old, to commit to regular sauna sessions in lieu of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise.

As someone who was pretty sedentary previously (she just started working out—go mom! 👏), sauna has been a great segue for getting her cardiovascular system primed and ready so she can start lifting heavier weights.

Here’s to your health and longevity,
Dhru Purohit

1. PMID: 31126559
2. PMID: 25705824
3. PMID: 27932366
4. PMID: 31046520
5. PMID: 27270841

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