Sauna

Sauna

People have been using saunas for thousands of years. Researchers found out that the Mayans of Central America were using sweat houses about 3000 years ago. Most other cultures had a way of using heat for therapy, rituals or relaxation – we know about Roman baths, Turkish steam baths (Hamam), Russian Banya, Japanese Sento, and the well-known Finnish Sauna. We’re going to find out what are the benefits of sauna?

What is a sauna?

A Finnish sauna is a room typically heated to between 60° and 100° Celsius (140° to 212° Fahrenheit), with very low humidity (10% – 20%). On the other end of sauna types is the Turkish steam bath, where the temperature is way lower (usually 45° Celsius – 113° Fahrenheit) and the humidity is almost 100%.

While in a sauna, the skin temperature goes up to about 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit) and sweating starts. The body is trying to cool down, so the hart tare rises (100 – 150 bpm), the blood vessels widen and an important percent of the blood is sent to the skin and away from the internal organs.

 

Benefits

Even though they are used for relaxation, pleasure, and wellness, saunas have also a remarkable array of health benefits:

  1. Reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases
  2. May help your brain
  3. Help soothing chronic conditions and pain
  4. Protect your lungs

 

Reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases

A new report published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings shows that frequenting saunas leads to a reduction in the risk of vascular diseases, such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease 1)Jari A. Laukkanen, MD, PhD, Tanjaniina Laukkanen, MSc, Setor K. Kunutsor, MD, PhD: Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence.  There are not enough studies on this topic yet, but the study they reference indicates a 47% reduced risk of developing hypertension for men frequenting sauna baths 4-7 sessions per week.

 

May help your brain

Better blood flow is beneficial for the brain. According to a study (again on Finnish men), a moderate to high frequency of sauna bathing is associated to reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease 2)Tanjaniina Laukkanen, Setor Kunutsor, Jussi Kauhanen, Jari Antero Laukkanen – Sauna bathing is inversely associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in middle-aged Finnish men.

Help soothing chronic conditions and pain

Scientists believe that frequent sauna bathing reduces inflammation in the body, which is linked to pain and fatigue in chronic conditions 3)Laukkanen JA, Laukkanen T – Sauna bathing and systemic inflammation. This is only a temporary effect, it only helps deal with the symptoms for a short term, it is not a cure for the cause of the inflammation.

 

Protect your lungs

Having a sauna when you’ve got a cold or are in the middle of the winter might seem like a bad idea, but the research suggests it’s a good one. The same study from the Mayo Clinic Proceedings shows that saunas can improve your lung function, even if you have asthma or chronic breathing problems, and reduce your risk of contracting a cold or pneumonia if you have them regularly in winter. This may not counteract somebody in the sauna sneezing on you, but when you’re feeling shivery in your apartment when it dips below freezing, it may be a good idea to get thee to a sauna.  The beneficial effect of sauna bathing on pulmonary conditions might be due to its direct effects on the airways and lung tissue, which include improvement in ventilation and lung function and reduction in pulmonary congestion

 

Health risks and precautions

Sauna bathing is a pleasurable recreational activity and has a good safety profile, and most people in generally good health can tolerate a typically hot and dry Finnish sauna. There is previous anecdotal evidence that people with cardiovascular conditions are discouraged from having sauna baths because the hot and humid environment imposes a burden on the cardiovascular system. However, the overall findings from studies do suggest that sauna bathing is safe for patients with stable CVD, such as those who have recovered from myocardial infarction and patients with stable angina pectoris or compensated heart failure. 4)Tanjaniina Laukkanen, Setor Kunutsor, Jussi Kauhanen, Jari Antero Laukkanen – Sauna bathing is inversely associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in middle-aged Finnish men

Please be aware that due to excessive sweating, the body loses electrolytes and trace minerals and can get dehydrated, so it is very important to drink lots of fluids and get some salt when you go to the sauna.

 

Conclusion

Sauna bathing is a great experience and it is an activity used for pleasure, wellness, and relaxation that also comes with health benefits. I love to spend 15-20 minutes in a hot sauna, especially after swimming or exercising. It is expensive to have a sauna at home, so not many can afford it, but you can usually find a sauna at the gym or at the spa.

 

References

1Jari A. Laukkanen, MD, PhD, Tanjaniina Laukkanen, MSc, Setor K. Kunutsor, MD, PhD: Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence
2, 4Tanjaniina Laukkanen, Setor Kunutsor, Jussi Kauhanen, Jari Antero Laukkanen – Sauna bathing is inversely associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in middle-aged Finnish men
3Laukkanen JA, Laukkanen T – Sauna bathing and systemic inflammation