Apr. 13. 2016
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder and CEO

Part of the NS lifestyle and philosophy is about optimizing your wellbeing through as many platforms as you can within reason and as you see fit. One of the 10 pillars of the NS lifestyle and for a balanced wellbeing is moving your body for many reasons, but one of them is for the benefit of sweating! I’ve been sharing my sauna morning sessions on snapchat with you guys and so many of you have been asking really great questions about it- of course I wanted to check it out for myself, test it out and do some research before sharing it with you. This is your guide to infrared saunas from how to use them, if they’re worth it, and do the health claims really hold up?

sweat it out.

The health claims for infrared saunas sound like a dream machine; from increasing metabolism, improving thyroid health, improving sleep, increasing collagen (especially when combined with light therapy/chromotherapy), improved fat lipolysis (i.e. fat burning), improve cardiac markers (4), weight loss, increases in HGH (human growth hormone), detoxification of heavy metals, clearer skin, improved muscle recovery, decrease joint stiffness and inflammation (1), and relaxation/stress relief. So what’s the deal, what does the research say (2) and what does personal experience say- because that should always be taken into account too. First things first, what’s the difference between an infrared sauna and a steam sauna with water typically found at most gyms and health clubs? Infrared saunas operate on electricity and lighting to heat your body

What we know infrared saunas do:

  • increase sweating (6) (which is one of the pillars of the NS lifestyle)
  • increase heart rate (parallel to what a session of moderate exercise will do)
  • relaxation responses triggered by the body’s parasympathetic nervous system


Since college, I’ve personally guinea-pigged more diets, fads, trends, and lifestyles that I could count with one common reason, so I can truly speak from experience when I coach my clients and to speak truthfully about what it feels like to try XYZ…and I’m kinda a nerd about things so I like to geek out and run trials on myself. For the entire month of March, 31 days, I used an infrared sauna for at least 30 minutes a day at 140-150 degrees F, post-workout, and recorded any changes. I didn’t change my workout program, diet, stress management techniques, sleep, schedule/routine, etc.- I tried to stick as closely to what my “normal” is to see what changes actually could happen implementing this tool for better health. Every day I wore a heart rate monitoring tracker/calorie tracker to use as a baseline for comparison later. Evidence based research is lacking to support the health claims of infrared saunas, but what I can tell you from my own case study for the past 35 days has been this:

_ my muscle recovery improved, whether that’s the actual infrared lighting or simply the heat relaxing muscles and allowing for a increased flexibility I can’t quite say.
_ I noticed an improvement in my skin as well- I haven’t had acne since high school, but with high stress I definitely am prone to breaking out and regardless of my stress levels the past month (which were still mod-high) my skin was clear. I think this is more about the sweating and immediately washing my face/showering right afterwards. The sauna does an amazing job of opening up your pores and allowing your skin (the largest detoxification organ in our body) to do it’s work and sweat it all out.
_ I slept deeper; I don’t know how else to measure this but subjectively but I truly felt more rested the following morning; this could be because my calorie expenditure increased and my body was simply more tired, but that’s that.
_ I burned an additional 400-500 calories a day…in 30 minutes sitting in a sauna. This was outside my normal daily activity. For 7 days, I didn’t sauna at all to track the change in my calories burned that day- again, calories burned isn’t super accurate on these tracking devices but again I was using it as a tool for trends. During that 7 day period without using a sauna I burned less calories a day- again no changes outside of not using the sauna for 30 minutes. Pretty cool huh? Again, much of my data is subjective and difficult to measure to 100% accuracy, but it helped to track, journal, and compare to see how this actually works and I hope it helps you when you think about adding in a tool to your life to help optimize your health and feel your best. A note about recreational athletes or those prone to low sodium diets, I highly recommend you replenish electrolytes and drink plenty of water. If you’re using a sauna to sweat out water weight or for weight loss, this probably isn’t for you. You can easily lose water weight but that’s from dehydration which we know isn’t supporting us in optimal health. Using a sauna is more about getting our lymphatic system moving, sweating and releasing “toxins” (5).

So, will I continue to use it? Heck yes! I LOVE it. Ideally, we need far more in depth research about infrared saunas to support all of these health claims. If anything, it’s been a great way to de-stress, relax, and the warmth deep in the muscle tissue has been fantastic for my workouts and training recovery. I genuinely love it so much I asked the company I bought this from, HealthMate, to set up a special discount for you guys in case you want to bring one into your home as well– they have several models that can fit your price range and size, I went with the Enrich II, a splurge but so worth it. I went with their company because they’re the experts in making saunas for decades and make it easy to assemble (literally a friend and I set it up in less than 1 hour!). Click here to find the model for you and order to get a seriously huge discount.

Let’s hear it

Have you tried an infrared sauna? You can order the model I use here if it’s your jam and you want to add it to your health “toolkit”!

xx M

(1) Oosterveld FG, Rasker JJ, Floors M, Landkroon R, van Rennes B, Zwijnenberg J, van de Laar MA, Koel GJ. Infrared sauna in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. A pilot study showing good tolerance, short-term improvement of pain and stiffness, and a trend towards long-term beneficial effects. Clin Rheumatol. 2009 Jan;28(1):29-34. doi: 10.1007/s10067-008-0977-y. Epub 2008 Aug 7. PubMed PMID: 18685882.
(2) Beever R. Far-infrared saunas for treatment of cardiovascular risk factors: Summary of published evidence. Canadian Family Physician. 2009;55(7):691-696.
(3) http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/infrared-sauna/faq-20057954
(4) Imamura M, Biro S, Kihara T, Yoshifuku S, Takasaki K, Otsuji Y, et al. Repeated thermal therapy improves impaired vascular endothelial function in patients with coronary risk factors. J Am Coll Cardiol.2001;38(4):1083–8.
(5) http://drhyman.com/blog/2010/04/28/ultrawellness-lesson-5-detoxification/
(6) http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=360118