Flexibility is not only for gymnasts and yogis, it is also a major player in identifying overall wellness in everybody. In fact, by enhancing flexibility an individual is able to greatly elongate life expectancy, as well as quality of life in the later years, according to a study performed by the National Institute of Health. (1)
If you think that flexibility just isn’t for you, perhaps think again. With the aid of a sauna, flexibility training can be made enjoyable, or at least tolerable for even those with the tightest of hamstrings. If the thought of bending down to touch your toes seems out of reach, you may want to start by warming your muscles and connective tissues up in a sauna before trying.
There has been extensive research performed on the benefits of yoga and sauna bathing to human physiology, but not so much when the two disciplines are practiced together. Recent research into older demographics using saunas with the aid of a physical therapist demonstrates that low heat infrared saunas greatly improved overall flexibility in groups of individuals sixty and over.
Why Is Lifelong Flexibility Important For Overall Health and Longevity?
- Less Joint Pain
- Fewer Injuries
- Improved Posture
- Better Circulation
- Less Pressure On the Connective Tissues
- Less Frequent ‘Falls’ (2)
It is no secret that falls later in life can lead to all-cause mortality. Activities and fitness protocols that aid in the prevention of hard falls will help with longevity. By improving mobility, strength, and flexibility, it is possible that joint pain can be alleviated, but also can help prevent deadly falls in senior citizens.
Greater level of flexibility of the larger muscle groups, the fascia encasing the muscles, help to alleviate strain on the connective tissues that surround the joints. By engaging in regular mobility and flexibility exercises over time it is possible to alleviate the majority of stress placed directly on the joints.
For some, the thought of ‘stretching’, seems tedious, unimportant, or just deeply uncomfortable. The reality is that it is possible to not only make flexibility more enjoyable when performed in a sauna, but also potentially more effective.
What Does The Scientific Data Indicate In Regards To Flexibility and the Elderly and Sauna Bathing
The National Institute of Health (NIH) published a groundbreaking study involving senior citizens stretching in saunas to improve mobility, flexibility, and overall health.
The study compared one group who participated in ‘chair yoga’ without heat, while the other group did the same exercises in a low heat infrared sauna. Each session began with relaxation and breathing exercises for both groups and each stretch for posture was held for about 4-5 breathes.
The experiment took place over the course of eight weeks with 3-4 sessions per week in each group of participants. The findings found a resounding improvement in flexibility in the group that participated in sauna yoga over those just doing chair yoga, even after several weeks after the participants stopped doing the sauna exercises. Engaging in specific seated flexibility exercises seems to dramatically improve for older adults in warmer temperature spaces such as a sauna. (1) The study concludes with the scientists writing this:
“Based on the findings of our study, performing yoga poses in a seated position in a warm environment can superiorly improve flexibility in healthy community-dwelling older adults”. (1)
The more resounding portion of the study was the overall quality of life experienced by the participants who engage in regular sauna bathing. The improved circulation throughout the body that happens in heated environments, allows for a greater ease of experience while working on flexibility, and therefore results in longer lasting results.
For those participants who continued to sauna while they stretched, positive results were found in all areas of life:
“Results of a six-month yoga intervention study in the elderly indicated beneficial effects on physical health, psychological health, social relationships, and environmental domains” (1)
This study was conducted under the supervision of physical therapists, with the consent and background knowledge of individual medical conditions. Further, the stretching that was performed in the sauna was all seated, as was the ‘chair’ yoga outside of the sauna. Before beginning any exercise routine it is best to consult with a medical professional.
Also, this study kept the temperature of the infrared sauna very low, and therefore profuse sweating did not occur so as to create a moist and slippery environment.
All stretching should be done slowly, and mindfully, never pushing to the point of pain.
Furthermore, if older adults choose to engage in a stretching protocol in the sauna they should do so with another individual close at hand in the event that they need help.
Improved Flexibility and Sauna Bathing For A Lifetime
While the focus of this study published by NIH was on the elderly, the reality is that time spent in a sauna can also be used for meditation and flexibility, particularly in seated postures that focus on hamstring flexibility, increased mobility through the groin, shoulders, and spinal twists.
Your time spent in your sauna can become an oasis of health particularly when the color lights are used in conjunction with relaxing music and physical movements. this improve flexibility in the larger muscle groups as well as the fascia.
The improved circulation that occurs during a sauna session allows for safer flexibility exercises to be performed with more efficacy than in cooler environments.
People of all ages would benefit from gentle flexibility exercises performed in the heated environment of a sauna.
If you are uncertain about any movements, always consult with a trained professional before beginning a new exercise program.