- 30%+ joint pain decrease (when combined with cold exposure)
- Boost to mood and overall feeling of calm
- Lower resting heart rate (during sauna days)
Sauna is reputed to have a huge range of health benefits, particularly cardiovascular and hearth health.
A community sauna programme was setup relatively close to where I live. As a result I was fortunate enough to be able to test this regularly over a period of 60 days.
A great deal of research has been done on the effects of sauna, including a systematic review which analysed the data between multiple studies:
“A Dutch study of 34 patients diagnosed with either rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or ankylosing spondylitis (AS) reported decreased pain and stiffness in the RA (p < 0.05) and AS (p < 0.001) groups during 4 weeks of sauna therapy.”
The overall conclusion, based on 40 clinical studies and a total of 3,855 participants, was promising:
“Regular infrared and/or Finnish sauna bathing has the potential to provide many beneficial health effects, especially for those with cardiovascular-related and rheumatological disease, as well as athletes seeking improved exercise performance.
The mechanisms for these effects may include increased bioavailability of NO (nitric oxide) to vascular endothelium, heat shock protein-mediated metabolic activation, immune and hormonal pathway alterations, enhanced excretions of toxicants through increased sweating, and other hormetic stress responses.”
This is the protocol I followed during my test:
⚙️ Frequency: I attended Sauna once a week
⚙️ Session length: 60 minutes total
⚙️ Session breakdown: 10 – 15 minutes sauna, then 2 minutes ice pool, then repeat
🟢 Approximately 30% reduction in sacroiliac joint pain (when combined with cold exposure)
Please note, this is my subjective finding.
At the time of starting this test I was still experiencing some SI joint sensation and a high level of stiffness in my lower back (both due to my autoimmune disease, ankylosing spondylitis). Symptoms had already massively improved since starting my AS diet but there were still some outlying symptoms.
You can see from the table below that when I was consistently doing my 1 hour weekly sauna session my colour on the spreadsheet goes to a more regular dark green. The dark the green the lesser the pain.
I also know, from previous tests, that when I have gone into sauna and cold exposure during a flare (where pain levels have been 30/100 or more) I have on more than one occasion been able to reduce or escape flare entirely.
🟢 Boost to mood and overall feeling of calm
Sauna forces you to focus on your breathing and sit still in a quite space for long periods.
This can help removes the strains and stresses of the day and it incredibly relaxing physically and mentally.
🟢 Lowering of resting heart rate
I did an additional test of sauna whereby I attended 3 times in a single week.
I was in the midst of the worst flare I have had in an incredibly long term. Fasting, for the first time, had not helped initially and so I was desperate. I knew sauna and cold exposure really helped with inflammation so I decided to do it over 3 consecutive days. It’s important to note that I was also fasting, again, over this period. However, on my previous fast there was minimal impact in terms of heart rate so I think this finding is still interesting.
You can see in the table below on the days marked ‘Community S’ I am attending sauna with cold exposure. On each of these days my resting heart rate is sub 60. You can see it is: 58, 57, 57 (and also 58 on a session prior to that). Since owning a smart watch I don’t believe I have ever had my resting heart rate go to this level and it’s a nice healthy range.
🟢 90 – 95% improvement in ear problem
This was a REALLY unexpected and welcome finding. The exciting thing about keeping a detailed spreadsheet is that you discover some incredible things that you never would have picked up from memory.
Here is a small snapshot of a section on my sheet where I record something I refer to as ‘Ear’.
This is an odd ailment, which I am sure is connected to my autoimmune disease, which has affected me for at least 14 or 15 years.
My right ear and occasionally my left feels like it has an unhealthy pressure build. The only way I can relieve this is by using a technique divers are familiar with where you hold your nose and gently breathe into nose until it sort of pops.
While it’s not painful it can be uncomfortable it is incredibly frustrating. Sometimes I am having to pop it a hundred or so times a day.
But over the last 2 months something incredible has happened…
It has almost disappeared.
Prior to starting regular weekly sauna the ear rating (high is bad) was anywhere between 20 – 40 each day.
When sauna starts (marked as BY which is Banya and then Community which is Community Sauna) it very quickly decreases.
First forward to today and it is sitting at around 3 a day, which is almost nothing. Remember this is out of 100.
This finding is also one I’m monitoring still because I have had some mixed results. The ear pressure problem came back during a recent flare which was either caused by stress, illness or a combination of the two. Seasonal allergies also may have played a part. So this is one I will keep an eye on but it is exciting nonetheless!
All of these results are based on weekly, 60 minute sessions over 2 months.
🔻 It’s not always available
Depending on where you live sauna may not be widely available, so there is a bit of a postcode lottery here.
🔻 It can be expensive
If it is available it can be expensive. Try looking for gyms which offer it as part of a subscription or see if there is a community project offering it. Sauna doesn’t have to be once a week to be beneficial. Going once a month or once a year could help.
🔻 It’s a time commitment
Not everyone can take an hour out of their day (more with commute time) to go to sauna so this may put it out of reach for some.
I started experimenting with sauna a few years before I received my ‘official’ ankylosing spondylitis diagnosis.
I went to something called Banya, 3 times a year. Banya is where you go for a hot sauna for 15 minutes, then jump straight into an ice pool and then repeat. You can also have various treatments while you’re there, such as parenie (where burly men hit you with leaves and sticks).
That might sound awful but it’s an incredibly relaxing experience.
I remember almost being in tears the next day after my first visit. I couldn’t believe how effective it was. I had gone into the 3 hour session (that’s how long we book) in slight flare. About a 5/10 pain-wise, with a stabbing pain in my left sacroiliac joint. I came out with almost no pain, a lot more flexibility and in a glowing mood.
So I felt like I had inadvertently stumbled upon a magical elixir.
The only problem was Banya, where I live, is eye wateringly expensive. It’s also inconvenient. Most of us can’t just take 3 hours out of our day. That’s why when I do go it is with my wonderful brother and sister (on each others birthdays). We take it in turns to pay for each other as our gift to one another.
However, as part of my new wellness protocol and using diet and gut health to manage AS, I wanted to increase my sauna sessions and I got lucky that a community project near me set up a centre where people can enjoy sauna inexpensively.
If you don’t have anything similar near you, you could try your local gym. Many gym memberships offer this as part of a subscription package so this could be one option.
Overall this test was a massive success and I will continue to do weekly sauna for the foreseeable future.