Taking It To The Heat

We all know that breaking a sweat at the gym can help shed some unwanted pounds–but hitting the treadmill isn’t the only way to burn calories and lead a healthier life. 

Infrared saunas can also burn calories–while improving blood flow, reducing pain, lowering blood pressure and detoxifying the body.

For Johnson County resident Cindi Surmaczewicz, regular trips to the infrared sauna have been a welcome blessing. 

Surmaczewicz was recently diagnosed with mixed connective tissue disorder, an autoimmune disease, and was searching for ways to mix holistic and traditional medicine to treat the condition. 

“I just did not want to take a lot of medication,” she says. 

During her research, she found that infrared saunas can be used to reduce pain–one of the major symptoms she was experiencing in her joints–and decided to give it a try. 

After a month of regular visits to the Sunlight Day Spa in Overland Park, she’s already feeling a difference. She has had more energy, less pain and has even noticed the sauna has helped treat psoriasis she had on her knees.

“It is amazing because I am starting to see results,” she says. 

According to Corey Priest, D.C., a functional and integrative medicine specialist at Wellness Dimensions in Overland Park, saunas are effective because of how heat impacts the body.

“As people sweat, unwanted hormones and toxins are able to leave the body through the skin,” says Dr. Priest. 

Saunas also improve blood flow, which in turn can improve overall cardiovascular function, according to Michael Brown, N.D., who also works as a functional and integrative medical specialist at Wellness Dimensions.

Infrared saunas differ from traditional saunas in that they max out at lower temperatures and use a different way to heat the sauna. 

“Infrared models use wavelengths to drive up the temperatures and only reach about 150 degrees, whereas other types of saunas can reach temperatures of 180 to 200 degrees and may be too hot for people with cardiovascular problems or other health concerns,” says Dr. Brown.

 “It’s a major stress to the system,” Priest says. 

Brown says infrared saunas can be much gentler and safer and allow the user to stay in the sauna longer because of the reduced temperatures. 

Just as Surmaczewicz has seen, infrared saunas are also said to relieve pain and can benefit people who struggle with chronic pain conditions such as arthritis or fibromyalgia. 

Surmaczewicz uses the Sunlight Day Spa, which is housed in the Sunlighten headquarters in Overland Park. Sunlighten specializes in infrared saunas and sells residential and commercial models. 

Owner Connie Zack says the solocarbon technology used in Sunlighten’s saunas has been shown in two clinical trials to significantly lower blood pressure in regular users. 

Zack says many of her customers also use the infrared saunas to aid in weight loss. Just 30 minutes in the sauna can burn up to 600 calories, she says.

But saunas aren’t just for people with health concerns.

Both Zack and Brown agree that saunas can have mental and overall wellness benefits for most people.

For example, the saunas can be a great way to reduce stress. 

 “One of the things about doing the sauna is that people are taking some down time,” Brown says.

He knows firsthand just how relaxing they can be because he often uses his infrared sauna at home, especially during the cold winter months. 

“You feel good,” he says. 

But don’t expect one trip to the sauna to melt those pounds away or relieve all those aches and pains.

“It’s not a one-hit wonder; you have to commit to it just like anything else,” Zack says. 

It’s also important not to overdo it. Sauna use should vary based on the individual, but Priest and Brown agree that hydration is the key for anyone sweating it out in the sauna. 

They also caution that frequent users may also need to replace some electrolytes to make sure they stay healthy and fully hydrated. 

 “If you feel you’ve overdone it, you probably have,” Zack says. 

While it may not be a new trend, Zack says that sauna therapy has been flying under the radar for many years. Whether there is a specific health concern or not, it could be a beneficial addition to any wellness routine. 

“It’s a great way to aid in your health goals,” she says.

words: Jill Sederstrom

photos: Rachel Swetnam