*Disclaimer: The written article is based on a summary of existing scientific literature on the topic of infrared saunas. The article is for educational purposes and the information provided below cannot be taken as a promise to help with acute health problems or diseases.
With more than 38 years of research experience under a number of disciplines, Dr. Marc Cohen is one of the most prolific and reputable Professors and researchers in the fields of holistic health and traditional Chinese medicine. Dr. Marc has led a number of pioneering evidence-based research studies across the field of integrative and holistic medicine and has served as a Professor at RMIT’s School of Health Sciences.
There is, then, very few people that are more qualified to talk about the health benefits of saunas, as well as showing us the safest, yet most effective means of achieving those health benefits than Dr. Marc Cohen, who we are pleased to say has been the subject of a recent The Sauna Show episode, which you can access here.
Before we jump into the three techniques that Dr. Cohen has to offer, it’s important to first understand the analogy that he uses regarding the ‘network effect’ within our bodies that can take hold once we’ve kick-started a lifestyle that encourages overall wellness activities. Whether this is exercise, a healthy diet, or time spent in a sauna, the electrical activity within our body translates these activities into more electrical activity.
Dr. Cohen says that this network effect of wellness can be just as infectious within our bodies as illness, once the cycle of wellness is kick-started. Dr. Cohen was fascinated by the neural pathways within our bodies and studied the principles of electrical engineering for three years to gain a better understanding of these network effects. “If you start doing things that make you well, if you start taking saunas and having great water and doing great things for your health, it actually ripples out through your network and it becomes infectious.”
Is It Good To Go From Sauna To Cold?
In short, yes. Here is Dr. Cohen's explanation.
“Every lifeform since life existed has had to tolerate temperature extremes,” says Dr. Cohen. “Temperature is one of the fundamental challenges that life has to face - both hot and cold - so when you face the extremes of temperature, it’s not just you and your psychology or physiology, that resonates all the way down to your mitochondria.”
“The more we can expand our dynamic range, the more we become resilient to a whole range of stresses that will normally be in our life.”
“Cold is a natural part of the sauna experience, but it hasn’t been well translated. Every five-star hotel and every gym has a sauna, but very few have that cold experience. When I talk about saunaing, I’m talking about both the hot and cold experience,” he says.
The true health benefits of a sauna often rise to the surface when it is combined with exposure to both extreme heat and cold conditions. “There’s really good evidence to show that when you combine hot and cold together, you get a synergistic effect, and visiting the extremes of hot and cold is a really good way to exercise your physiology, but also your mind, and build the relationship between your mind and your mitochondria and cells.”
What Is The Best Way To Use An Infrared Sauna?
Dr. Cohen also says that he believes the health benefits often rise to the surface when the sauna user progresses towards the extreme with steady, incremental steps, rather than jumping straight into the deep end. He likens it to over-extending yourself during a yoga session, which can end up with pulled muscles and injuries.
Instead, users should slowly approach the point of their comfort zone, where it will naturally expand by itself. “It is really important when you visit the edge of either hot or cold that you spend time coming back to balance.” This process allows your body to rest, and find its state of homeostasis, which, in the words of Dr. Cohen is the “reward for visiting the edge where you can find the perfect point in the middle.”
Here is an excerpt that has Dr. Marc Cohen speak on finding stillness in an infrared sauna.
How To Detox And Improve Vascular Health With Infrared Sauna Protocols
One of the most astounding figures that Dr. Cohen mentions is the fact that the human body is filled with 100,000km of blood vessels, which are lined by the muscle that is typically inaccessible. When we expose our body to heat stress, however, these blood vessels dilate, and become “flushed” with blood, while your heart rate increases.
“There’s a lot of research to show that regular sauna bathing improves cardiovascular function and improves heart disease,” he says. In terms of detoxifying our bodies, Dr. Cohen says that “as you expand your vascular system, you’re also flushing the blood through your muscles, but you’re not making metabolic waste products because you’re not moving. If you go into the cold, your vascular system constricts, and it pushes that blood through your organs into your core, which pushes through your liver and kidneys, then you can detoxify.”
“You’re opening up your blood vessels when you’re hot and constricting them when you’re cold, which is such an important factor because the second most common cause of death is vascular disease.”
Here is an excerpt of Dr. Marc Cohen speaking on his findings for infrared sauna vasodilation benefits.
A Starting Sauna Protocol For Your Everyday User
After decades of studying in the field, Dr. Cohen outlines what he believes to be the best, and most simple protocol for all sauna users to maximise their health benefits.
This everyday sauna protocol is as follows;
- Rinsing before your sauna in warm, clean water
- Having a hot sauna at a comfortable temperature
- Experiencing a period of cold, such as an ice bath or cold shower, for a short period of time (minimum of 30 seconds)
- Regaining your balance or homeostasis (coming back to comfort)
- Repeating the steps 2 - 4 multiple times
There is, however, no universally applicable protocol for sauna use, and reminds users that they should monitor how their body is adapting as they spend time in both the extreme hot and cold conditions.
“There’s no prescription to say based on your body type, this is how long or how much time you should spend in the sauna. But there is a subjective prescription to say go to the point where you are comfortably uncomfortable, take three calm breaths at that point, go and relax, and then do that for a couple of rounds.”
It will also come as no surprise that Dr. Cohen recommends that anyone spending time in a sauna is well hydrated before they enter. “Heat is a really powerful force,” he says. “Heat can move a steam train, so when you’re using saunas it’s really important to stay hydrated, and have an idea of your own personal tolerance.”
That point of tolerance is dynamic, and changes depending on our mood, how often we use a sauna, as well as our state of health.
If you would like to find out more about Dr. Cohen’s understanding of the medical side of wellness, head over to The Sauna Show to listen to the podcast in full.
If you're interested in owning an infrared sauna for your home, use our Buying Guide to help you decide which sauna is right for you.