Longevity Expert Series: Dr. Rhonda Patrick and the Benefits of Sauna Use to Improve Healthspan
Dr. Patrick is not affiliated with ProHealth, and no endorsement of our products is implied. Our team respects the scientists, researchers, and doctors who are making breakthroughs in longevity science, and our goal is to bring more visibility to these pioneers.
If you’re interested in the fields of anti-aging and longevity—or if you love to listen to podcasts on these topics—there is no doubt that you’ve heard of Dr. Rhonda Patrick and her platform, FoundMyFitness. With groundbreaking original research and an impressive ability to break down complex scientific topics into digestible content, Dr. Patrick is understandably a leader in the health and longevity space. In this article, learn more about her background and some of her research—especially her work on the benefits of hormesis and sauna use.
Who Is Dr. Rhonda Patrick?
Dr. Rhonda Patrick is a prominent biochemist, scientist, and expert in aging, longevity, and nutrition. She has a Ph.D. in biomedical science from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, where she performed groundbreaking research on mitochondrial metabolism and apoptosis (programmed cell death). She’s also been involved in aging research at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences, where she studied the role of insulin signaling in protein misfolding.
Dr. Patrick has gained widespread recognition through her online presence, including her podcast and website—both FoundMyFitness—where she dives deep into topics like metabolism, hot and cold therapy, fitness, fasting, and more.
Rhonda Patrick's research interests primarily focus on aging, metabolism, nutrition, and the effects of environmental stressors on the body and how they impact longevity. She’s also studied the role of micronutrients in aging, the effects of heat stress on the human body, and the impact of genetic variations on individual responses to diet and exercise.
Her work also includes studying how dietary compounds like sulforaphane (found in broccoli sprouts) and vitamin D can promote health and longevity and how sauna use impacts cardiovascular and cognitive health—let’s take a deeper dive into her research on the latter.
Dr. Rhonda Patrick (Source: FoundMyFitness)
Sauna, Hormetic Stressors, and Longevity
Hormetic stressors are environmental or physiological conditions that “stress” the body moderately to promote resilience. These stressors include exercise, fasting, cold exposure, heat (like sauna use), and even certain toxins. When used or applied in moderate amounts, hormetic stressors activate beneficial cellular responses and defense mechanisms that enable you to handle similar stressors in the future—essentially, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. However, you wouldn’t want to do too much—for example, exercising for one hour per day is good for you, but running for 12 hours per day is not.
Sauna use (sometimes called sauna bathing or hyperthermal therapy)—and, similarly, short exposure to cold temperatures—trigger beneficial responses related to the body’s core temperature homeostasis. This includes improved cardiovascular function and increased production of heat shock proteins that protect cells from stress and increase resilience to other stressors.
As Dr. Rhonda Patrick puts it, “We evolved to intermittently challenge ourselves.” And exposing our bodies to both hotter and colder temperatures than we comfortably prefer is one such challenge.
Sauna Bathing and Health Outcomes
When the hormetic stressor in question is heat stress from sauna bathing, your body will increase its production of heat shock proteins that repair cellular damage and counteract inflammatory processes. Not only that, but heat shock proteins also fortify your cells against more severe stressors, increasing resilience and overall future health.
Dr. Rhonda Patrick published an oft-cited review paper in 2021 in the journal Experimental Gerontology titled “Sauna Use as a Lifestyle Practice to Extend Healthspan,” where she discusses the compelling research behind sauna-related hormesis and longevity.
Specifically, sauna use is linked to better cardiovascular health. Heat stress from the sauna reduces inflammation and increases vasodilation (blood vessel widening), which lowers blood pressure and helps with blood flow. It also promotes adaptations in the heart muscles, increasing its efficiency in pumping blood and allowing for better oxygen delivery to other tissues.
Research on over 2,300 middle-aged men from Finland has verified the link between sauna use and heart health. In this study, men who used the sauna two to three times per week had a 27% reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular-related events than men who didn’t sauna bathe. Men who used the sauna more (about four to seven times per week) experienced double the benefits—they were 50% less likely to experience cardiovascular-related mortality.
Sauna bathing may also benefit cognitive function, as it promotes neurogenesis—the generation of new neurons in the adult brain—and BDNF production (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). As BDNF is necessary for stimulating the growth and maintenance of neurons, higher BDNF activity is linked to better cognitive function and memory.
In the same research with Finnish men, those who used the sauna four to seven times weekly had a 65% reduced risk of developing neurodegenerative conditions—a highly impressive reduction for something as simple as a sauna. As cardiovascular and neurodegenerative conditions are two leading causes of mortality, sauna use has emerged as a possible means to increase both lifespan and healthspan, and Dr. Patrick is one of the pioneers in making this knowledge more widespread and accessible.
Dr. Patrick’s Impact on Longevity Research
Patrick has a rare talent for translating complex scientific concepts into accessible, easy-to-understand content. Through her podcasts, YouTube videos, and social media presence, she has educated millions on vital and timely research on the topics of hormesis, aging, metabolism, fitness, and more.
Not only does Dr. Patrick conduct her own research, but she has also interviewed dozens (if not hundreds) of other prominent health and longevity researchers in the field. Experts like Dr. Patrick have helped to bridge the previously hard-to-reach scientific community and the general public interested in health, increasing our society’s overall understanding of health and longevity.
Laukkanen T, Khan H, Zaccardi F, Laukkanen JA. Association between sauna bathing and fatal cardiovascular and all-cause mortality events. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(4):542-548. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8187
Patrick RP. Role of phosphatidylcholine-DHA in preventing APOE4-associated. FASEB J. 2019;33(2):1554-1564. doi:10.1096/fj.201801412R
Patrick RP, Ames BN. Vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids control serotonin synthesis and action, part 2. FASEB J. 2015;29(6):2207-2222. doi:10.1096/fj.14-268342
Patrick RP, Ames BN. Vitamin D hormone regulates serotonin synthesis. Part 1. FASEB J. 2014;28(6):2398-2413. doi:10.1096/fj.13-246546
Patrick RP, Johnson TL. Sauna use as a lifestyle practice to extend healthspan. Exp Gerontol. 2021;154:111509. doi:10.1016/j.exger.2021.111509