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Saunas and Respiratory Health: How it Can Improve Your Lungs

by Max
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Saunas and Respiratory Health - How it Can Improve Your Lungs

It’s a wonderful surprise to the average sauna user that, yes indeed, spending time in the sauna is incredibly good for your lung health and overall respiratory resilience. There are several great reasons already to spend time in the sauna, so take pride in knowing that there is one more meaningful reason to add to that list: making your lungs stronger and more prepared to hold off disease in the future. With little to no preparation, you could be doing your lungs some great service. Let’s get into the main ways that saunas can boost your respiratory health and lung capacity.

How Saunas Can Improve Your Respiratory Health

There are luckily several distinct ways that habitual sauna use can make your lungs stronger and more prepared for the needs of your daily life.

Saunas Can Help Improve Your Lung Capacity

It’s true. Simply by spending time in the sauna, you are likely improving your overall lung capacity without even realizing it. The reason for this has to do with how the body responds to the heat of the sauna. As soon as you enter the sauna, your body recognizes the high heat and starts to carry out a protocol held deep inside you for each and every time you run the risk of getting too hot. First, the nervous system comprehends that your outer skin level is interacting with heat that is above the temperature you usually spend time around. The average traditional wood-burning sauna can be as hot as 95 degrees Celsius, so that’s more than enough to make your body react!

While there are several key bodily reactions that kick off right when your body starts to recognize the heat, today we’re mainly concerned with what happens to your lungs and your respiratory system. A good amount of the work that happens when we breathe is actually involuntary. This means that our body does most of the work in our respiratory system without us having to think about it. Think about how tiresome life would be if every breath was as deliberate as pulling an accordion. In the same way that you blink, whether you plan to or not, you’re breathing by the same rule. But, when your body starts getting hot in the sauna, your normal rate of involuntary breathing changes a bit.

As soon as your body recognizes that the air temperature is higher than normal, your involuntary breaths start to get slower and deeper. This is primarily to stop too much hot air from getting into your bodily systems before you’re fully prepared to take it on. If you started breathing too fast in the sauna, there is a good chance you would outpace your body’s ability to maintain its internal temperature. So, your body takes it upon itself to slow down your rate of breathing. But at the same time, your body also instructs you to start taking deeper breaths! By taking these deeper breaths over a longer period of time, like the time that passes during your average sauna session, you are actually improving the overall capacity of your lungs and making it easier to take in deeper breaths in the future.

So yes, saunas can strongly improve your respiratory health and increase your lung capacity. But with all of this in mind, the only way to bring about a real and noticeable change in your lung capacity is by making your saunaing a good habit. Think about any other kind of change you’d want to make in your resilience: if you wanted to run further or lift more weight, you wouldn’t work out once and expect to be at the top of your game at a minute’s notice. The more often you get your lungs working in the sauna, the more equipped they will be to handle deeper breaths in the future.

Saunas Can Help Those with Respiratory Tract Infections

More than simply making your lungs stronger, it appears that spending time in the sauna can also help you hold off diseases that you are already dealing with. Specifically, saunas have been found to make a meaningful difference for those suffering from bacterial infections of the respiratory system such as respiratory tract infections. The logic is actually quite simple: while our previous scientific explanation was very involved, this time it’s much more straightforward. The heat helps the body fight off diseases! Yup, that’s it.

Whenever you get a fever, for example, this is your body naturally increases your internal temperature with the purpose of kicking out whatever bacteria or other germs are currently causing trouble in your body’s systems. That’s why saunas are so centrally helpful for respiratory tract infections. Your respiratory tract has the most contact with the heat that comes from the sauna because of your breathing. Each warm breath that you take in the sauna is slightly increasing the temperature of your respiratory tract. But you ought not to worry about that part of your body getting too hot. Remember, your body is also making sure that your breaths are longer and deeper at the same time. So this means that you are giving your respiratory tract the best chance to heat up possible. Even if you aren’t already dealing with an infection like this, bringing about a healthy amount of heat into your body can actually help you reduce your overall level of bacteria and reduce your chances of contracting an infection in the future.

But if you are currently suffering from a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract, it’s likely not sufficient to take up home remedies and leave it at that. If you are feeling symptoms that you believe could be a respiratory tract infection, consult with a general practitioner and take their recommendations before choosing sauna therapy. There is a good chance that more severe cases may be too sensitive to the heat that comes from a sauna, so always consult a professional first.

Saunas Can Help Those with COPD or Asthma

There has been a very promising and continually strengthening body of research that shows saunas and sauna therapy can be a great way to find relief for those suffering from chronic respiratory health conditions such as COPD or asthma. Let’s begin with the findings related to COPD.

A study with the most revealing results tested the pain and strength of symptoms between two groups of people suffering from COPD: one group took part in traditional treatments only while another was given traditional medical treatments in addition to habitual visits to a sauna; this is functionally sauna therapy, of course. Over the course of a four-week period of study and documentation, the scientists in charge of the study found that the patients who incorporated sauna therapy into their treatment found more relief and were generally more content with their condition by the end of the study. This is likely because COPD is a disease that causes unnatural buildup in the lungs and throat. While there are several medications that can help keep that build-up down, one of the oldest and most consistent ways to keep respiratory build-ups down is heat therapy or more specifically sauna therapy.

The heat of the sauna isn’t only good for reducing and removing the bacteria that can build up in the respiratory system. It is also great at dislodging phlegm or other bothersome buildups. But we’ll get further into that later in this article.

Now onto asthma. Asthma is a chronic condition that can come about genetically or as a result of spending a long time in an environment with bad air quality. Whether or not asthma comes about in a hereditary way, luckily, does not affect the sauna’s ability to hold off symptoms and lead to overall relief from symptoms. There are classic studies that show that spending time in the sauna (approximately three visits per week) can actually lead to the overall relief of asthma symptoms. While the scientific community has several theories as to how saunas can boost someone’s overall ability to hold off asthma pain, the most prevalent theory is this: the sauna’s natural ability to inspire deep breathing and improve lung strength can help those who suffer from asthma handle their symptoms with more ease. One of the most common home remedies for asthma that pairs with clinical treatment is reminding patients to take more deep and restorative breaths.

But remember, as always, sauna therapy is always a good supplementary treatment idea. Never take on sauna therapy as your main solution for any chronic disease. While sauna therapy has been proven time and time again to make major differences for those with chronic conditions, those being tested are almost always undergoing traditional and common medical treatment processes at the same time. So, if you are dealing with asthma and want to try using the sauna to strengthen your respiratory system, go right ahead! But don’t expect to be throwing your inhaler in the trash after a week.

Saunas and Common Cold Coughing

Even those who aren’t suffering from major respiratory conditions like asthma or COPD, let alone a major infection, can still find some great respite in the heat of the sauna. Those who are dealing with minor illnesses could in some cases find relief in the sauna the fastest and with the least number of repeat sessions required. If you are dealing with common cold symptoms that concern the respiratory system such as coughing or a clogged nose, it’s maybe possible adding some trips to the sauna into your relief plans.

The reason why saunas are so helpful for clearing up the common cold mostly has to do with two things: heat and humidity. The heat of the sauna, as we’ve already discussed, does great work in reducing the amount of bad bacteria building up in your respiratory system. But even further, most of the annoying symptoms that are closely related to the common cold come about when phlegm spends too long resting on the walls of your respiratory tract. In the most severe cases, this can even lead to serious respiratory tract infections. But the heat of the sauna as well as humidity actually naturally releases that phlegm and lets it move more easily through your respiratory system.

But there is a lot to consider before taking up a sauna visit when dealing with a sickness like the common cold. When you are sick with a cold or if you have any kind of flu-like symptoms, your body is actually at a much higher risk of dehydration because your body is working hard to keep the sickness at bay. Some people believe that it’s possible to ‘sweat out a cold’, meaning that getting sweaty in the sauna can help your cold pass but this is incorrect. While the heat of the sauna can make a meaningful difference for chronic conditions, acute diseases like colds lead to the opposite. Only take a sauna with a cold if your symptoms are mild or you are well-passed with the worst symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions About Saunas and Respiratory Health

Now that we’ve explored all of the great ways that saunas can make your respiratory system and overall health stronger and more prepared for the next threat that comes its way, let’s talk about some of the most common questions that come up when talking about the sauna and respiratory health.

How Long Should I Stay In the Sauna for Respiratory Health

The good news is that there is generally no time limit, or we ought to say a lower time limit, that justifies when someone starts to take advantage of sauna health benefits for the respiratory system. You should always spend exactly as long in the sauna as you feel comfortable spending and no more than that. A good indicator, however, as to whether or not your trip to the sauna meaningfully engaged your respiratory system is if you started sweating. Sweating is the most visible indicator that your body’s systems are fully engaged and keeping you healthy. For some, sweat can come about as early as five minutes into a sauna trip while some may take as much as 15. But the most important rule to keep in mind when dealing with the question of how long to spend in the sauna is the upper time limit. No one should spend more than 20 minutes in the sauna per session without taking a break for water. After 20 minutes, no matter your tolerance, your body will have given off a significant amount of water. Before you can hop back in the sauna, make sure to refill your system.

What Type of Sauna is Best for Respiratory Health?

There is not a straightforward answer as to which type of sauna is actually best for our respiratory health but rather each style of sauna has its benefits and drawbacks worth looking into. First, let’s talk about the traditional wood-burning sauna. Using a traditional wood-burning sauna will bring about stronger reactions in all of the health benefits that correspond to heat. This is because the wood-burning sauna generally burns hotter than all other kinds of saunas. So, for example, if you are looking to simply improve the overall capacity of your lungs, you may find better results in a wood-burning sauna.

It’s a good idea to also make a brief note about infrared saunas here as well. Infrared saunas are quite similar to traditional wood-burning saunas but they unfortunately are not nearly as beneficial for our respiratory health. This mostly has to do with the way that infrared saunas get our bodies hot. While old-school saunas are enclosed rooms packed with hot air, the air around an infrared sauna doesn’t get nearly as hot since the sauna’s heat is generated by very concentrated radiation. While all benefits tied to your body actually getting hot, such as reducing bad bacteria, will maintain, the ones that depend on you actually breathing hot air may not manifest nearly as fully.

But then on to steam rooms! For reasons lightly explained above, steam rooms are generally very good at clearing the respiratory system of phlegm and other such blockages. So if you are in the midst of a common cold that is making your respiratory system cry out in agony, a steam room is likely a good place to find some relief.

Conclusions on Saunas and Respiratory Health

Spending time in a sauna is one of the most natural and relaxing ways to work out your lungs and keep yourself prepared for the next bacterial infection that could come your way. And especially for those with conditions like COPD or asthma, the sauna could be a mode of relief like nothing else. Like any other kind of sauna therapy, however, the best results, of course, only come about after an extended period of time. Your goal out to be making sauna use a maintainable and easy habit for yourself. Many of the studies on saunas and respiratory health generally ask their patients to make about three trips to the sauna each week. Give or take, that should be your point of focus if you really want to make a difference in your respiratory health through the great means of sauna therapy.

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