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6 Benefits of Using a Sauna – Why Should You Use the Sauna?

by Max
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Benefits of Using a Sauna - Why Should You Use the Sauna

Anyone who has had the pleasure of taking a sauna already knows they are revitalizing, relaxing and just great to treat yourself. But in addition to simply feeling wonderful, saunas can actually have several major health benefits worth knowing. Whether you are trying to convince a tentative friend or simply want to expand your sauna knowledge, there is an extensive body of research surrounding sauna benefits; some findings may even surprise regular sauna goers.

So, before the next time you go in for a relaxing sauna session, it’s worth knowing all of the good you are doing for your body and mind!

There are Several Distinct Styles of Sauna with Different Benefits

Depending on where someone is in the world, going to the sauna can mean two very different things. While saunas from the great North or the Far East will both heat you up, it’s essential to understand that heat comes from different places. These sauna types differ in the benefits you get from using them. So before talking about the reasons why sauna use is good for you, let’s build a bit of understanding on sauna types and their impact on health benefits.

The Scandinavian-Style Sauna

Of the two main sauna types, the first worth knowing is the Scandinavian-style sauna, also called a wood-burning sauna. Saunas like these are cultural touchstones for nations like Finland but now can be found just about anywhere in the world. Traditionally built out of wood with a central wood stove coated in rocks, this is likely what most people imagine when they think of the word “sauna”. While modern home saunas are usually heated by electricity, they create the same environment style as classic wood-burning saunas. Scandinavian saunas are extremely dry inside. Usually ranging from 80 – 90 degrees Celsius, these saunas have almost no humidity at all. Classic Finnish or Icelandic saunas, however, will usually have a set of rocks on top of the wood stove and a bucket of water to spread over the stones. The resulting steam adds a bit of humidity to the room.

Steam Rooms

The other main style of sauna is the Thai or Asian style, also called a steam room. Unlike the Scandinavian style of sauna, steam rooms are incredibly humid. Interestingly, steam rooms are often slightly cooler than wood-burning saunas clocking in at an average of 50-70 degrees Celsius. Humidity in a steam room usually ranges from 95% to 100%. This means that in addition to sweat, the body will usually pick up water from the air as well. Modern steam rooms are heated by electric boilers that work similarly to a humidifier, albeit for a much larger space and higher target humidity.

Infrared Sauna

There is actually another type of sauna quickly gaining a foothold in European and North American spas, this being infrared saunas. Using infrared radiation, these saunas give off the feeling of warmth just like a wood-burning sauna while keeping the room itself cool. Infrared saunas are usually built for one user because that is the most efficient way to concentrate the sauna’s radiation. Infrared saunas are particularly known for their deeply penetrating heat waves. These can promote relaxation and healing even in deep tissues.

Is One Style of Sauna Better than Another?

The big question is, are certain types of saunas more healthy than others? The quick answer is no. The long answer is that both environments (humid and dry) are shown to benefit users’ overall health. Still, those benefits due to steam and humidity may be easier to find in steam rooms, while those connected to pure heat may have more to do with wood-burning saunas. No matter what type of sauna you use or is available in your local area, know that you are still exposing yourself to a healthy environment no matter what.

6 Health Benefits of Sauna Use You Should Know About

Saunas come with a range of benefits for your body and mind. In particular, there are six areas that we can distinguish:

  • Respiratory and Circulation Benefits
  • Immune System Benefits
  • Brain Health Benefits
  • Skin Health Benefits
  • Mood and Attitude Benefits
  • Pain and Soreness Reduction from Sauna Use

In the following, we go into each of these in detail. Afterwards, we also shed light on some myths related to sauna use that are just not true.

6 Benefits of Sauna Use You Should Know About
6 Benefits of Sauna Use You Should Know About

Respiratory and Circulation Benefits from Sauna Use

There is a lot of good research showing that spending time in the sauna may decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease and promote overall circulatory health. First, think about saunas in general: the warmth in both dry and wet saunas encourages deeper and more full breathing. While this can make the sauna user feel calmer, that calmness is absolutely more than a feeling, as proven in a recent breakout study. This study (Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study), found that participants who used a sauna 2-3 times per week had a 27% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality compared to those who only used the sauna once per week.

Saunas and Reducing Circulation-related Illnesses

Further, saunas are also connected to relief for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). When a person’s body gets used to the temperature and overall environment of a sauna, the body reacts in turn. Our breath slows down, but our circulation and heart rate tend to increase. This is partially why people sweat so much in the sauna and in hot weather in general. Getting our blood moving is just about always helpful; this is one of the main objectives of exercising. Simply taking a sauna, obviously, is no meaningful replacement for a healthy diet and regular exercise. Instead, these health benefits happen in tandem with a healthy lifestyle.

Immune System Benefits from Sauna Use

There are multiple existing studies that show regular exposure to saunas can improve overall immune system health. Specifically, a Japanese study of 44 people with fibromyalgia (a chronic disorder that causes pain and fatigue throughout the body) or another similar rheumatological disorder found that the majority of patients regularly using the sauna reported feeling less fatigued after the research and showed improved scores on tests used to score chronic pain.

The scientific community believes that spending time in the sauna helps the body make a type of protein called “heat shock proteins”. This type of cell is responsible for cell signaling and cell-cycle regulation. This type of protein has several other health benefits, but the most important caveat is that these immune system benefits often come about only after regular use over an extended amount of time. Most of the studies about sauna use gauge patient response over 12 or more weeks. In the same way that a diet change will show changes in the body over time, it makes sense to expect the same pace of result from saunas.

Saunas Can Help Your Thermoregulatory Health

The heat of either a wood-burning or steam room sauna is more than enough to engage the body’s thermoregulatory pathways, the hypothalamus and the central nervous system. OK, that’s a lot: what does all of that mean exactly? When the body gets hotter than normal body temperature, it does everything it can to keep itself at that normal temperature. Your blood moves to where it can best cool the body, and your lungs try to take in more air. All of this happens as the body attempts to regain equilibrium and homeostasis. Through evolution, the human body naturally feels relief when returning to homeostasis; this is the basis of homeotherapy. So as the body releases sweat and increases your heart rate, it is also telling the body it is returning to homeostasis. Essentially, your body says “good job” on getting back to homeostasis and makes us feel good. Our physiological response to the sauna can then be leveraged as a tool for engaging the nervous system and improving our ability to remain in that beloved homeostasis.

Brain Health Benefits from Sauna Use

There is an exciting and growing amount of research showing that regular sauna use may contribute to brain health and reduce symptoms of diseases like dementia. The premiere piece of research showing this is a Finnish study from the Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition, University of Eastern Finland and with support from the School of Clinical Sciences, University of Bristol. The subjects, all middle-aged men in Finland, found that there is a “strong inverse association” between regular use of a sauna and diseases like Alzheimer and dementia. In order to find these results, the researchers studied the subjects in question for several years, implying that the positive cognitive effects of saunas may take years to manifest.

The researchers confirm a “strong inverse association”, which shows that there is a clear link between saunas and brain health. Their findings prove that over an extended period of time, it is not unreasonable to expect these health benefits. Keep a close eye on research about saunas and the brain during the next few years, as there are currently similar studies being carried out in Iceland and another in Canada.

Consider as well that the Finnish and overall Scandinavian style of sauna is essentially a hangout space. Saunas are usually located in municipal centers and shared among sauna goers. One of the most well-known methods for reducing symptoms of Alzheimer and dementia is social interactions and regular conversation. It is then entirely possible that saunas play multiple parts in brain health, both through the heat and by forming bonds with those who also share a passion for the sauna.

Skin Health Benefits from Sauna Use

One of the most visible and quickly evident benefits of saunas is on the skin. When our body sweats, dead skin and other toxins on the outer layer of our skin are naturally cleared. The oils that build up on our skin are not necessarily toxic, but regularly clearing those oils can help keep our skin healthy. Further, when we sweat regularly, it is difficult for our bodies to build up dry skin or oils that contribute to acne. Naturally, then, those who sweat all the time in the sauna may not need to depend on cleansers or lotion to keep their dry skin under control.

Boosting Your Cellular Health with Saunas

While it’s nice enough to have glowing skin, saunas have the potential to benefit our skin on a cellular level. As the body releases sweat, our pores are flushed out. This means that the more you sweat in the sauna, the more often your body will engage those pores. Actively engaged pores don’t simply lead to more attractively looking skin; it also improves the skin’s ability to act as a health barrier. Like every other benefit of saunas, these effects will only have a perceivable effect on your life after regular use.

Saunas Cause the Body to Release Sebum

The pores we flush out in the sauna are actually the same pores responsible for acne and skin rashes. When we sweat, we don’t just release water and sweat, we also let off a natural compound called sebum. Sebum is a waxy substance that acts as a moisturizer for the skin and adds a youthful elasticity to the skin. Regular release of sebum is a great way to keep the skin healthy and fresh, and a great way to release sebum is by taking regular saunas.

Mood and Attitude Benefits from Sauna Use

We all know that saunas are relaxing. Stepping into a good sauna is like going in slow motion as your whole body steps into a warm embrace. There, however, is more at play in our senses when we go into the sauna. Science shows that regular sauna use can actually benefit your overall mood and attitude.

Saunas and Meditation: A Natural Match!

Even those who don’t subscribe to a school of meditation may find that regular breaks in the sauna with eyes closed and mind open can benefit your overall awakeness and attitude. Meditation has several well-documented benefits for general health and wellness, so freely include those into the benefits of saunas if you are a solo sauna goer or can hold impressive concentration in a municipal hot room!

Saunas can Reduce Risk of Psychotic Disorders

There is data showing that regular sauna use can even reduce the risk of psychotic disorders like psychosis. Specifically, the study of 2,138 Scandinavian men was grouped into three rates of sauna usage: once, 2-3 times, and 4-7 times per week. The study found that the men who took more saunas per week were less predisposed to develop psychotic disorders in the future. This particular study took place over almost 25 years and, of course, only studied men in Finland. There is no wholly certain way to prevent psychological problems, but this study suggests that the mental benefits of the sauna are more than just idealistic.

There are near-infinite factors that contribute to someone’s mood, but the most obvious way to boost someone’s mood is by doing something they enjoy. Obviously, I know, but if you know that you genuinely enjoy taking a sauna, the benefits are evident. Doing the things we love increases our overall contentment, which over time, can contribute to our attitude. So if you know that taking a sauna gives you joy, sink yourself into that feeling and own your enjoyment.

Pain and Soreness Reduction from Sauna Use

Anyone who has had the pleasure of a post-workout sauna already knows about this: saunas can be a special kind of bliss in reducing overall soreness and muscle pain. The warmth of the sauna, and in the case of steam rooms, the intense humidity, causes our muscles to naturally relax, which can release tension. The muscles react to heat in a positive way; when we exercise, we are essentially heating up the body. Heat also makes our muscles more elastic, so it may be worth trying out a sauna as a pre-workout (at least a few hours before working out) as well as a recovery.

When using saunas with exercise, however, it is essential to make sure you drink enough water. One of the significant health problems related to saunas is dehydration. Your risk of dehydration is, of course, even more serious if you have exercised recently. Saunas naturally induce sweat, so if you are jumping into the sauna immediately after going for a really sweaty run, be certain that your body is ready to continue sweating. Even if you haven’t exercised before or after getting into the sauna, it is a great idea to take a big drink of water immediately after the sauna, and also if you are thirsty already before.

Saunas Can Help Reduce Headache

A controlled study also showed that saunas could reduce pain and symptom length for tension-type headaches. This particular study refers specifically to chronic headaches that happen more than 15 days in a month. A majority of the randomized controlled study group found that regular sauna use is effective for reducing headache pain. Since saunas are known to increase blood flow, it also increases blood flow to the brain. The study doesn’t isolate a specific physiological cause for headache reduction, likely because the study did not set out to discover those effects, but the writers of the study are very confident about their findings, essentially lending with almost certainty that saunas can help reduce headache.

Those with Chronic Pain May Find Relief in the Sauna

Those with chronic pain may also find relief in saunas. According to a very recent study viewing those with chronic lower back pain, saunas can contribute to pain reduction even in rather extreme cases of pain. This study, of course, was primarily focused on subjects with very similar types of chronic back pain, but it is natural to extrapolate the effects onto chronic pain in general. Chronic muscle pain, of course, builds up over the years and can be due to any number of causes. Unlike headache pain reduction, experts believe that chronic pain reduction likely happens on a case-by-case basis and also over a longer amount of time.

Sauna Health Benefit Myths

While saunas are capable of several major health benefits, there are actually several long-held myths about saunas and health that are largely untrue. Let’s explore the biggest ones here:

Can Saunas Help Process Alcohol?

One long-held misconception about saunas and the skin is that by sweating in a sauna, a person can speed up the effects of alcohol, effectively a detox. This is not entirely true. The sweat your body gives off in a sauna is water already sorted to the edge of your skin. The alcohol, caffeine, or whatever you’ve ingested is solely in the stomach, which has no bodily connection with the water being released from our pores. In the same way that water weight lost in the sauna doesn’t meaningfully reflect actual weight loss, your sauna sweat after a night of drinking won’t speed up your liver.

Can Saunas Help You Lose Weight?

When a person sweats, their blood pushes closer to the surface of the skin and releases water as a result. Naturally, when your body releases water, you are also releasing weight. But this weight loss isn’t the same kind of weight loss that comes after regularly playing sports or changing your diet. There is a long-standing myth that regular sauna use can lead to weight loss, but this is not exactly true in the way that people would like. Certainly, if you sweat out water and it leaves your body, your body weighs less. But then, as soon as you rehydrate, that weight will come back into your body. Saunas, then, don’t cause the weight loss that people actually want. Simply increasing your circulation in a sauna is not sufficient to convince your body to shed excess fat.

Sauna Health Benefits Conclusions

Habitual sauna use is both a great addition to your daily routine and a proven way to boost your overall health. Sauna use is one of those rare things in life with practically no downsides: it feels great, and it is great for your body from outside to in. So the next time you take a relaxation break in the sauna, know that you are doing your body and mind a favor. Further, many of the major benefits of saunas are boosted the more frequently you use the sauna. So schedule your next visit to your local sauna, or for those lucky enough to have home saunas, take a step in! Your body will thank you through better skin, attitude, brain health, thermoregulatory health, and much more.

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