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Well-being: should we abandon the traditional sauna for infrared?

In a small street a stone’s throw from Place de la République in Paris, a new type of shop opened its doors in early 2021. At first glance, it looks like a coffee shop with the refined and warm decoration of those that flourish in the neighborhood. We expect to find matcha latte, banana bread and other trendy delicacies on the menu (and it is the case) but Belleyme is mainly home to two infrared sauna cabins. “It’s a practice that is now part of the well-being routine of some athletes in the same way as a weight training, yoga or stretching session, tells us Carla Haddou, founder of the place. “The treatment affects muscles, heart, skin, stress and sleep and is the holistic treatment par excellence.”

A marketing discourse taken up in chorus by various Parisian addresses now equipped with such facilities: the Bulgari hotel spa, the Oh My Cream concept store and the “wellness” area of ​​Galeries Lafayette. A few weeks before Roland-Garros, we were talking with Stan Wawrinka about this new technology on the French market. The Swiss tennis player, a big fan of the traditional sauna, told us that he tested the infrared once after his major foot operation last year without following up on the experience despite a good feeling. “It interests me a lot but I haven’t yet taken the time to delve into the subject, to analyze the advantages that I could derive from it and to weigh the pros and cons”, said Stan ‘The Man’. Let us therefore try to provide an informed answer to this question.

After hours spent going through fairly confidential scientific studies on the subject, we contacted several football clubs in the Bundesliga, the German first division championship, equipped with infrared cabins as part of their first team recovery protocols. During our discussion, the medical staff of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim underlined various unexpected benefits of this technology: stimulation of the immune system, anti-inflammatory and anti-depressive effects. By penetrating deep into the skin (3-4 cm), the long infrared rays – waves that heat the body and not space – stimulate the body and push it to regulate itself.

“Studies clearly show that infrared radiation and associated bodily hyperthermia can have significant immunological benefits,” we are told. The heat would awaken the biological defenses and act as “a vaccine against the deleterious effects of modern life” according to Professor Leo Pruimboom, defender of the “intermittent living” method. Either the stimulation of short-term moderate stress (hot, cold, etc.) in order to prevent metabolic slowdown and premature muscle aging linked to our sedentary lifestyles. As for recovery after an injury, Stan Wawrinka will be disappointed: “According to a meta-study, there is no clear evidence of muscle regeneration”, specifies our interlocutor in Hoffenheim.

But how does infrared really differ from the traditional Scandinavian sauna and the benefits of simple heat therapy? Already by its temperature, around 40-50°C, less violent for the body and the heart than a classic cabin heated between 70 and 100°C. The treatment stands out as a gentler alternative for those who do not tolerate extreme heat well, people with heart or respiratory problems, but also athletes looking for a moment of pure relaxation after intense effort. “Doing it 20 minutes after a workout is a great way to soothe your body and relax,” says Lee Mullins, celebrity trainer and founder of Workshop Gymnasium, a network of ultra-luxury gyms. which insists on another benefit of the treatment: the improvement of the quality of sleep. “Infrared has a direct effect on well-being, emphasizes Carla Haddou de Belleyme. Upon entering the cabin, you instantly feel relaxed and get a little high from the endorphins.”

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