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Why Red-Light Therapy?

With Danny King, Master Trainer

man in red light therapy and Danny headshot

Season 8, Episode 10 | May 21, 2024


Red-light therapy uses different wavelengths of light to create some sort of impact — and when it comes to health, those benefits can include faster healing, reduced inflammation, muscle recovery, and more. Danny King, Master Trainer, explains how red-light therapy works and discusses the advantages of this type of treatment that is fast-growing in popularity.


Danny King is a Master Trainer and the manager of performance and recovery at Life Time.

In this episode, King offers some key insights around red-light therapy, including the following:

  • When the light hits your skin, it is then absorbed into your mitochondria, the powerhouse of your cells. When mitochondria are excited in this way, it can help speed up the healing process.
  • Red-light therapy can be used in a variety of ways, including to help wound healing, reduce inflammation, aid muscle recovery, and alleviate aches and pains. It’s also used in many skin and facial treatments with the intent of minimizing fine lines, wrinkles, and sunspots.
  • There’s a growing body of research showing the positive effects of red-light therapy; at the same time, it’s becoming more affordable and accessible. Both factors are contributing to its rise in popularity, according to King.
  • The quality of the light matters. Consider two factors: How powerful is the light? And how close are you getting to the light? The farther away you are from the light, the more the wavelength decreases, and the more the power of the therapy decreases.
  • Frequency does seem to matter. Most of the studies include people who do red-light treatments between three and five times a week for 10, 20, or 30 minutes.

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Transcript: Why Red-Light Therapy?

Season 8, Episode 10  | May 21, 2024

[MUSIC]

Welcome to Life Time Talks, the podcast that’s aimed at helping you achieve your health, fitness, and life goals. I’m Jamie Martin, editor-in-chief of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole life health and fitness magazine. And I’m David Freeman, director of Alpha, one of Life Time’s signature group training programs.

We’re all in different places along our health and fitness journey, but no matter what we’re working toward, there are some essential things we can do to keep moving in the direction of a healthy purpose-driven life.

In each episode, we break down various elements of healthy living, including fitness and nutrition, mindset and community, and health issues. We’ll also share real, inspiring stories of transformation.

And we’ll be talking to experts from Life Time and beyond who share their insights and knowledge so you’ll have the tools and information you need to take charge of your next steps. Here we go.

[MUSIC]

Welcome back to Life Time Talks everybody. In this mini episode, we are talking about why red-light therapy, and we have our go-to trainer, Danny King back with us. Danny is a master trainer and the manager of performance and recovery at Life Time.

Hey Danny, how are you?

Hey, I’m great. Thanks for having me.

Alright, Danny. So in this mini episode, we’re going to be talking about red-light therapy. So what exactly is red-light therapy and how does it work?

Yeah, great question. So red-light therapy — let’s start here, it actually has a couple names. You’ll hear it called red-light therapy, RLT. If you want to be really fancy, photobiomodulation. You can drop that one the next time you’re out. Or historically often low-level laser therapy, especially in the old days. But we’re looking at this idea of red-light therapy. And the basic idea is we’re using different wavelengths of light to create different impacts, right?

So there’s all these different wavelengths of light. When we get to red, and often with red, we lump these, what are also called near infrared, right? So it’s just kind of on this spectrum of light. These are traditionally lumped together. So those things, right? That red-light therapy, we’re using light to create some impact. What it’s doing, I’ll get kind of fancy here and then we’ll come back out is when this light hits you, right, as it hits you, it’s getting absorbed through your skin. And I’m sure we’ll talk a lot about this, but the power of the light changes how deep it absorbs. And that absorption, basically it sinks in, gets to your mitochondria. If you go back to middle school science, mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, create that energy. So we excite those mitochondria, we get going and it just sort of speeds up the healing process, right. So you’ll see red-light therapy being used at all the way from, you see in a lot of areas for beauty, right? Skin, face treatments, as well as things like even wound healing. That’s really where it started. And then into things, you know, reducing inflammation, muscle recovery, general kind of aches and pains. That’s where we’ve seen it start to transition, especially over time.

Well, and to the point you made, like we’re hearing more about this now, there’s been names for this over the years. Why do you think it’s become more trendy recently? You know, why are, I mean, you’re seeing these things on TikTok and other social media channels. Why red-light therapy now?

Yeah, I think there’s a couple of reasons. A really big logistical reason is, so historically, if we, if we think of this in context of things like wound healing and medical treatment, and that’s when it started with real medical lasers. And you’re just talking about something that’s incredibly expensive and was really incredibly specific to the area. So, you know, you’re, you’re healing a surgical scar on someone’s arm. It’s this very small laser and that’s not approachable for most people, right? It’s going to a hundred-thousand-dollar laser. As LED technology got better, they realized that they can replicate these wavelengths using simple LEDs, not these incredibly expensive lasers. So cost decreased pretty significantly, right? Which partially allowed it to get out into the consumer marketplace. And we’ll talk about quality and stuff, I’m sure in a little bit as, as we get into it, cause that there are some kind of consumer aware things there, but so it’s one side of it, right? We actually could practically get to it. The other side is just people are consistently looking for, you know, great new treatments, right? And I think of a really specific area here that I like to call out is just people, you know, you’re over time are feeling worse. There’s a lot of things in life that are creating inflammation, creating stiffness, creating pain, and they’re seeking out ways to feel better often to help them exercise more or to improve performance. And there’s just a growing body of research that this is something that works. So I think we’re seeing, you know, both those sides, right? It’s getting practical, it’s getting approachable, and it has great research that it really does something.

You already says proven model that started off with healing wounds and obviously has evolved to now helping out in other areas. The people who are listening might have the question that you say, OK, is it effective? And if so, you could probably use yourself or whoever you think from a case study standpoint that you work with personally in this space. And then the other one is it safe? When you say, man, it’s starting to get into the mitochondria, like when people hear that, they’re probably like, wait, is that going to disrupt something within my system too? So two part question there, the effectiveness of it and it’s maybe a case study if you want to share and then is it safe?

Yeah, absolutely. The safe one is actually one of the cool parts is obviously let’s put the disclaimer, talk to your doctor, especially if you have any, you know, any, anything going on, you know, medical conditions, etc. But there’s been no adverse effects to red light. You know, people who ,we’ve overloaded people with it, had been in front of it for way too long. And when we stay in these wavelengths, there’s no, you know, like UV burn or anything like that happening. And it becomes ineffective at some point with too much, but it doesn’t seem to hurt. So it’s again, one of the great sides of it is, hey, it doesn’t really seem to do anything negative. So no real safety concerns for anyone that they need to look out for.

On the other side of again, is, is it effective? Absolutely. Now, what we have to be careful of is so there’s specific red light thinking about let’s use something like, you see a lot of face masks now, right? Something like a face mask or a small thing that’s getting just a small area. And then there are these really large panels to do something like full body red-light therapy, right. So, some of it is what am I trying to do with it? So, if I just have a very small amount of it to a very small part of skin, well, it’s going to be effective, but we’re probably not going to see the full body recovery, you know, from hitting it with just such a small area. But it is going to work great if we’re looking to, you know, reduce some fine lines and wrinkles, you know, reduce sunspots, those types of things. So what style am I doing, right. Am I trying to hit the full body? Am I trying to be super specific? And then the thing that’s going to matter a lot is the quality of the light. So that comes into two areas. How powerful is it? How many wavelengths is it? Is it, or what wavelengths is it hitting and how powerful is it? And then how close am I getting to it? So one thing that we’re starting to see a lot, especially in certain, you see it a lot in saunas or these areas like, we have red light in here. You’re like, yeah, but eight feet away from the red light, most of the time we’re looking at, at that point, you need to have the world’s most powerful light for it to do anything, right? The further you get away from the light, the more that the wavelengths decrease, the more the power decreases. So how close can I get to it? How powerful is it? What I’m going to do? So if we go back and we say, hey, we’re using a quality light, we’re able to stay pretty close to it. There’s some of the, you know, full body. There’s an incredibly great body of research.

I actually don’t get to do that quite as much as I want, which is embarrassing because I have it fairly close in terms of some of our locations that have it. But I’ve noticed when I consistently do it, one of the easiest things I’ve tracked things like my heart rate variability, I use Whoop pretty closely and my sleep, and I notice a few point uptick in doing it, especially as I do it more consistent, right? Probably honestly, the biggest downside to red light is it does seem to respond best to higher frequencies.

Most of the studies you see are three, four, five times a week that people are doing it. Not necessarily very long, 10 to 20, maybe 30 minutes tops, but frequency does seem to matter here, right? So it is something that we want to do relatively consistently to see a benefit.

Danny, how do you know where to focus the red-light therapy? Like if, I mean, is it, OK, I’m going to a spa and I want to just focus on sunspots, but is there, is there a reason I should choose doing full body versus face or is it really just individualized?

It’s really individualized based on what you’re looking for. So if I’m looking for the skin health benefit, I want to focus it on those areas. If I’m looking for something like muscle recovery, you know, I want to, I, so let’s go even further, right? Somebody, there’s some great research out there on things like, you know, tennis elbow or, you know, joint pain, that type of thing. So I’m going to try to hit it really specifically to that joint, right? Like we’re going to hone in, but if I’m going for something like really global, muscle recovery, then I want to think about trying to seek out something that’s going to give me a much more full-body impact. And that’s especially to just sometimes going to cut down the amount of time, right? If I’ve got a really localized thing, I could move it around or I could just kind of hit the whole body.

So Danny, the question I have seen this before, I’ve actually been in some, is this different from like an infrared sauna? Like this, the light that’s in the infrared sauna, like is there a little bit of a difference there? We’re talking about red light in an infrared sauna.

Yeah. Great question. So they’re super related, but slightly different. So when we talk about our light spectrum, we can go blue all the way over here. We talk through red, and then we get into near infrared and then infrared. So we’re kind of coming down. So red light starts at, it’s around 600 nanometers. That’s what they measured in. That’s the wavelength of it. Near infrared kicks in at about 800, goes all the way up to like 1,100 nanometers, and then full infrared is past that. And when you start to transition from near infrared to far infrared, which is what an infrared sauna is going to be, it starts to generate heat. So red light itself isn’t hot. It’s vaguely warm, but not much. So it’s on the same wavelength. They’re friends. They’re siblings, right? They’re close together, but it’s not the same thing. That’s producing heat. That’s producing that benefit. But it’s not likely penetrating the skin and creating that increased mitochondria and increased capacity.

As long as I’m talking through here is those ideas of going from 600 to most, again, most of the research for red light, 600 to 800 nanometers. And the lower stuff is great for surface level skin. So if you are seeking out kind of more beauty treatment, skin treatment, 600, 650, 700 nanometers. If you’re looking for muscle, joint, recovery, pain relief, you want something that goes all the way into that near infrared area, so 800, 900, 1100 nanometers, cause that’s going to penetrate deeper into the muscles.

So obviously there’s at home options for this, but if I’m going to, I’m going to seek out red-light therapy, where can I do that? And what would the experience be like?

Yeah, absolutely. So there are at home options. One thing that I will throw out there though, again, is when we look at power, right? So how much power are actually producing and to get to full body. Quite a bit of what you’re seeing in home use isn’t pushing hard enough, especially if you’re looking for performance and recovery benefit. So that’s where we’re looking for something that’s more like a full body panel or a full body bed. And those are the two most common. You’ll see series of panels kind of linked together that you’re going to stand in front of to get to your whole body or a bed style. We’re just going to lay in it. It’s going to come around. You almost think like an old school tanning bed. And in that same respect, you want to be as . . . so if I’m seeking this out somewhere in a recovery center, for instance, at our Target Center location, just launch what we call our MIORA center that has a full body red light bed in it. You’re going to go in, they’re going to bring you back there in a private room and you’re going to strip down to your level of comfort. The more exposed skin, the better, the more we’re going to be able to absorb that light. A treatment’s going to be somewhere from 10 to 20 minutes. Again, there is, we can only absorb so much at any given time. So 10 to 20 minutes, again, you’re sitting in this bed. It’s vaguely warm as we’re getting into those near infrared things, but that’s about it, right? You’re going to listen to a podcast, listen to some headphones, do that 10 to 20 minutes, and then you’re going to hop out. And the hardest part of red light is that first time, you’re really not going to notice that much, right? It’s not quite as extreme as something like sweating in a sauna or sitting in a cryotherapy chamber, right? But that repeated use over time, you’re going to see little things. My joint pain goes away, I don’t have those aches and pains. Things like my sleep scores, my recovery scores we’re tracking them are going to increase over time. So it’s subtle. But if you stick with it, you’ll see a lot of benefit.

And I think you said that earlier, as far as the frequency within this is where people start to yield a lot of the benefits. I think that’s just about with anything in life, the more touch points we get, the more reps we get. Obviously that’s what creates the change. So that makes sense there. With individuals listening, is there anybody that this is probably not ideal for? Does this benefit everyone?

You know, globally, it’s going to benefit everyone. Again, obviously, I’ll just throw out there because I think it’s always important if you’re in any sort of special population, right? There’s lack of research on someone who’s pregnant. So usually you’ll say if we’re in scenarios like that, maybe avoid it just because it’s a, you know, we don’t know. But if I take a normal population, it’s great. I come at a lot of things. I often find myself not always identifying well with some of the people in the biohacker movement because they’re looking for replacements sometimes for exercise. And you know, this doesn’t do it, right? But I think there’s two great things. If you’re exercising a lot, if you’re high performance, anything you can do to speed up the recovery process, to manage all the aches and pains that come with it, this is just that, you know, kind of icing on the cake. And if you’re fairly new to exercise, I’ve seen some good success too with people doing this because one of the things that people issue, they run into is they don’t have the energy, right? Their body feels tired and it’s hard to get going and they’re stiff. So if we do this, and actually, here’s the cool thing. There’s some studies before exercise, some studies after exercise, and it doesn’t seem to matter. It tends to kind of work either way. So, but doing this 10 minutes before your workout maybe helps generate a little bit of movement. You feel better, your joints don’t hurt, it’s easier to walk or run or do your exercise. So, it can hit a lot of groups with this.

Danny, what did we miss? Did we not hit on anything that you want to make sure we cover before we sign off on this mini episode?

I’m just going to over emphasize — it’s a frequency thing. You’re going to do it once. You’re going to be like, that didn’t change my life. That’s not how this works. We’re looking at small benefit over time. You know, again, buyer beware that, that, you know, online advertisement that’s hitting you for that thing that they’re going to ship you. And it’s, you know, 39 .99, probably not quite what we’re looking for here, right. So seek out the quality stuff, give it some time, give it some effort and continue to pay attention. They just did, I’ll just throw this out, they just had a really interesting study on insulin sensitivity and people take two diabetes. And saw a huge impact on their ability to manage blood sugar with red light. So it definitely works. There’s a lot of potential benefit. And I think we’re going to continue to see that. And I think we’re going to continue to see it get more accessible to people. I know we’ve got an interesting roadmap of how we’re going to try to continue to put this in more and more Life Times and get access to our members. So I think we’re just going to see more over time. So pay attention, see what’s going on here. And if possible, try it out.

Danny, let them know where they can find you as far as outside of Instagram, LinkedIn, just go ahead and drop that in for us real quick.

Yeah, well if you happen to be in the in the Chanhassen area, come find me on the Chanhassen fitness floor or at the Life Time there. I am on LinkedIn and I am on Instagram @dtrianing. Every year I make a commitment to posting a little bit more. I’m not great at it, but that is probably the best places to find me.

And we’ll make sure to link to your podcast episodes that you’ve been on before too, Danny, that people can find you. But hey, I just want to say I’m with you. I always make that social media commitment and then I’m not as good. We got to learn something from our friend David here.

We do. Maybe we’ll sign up for some coaching with David. Need that accountability, right?

Exactly. I got you. I got y ‘all covered.

Alright. Thanks, Danny.

Yeah. Thank you.

[MUSIC]

Thanks for joining us for this episode. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation today and how you approach this aspect of healthy living in your own life. What works for you? Where do you run into challenges? Where do you need help? And if you have topics for future episodes, you can share those with us too. Email us lttalks@lt.life or reach out to us on Instagram @lifetime.life, @jamiemartinel, or @freezy30 and use the hashtag #LifeTimeTalks.

You can also learn more about the podcast at experiencelife.lifetime.life/podcast.

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Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next time on Life Time Talks.

Life Time Talks is a production of Life Time Healthy Way of Life. It is produced by Molly Kopischke and Sara Ellingsworth with audio engineering by Peter Perkins, video production and editing by Kevin Dixon, sound and video consulting by Coy Larson, and support from George Norman and the rest of the team at Life Time Motion. A big thank you to everyone who helps create each episode and provides feedback.

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We’d Love to Hear From You

Have thoughts you’d like to share or topic ideas for future episodes? Email us at lttalks@lt.life.

The information in this podcast is intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge of healthcare topics. This information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of advice from your physician or healthcare provider. We recommend you consult your physician or healthcare professional before beginning or altering your personal exercise, diet or supplementation program.

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