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Sauna makes fit people even healthier

Regular exposure to extreme heat is healthier for fit individuals than for people with a sedentary lifestyle. Polish sports scientists from Gdansk University come to this conclusion in a small human study, which has been published in BioMed Research International. Frequent sauna visits, for example, stimulate catabolic processes in sedentary individuals, while frequent sauna visits have the opposite effect in fit athletes.

The researchers experimented with two groups of young men. One group had a sedentary lifestyle, the other group consisted of fit soccer players. Each group consisted of 11 subjects.

During 4 weeks the men had to go to a sauna 3 times a week. "Participants spent time in a Finnish sauna room at 98.2 degrees Celsius and 10 percent humidity," the researchers write. "The time was comprised of two 15-minute stints during the same session (total time: 30 minutes per session) with a 5-minute break for cooling under the shower (water temperature was 18 degrees Celsius)."

Sauna makes fit people even healthier
Before, during and just after the experiment, the researchers determined the activity of a number of crucial genes in the participants' red blood cells.

In the course of the experiment, the gene for interleukin-10 became more active immediately after the sauna sessions in both groups, but that increase was significantly stronger in the athletes. Interleukin-10 is an anti-inflammatory cytokine. More interleukin-10 means that immune cells become calmer and the intensity of inflammation in the body decreases.

Sauna makes fit people even healthier

In the sedentary individuals, the sauna sessions decreased the activity of heat shock protein-27 [HSP27]. This protein is like a kind of cellular styrofoam around molecules that normally break down protein structures in the cell - and, if they feel like it, break down the whole cell. Before this happens, HSP-27 must be gone. A reduced activity of HSP27 therefore means more catabolic activity.

It was exactly the other way around in the fit soccer players. In this group the frequent heat exposure increased the activity of HSP27. The Poles did not investigate whether this led to the athletes breaking down fewer muscles.

Sauna makes fit people even healthier

How people respond to exposure to extreme heat depends on their fitness, the researcher conclude. The fitter you are, the more positive the effect of frequent extreme heat exposure on your health.

Biomed Res Int. 2018 Feb 28;2018:1685368.

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