Saunas have been used for thousands of years as a way to relax, unwind and boost overall health.
But science is only now starting to uncover some of the amazing health benefits that regular sauna bathing could bring.
Sweating has long been used as a form of therapy, with the Mayans said to have used sweat houses as long as 3,000 years ago.
But using the sauna as a way to de-stress from the toils of our hectic modern-day lifestyles is becoming a much more common phenomenon.
What Is A Sauna?
A sauna is a room which is heated to between 70° to 100° Celsius or 158° to 212° Fahrenheit.
Traditional Finnish saunas usually use dry heat, with a relative humidity that is often between 10 and 20 per cent, while other types often have higher humidity rates.
The modern-day sauna that we are all familiar with originated in Finland, and most houses in the country have built-in saunas. It’s estimated that there are around two million saunas in Finland, for a population of just 5.3 million.
Generally speaking though, the name ‘sauna’ refers to a room which uses dry heat, like traditional Finnish saunas.
A sauna is usually an unpainted room with wooden walls and benches, and a rock filled heater to keep the temperature up.
Sauna Health Benefits
There is increasing evidence that using a sauna regularly may bring about a number of health benefits, although further research is needed.
The most recent high profile study into sauna use was conducted by researchers at the University of Eastern Finland, who tracked 2,300 middle-aged men for an average of 20 years.
The men spent an average of 14 minutes per visit to the sauna in 175° Fahrenheit heat.
During the course of the study, 49 per cent of men who went to a sauna once a week died, compared with 38 per cent of those who went two to three times a week, and just 31 per cent of those who went four to seven times a week.
The sauna has long been linked with possible cardiovascular benefits, so using it regularly could help you to keep a healthy heart.
But the Finnish study showed a decrease in all-cause mortality amongst men who used the sauna regularly. In other words, the men who were frequent sauna users were less likely to die of any cause that wasn’t accidental.
There have also been other studies, which suggest that regular sauna use could benefit people with risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Another study in Finland of 2,315 healthy men aged from 42 to 60 years old suggested that sauna use is linked with a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Finally, a Finnish study in 1976 linked sauna use with an increase in Human Growth Hormone levels.
The study examined 55 healthy people before and after a sauna session and found that Human Growth Hormone levels were on average 140 per cent higher immediately following a sauna session than they were before.
There is also a more recent study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology in October 2017 which showed that sauna use was linked with lower blood pressure and a reduction in arterial stiffness.
Some other benefits of using the sauna could include improved muscle recovery after exercise. Studies have shown that sauna use can help to relieve muscle tension. And of course, for athletes, the relief of muscle tension leads to quicker recovery between workouts or games.
So, using a sauna after your gym workout or after playing sport may help to speed up muscular recovery times.
With all this in mind, it’s probably safe to say that using a sauna regularly is going to have positive effects on your cardiovascular health and help to keep your heart in good condition.
So, to summarize, some of the possible health benefits of using a sauna regularly are:
• Could Reduce Stress
• May Improve Cardiovascular Health
• May Lower Blood Pressure
• Could Boost Muscle Recovery
• Link To Reduced Risk Of Dementia and Alzheimer’s
How To Use A Sauna
Exactly how you go about your sauna uses comes mainly down to personal preference, but there are a few things to bear in mind.
• Avoid Alcohol both before and after your sauna
• Around 15-20 minutes at a time in the sauna should be enough for most people
• Drink plenty of water both before and after your session
• Leave the sauna immediately if you start feeling unwell
Always be aware of the risk of dehydration when using a sauna. It’s not uncommon for a person to lose as much as a pint of sweat during a typical sauna session, so bear this in mind when you’re rehydrating afterwards.
Some people choose to perform two sauna sessions per visit, taking the time in between them to take a cold shower or cool down naturally.
Another tip is to bring a towel to sit on. Firstly, it’s more hygienic, but the wooden benches can also quickly feel too hot, especially if you’re sitting down for prolonged periods.
When it comes to gym workouts or exercise, some people choose to use the sauna after their workouts for the supposed benefits in helping to speed up muscle recovery.
Some people also choose to use a quick sauna session (around five minutes) before training, to help to warm up their muscles and reduce the chance of injury.
You should be especially careful to stay properly hydrated if using a sauna before or after exercise.
Is It Safe To Use A Sauna Every Day?
Of course, just like most things in life, using a sauna is not without risk.
We’ve already highlighted the importance of staying hydrated and making sure that you steer clear of alcohol before and after your session.
That being said, it is generally considered safe to use a sauna every day – but you should speak to your doctor for advice if you are concerned.
Do not use a sauna before speaking to your doctor if you have any underlying medical condition, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
As with all things in life, though, we don’t recommend over-doing it. Be sensible about your sauna use so that you can reap the apparent health benefits properly.
Anything Else To Bear In Mind?
Before you book yourself in for your daily sauna session, remember that living a healthy lifestyle is just that – a way of life.
That means that using the sauna regularly could be just one part of the jigsaw for you to enjoy a healthy life.
Sticking to a healthy diet, getting plenty of rest and exercising regularly are just three of the building blocks you should look to get sorted as you look to become your healthiest self.
A Note From The Editor
I live a pretty hectic lifestyle, and only joined a gym which has a sauna a year ago.
I had heard about the many health benefits of using a sauna before, but I didn’t really enjoy it. Simply put, they just seemed too damn hot and uncomfortable.
However, after reading another article promoting Sauna health benefits, I chose to give it a go properly.
It’s since become a ritual in my life. As well as being the perfect way to disconnect from our hectic world for a small part of each day, it also helps to keep me completely relaxed and focused.
I now use the sauna for about 15 minutes pretty much every day, and can honestly say I’ve never felt better physically.
Yes, I do live a fairly healthy lifestyle anyway, but I really feel that adding regular sauna bathing to my schedule has help to keep me feeling more relaxed and able to performa at my best.
If you’ve never used a sauna regularly or for long enough, give it a go. It could end up being that ‘missing link’ to feeling at your best physically at all times.
Wrapping Things Up
So, that wraps up our look at the amazing health benefits of the sauna.
There have been various studies into regular sauna use and they all show a number of health benefits, ranging from cardiovascular benefits, to increases in human growth hormone levels.
Saunas are a great way to de-stress from the hectic lifestyle we have all become accustomed to, and it seems that the benefits from using them regularly are more than just skin deep.