Health Benefits of Saunas To Your Body

Health Benefits of Saunas To Your Body

Cryotherapy. Acupuncture. Hypnosis. When it comes to wellness splurges, it seems like there’s a new “must do” for your health every week. But what’s that saying? What’s old is new again. This time around, everyone from naturopaths and yogis to stressed execs and functional fitness fans is talking about something that’s been around for a long time: saunas.

Although historical evidence provides solid ground for us to believe the benefits of saunas in the Americas, their origin is mainly attributed to Europe, particularly in the Nordic region. However, the Finnish sauna culture is well-established and recognized all over the world.

Wherever it might have originated, sauna culture has spread all over the world in modern times. This is because of the recognition of health benefits offered by therapists and common people in a sauna session.

Saunas are basically small houses or rooms designed for having heat sessions, which can be dry or wet.

The tradition has been a central part of various cultures and societies for centuries. “But they’re becoming especially hot because they’re more accessible than ever before,” says New York City-based psychotherapist Paul Hokemeyer, PhD.

Nope, no longer do you need a sauna in your gym to get your sweat on: Now, sauna studios, including Sweattheory in Los Angeles and HigherDOSE in New York City, let people heat up for roughly a dollar a minute (most sessions are 30 minutes).

What is a Sauna?

Heat therapies have long been used for healing and wellness, dating all the way back to the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Mayans. The sauna is simply a small or large room designed specifically to help you sweat. What’s more, science stands behind saunas, and modern medicine has proven 10 clinical health benefits of saunas that will leave you wanting to get your own sweat on soon.

Different Types of Saunas

Today, saunas are an everyday part of many cultures, from the Finnish outdoor saunas to the Swedish batsu, the Korean jjimjilbangs, and Japanese sento. Variations of the dry and steam (or wet) saunas, as well as the latest infrared saunas, all offer a variety of health benefits, even after only a few minutes a day of use. Users report that a deep, healthy sweat generally relieves stress, reduces muscle tension, and delivers an overall sense of relaxation and well-being. 

Over the ages, various types of dry and wet saunas have been invented, along with the latest infrared saunas that deliver direct heat to the body versus heating the air and room temperature. 

Here’s a look at the types of saunas to consider as you evaluate incorporating them into your health regimen:

  • Dry saunas are heated with fire, hot stones, gas, or electricity
  • Steam saunas generate steam by applying water to the heating element
  • Infrared saunas use infrared heaters to emit light that delivers radiant heat that’s absorbed by the surface of the skin

Infrared saunas are further broken down into the following types:

  • Near-infrared saunas
  • Far infrared saunas (FIR)
  • Full-spectrum infrared saunas

Infrared saunas deliver direct heat via the infrared light and at lower temperatures versus dry and wet saunas that heat the air to increase the room temperature.

Health Benefits of Sauna 

They Can Help Blood Pressure

Sauna bathing may be linked to several health benefits, which include reduction in the risk of vascular diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and neurocognitive diseases,” explain the scientists behind a recent report published in Mayo Clinic proceedings.

And they have a good idea about why. These scientists also published a study earlier in 2018 that used 100 test subjects who spent 30 minutes in a sauna and examined what happened to their hearts. And the results are illuminating.

Half an hour in a sauna, the research showed, lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. These two numbers are what give your normal blood pressure reading: ‘systolic’ is the pressure on your blood vessels during a heartbeat, and ‘diastolic’ is the pressure between beats.

According to the American Heart Association, over half of all Americans experience high blood pressure at some point in their lives. But according to a study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension, even a single use of the sauna could help lower your blood pressure.

In the study, 100 participants took turns sitting in a sauna for 30 minutes; immediately after getting out of the sauna, their average systolic blood pressure (the top number) lowered from 137 mmHg to 130 mmHg, and their average diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) lowered from 82 mmHg to 75 mmHg. Plus, their systolic blood pressure remained low for 30 minutes post-sauna, which the researchers says suggests s long-term blood pressure benefit of sauna usage.

That’s because the heat from a sauna causes blood vessels to dilate, which in turn causes a faster, better-timed blood flow, explains Caroline Robinson, M.D., a physician with Northwestern Memorial Hospital South Loop.

If you want to give it a go, just make sure to talk to your doctor beforehand because saunas are not advised for people who suffer from high blood pressure and other heart-related illnesses, she says.

Saunas Make The Immune System Stronger

Another one of the significant benefits of sauna is that it helps to create a stronger immune system.

Sauna sessions help produce white blood cells. The white blood cells of the body are its medium to fight against attacking infections and ailments.

As regular sauna users have a higher count of white blood cells, they stay healthier, and if illnesses occur, they heal faster.

Sit in the sauna and skip the flu shot? Sorry, it doesn’t work quite like that. But saunas can help you build a stronger immune system. In fact, in one study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics, athletes who spent 15 minutes in the sauna experienced an immediate increase in their white blood cell count, a marker for immune strength.

However, it’s important to note this immunity-boosting effect was higher in regular exercisers than in non-exercisers, so the sauna really shouldn’t be the only way you sweat.

 Heat exposure from the sauna increases the heat shock protein, stimulating antigen-presenting cells, and releasing cytokine, thus stimulating the body’s natural immune system. 

They May Make Your Arteries More Responsive

According to this research data, Saunas can help “vascular compliance,” or how well your blood vessels respond to changes in pressure. That’s a massive factor in the health of your heart and in how effectively your blood travels throughout your body, including to your brain.

Saunas, it turned out, make your blood vessels really responsive to pressure and heightens your heart rate; according to the scientists, it was pretty common to see peoples’ heart rates increase as if they were doing some moderately intensive exercise.

Saunas Help You Look Younger

One of the significant organs of our body, your skin also needs regular exercise, and saunas are a great way to exercise skin.

As we grow older, more of the dead cells accumulate onto our skin pores, as the skin becomes less elastic. Therefore, a few sessions in the sauna improve blood flow to our skin, which aids the growth of new skin and also removes all the dead cells that were building up previously.

The oils, which are the natural moisturizers and antibiotics present in our skin, are mobilized through saunas. This helps us to look younger in a significant way.

They May Be Good For Your Lifespan

A few different studies have shown a link between frequent sauna-taking and a lower risk of early mortality, though it’s only been studied in men. A survey of 2,300 Finnish men over 20 years found that, throughout the study, 49% of once-weekly sauna takers passed away, compared with 38% of twice-weekly users and 31 percent of men who went nearly every day.

Part of this, the scientists behind the study say, is that saunas are often done communally and help you bond with other people, which has confirmed health benefits of its own. Plus, they’re meant to be relaxing and meditative. But the blood pumping effects seem to be making a difference, too.

Easier Weight Loss

To be clear, saunas will only help you lose water weight—not body fat. “They are valuable to one’s weight loss plan by enabling the person to relax and recover and to establish a more conscientious and healthy relationship with their body,” says Hokemeyer.

Sauna therapy is an excellent way for weight loss with minimal effort. During a sauna bath, the heart rate increases substantially due to the dry heat.

Scientific calibrations suggest that a 20-minute session at around 170 degrees Fahrenheit burns over 500 calories. Thus, the body’s metabolism speeds up similar to the way it does from physical exercise and is an excellent method to maintain weight.

Saunas Help To Recover From Workouts

Nowadays, many gyms have a sauna, and there are plenty of good reasons for this. Saunas are highly effective ways to recover from workouts. The metabolic wastes are eliminated while sweating in a sauna. The blood flow to tired and strained muscles increases through the sauna, helping them to recover quickly and feel relaxed much quicker.

As more blood flow and oxygen are delivered throughout the body, muscles increase in size and diminish muscle breakdown. One study showed that two, one-hour sauna sessions for seven days straight increase the human growth hormone (HGH) production by two to five times. 

Our body has a certain level of heat tolerance. Regular use of saunas increases the heat tolerance threshold. This leads to significant improvements in endurance sports as regular sauna users have a higher heat tolerance level and thus, feel less fatigue and can maintain their energy level over a prolonged period, improving performance.

Optimize Athletic Performance

Blood flow improvements from hyperthermic conditioning (heat conditioning) send more blood to the heart, increasing plasma and red blood cell volume. That process delivers more oxygen throughout the body, fueling athletic performance.

Saunas Make Hair Look Great

We have a special gland called the sebaceous gland on our scalp, releasing compounds that help condition and moisturize our hair. Spending some time in the sauna activates this gland, releasing these valuable compounds, thereby helping to make hair look great.

There’s no need to spend a fortune on risky hair care products.

They Could Help Your Brain

Better blood flow doesn’t just help your body; it also helps your brain. The benefits of saunas, Leigh Ann, says, “include improved sleep and relaxation, improved mood, reduced and improved symptoms of depression and anxiety, and decreased risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.” The research rounded up by this latest study shows that, in older Finnish men, having many sauna sessions a week was linked to a substantially lower risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. But there’s a risk in saying there’s cause and effect here.

“Whether sauna exposure exerts its neurocognitive protective effects or it is just an enjoyable activity that prevents or delays the development of these memory diseases is not clearly understood,” explain the scientists. Hanging out with your friends and doing the crossword in a sauna may be the real hero here, not the sauna itself.

The people you see sitting in your gym’s sauna sure look relaxed, don’t they? While you can’t exactly sweat your stress away, according to New York City-based therapist Kathryn Smerling, PhD, saunas can be a relaxing escape for many people. “They are warm, quiet, enclosed, and make you feel safe and relaxed in the way you would if you were nesting,” she says.

One study published in Psychosomatic Medicine even found that daily sauna sessions improved ratings of relaxation in patients with depression. Anytime you can escape the world for a moment of peace and quiet, it’s going to have a positive effect on your mental health and stress, she says. That’s why she regularly prescribes sauna usage to her patients who like and can tolerate the heat.

“If you choose to sauna, don’t go in with any judgements or expectations,” she says. You won’t leave the sauna a new person, and the benefits may hardly be noticeable at first for some, but over time, they can have a real impact on your mental health.”

They Seem To Protect Your Lungs

Having a sauna when you’ve got a cold or are in the middle of the cold season might seem counterintuitive, but the research suggests it’s a good idea. Studies have shown 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. Of course, 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.

Lower Cholesterol

If a recent doctor visit has you trying to lower your cholesterol, consider hitting the sauna for some extra help. One study published in the International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health found that when subjects used a sauna every other day for 20 days, they decreased their total cholesterol levels. The researchers concluded that the sauna offered cholesterol benefits similar to what could be expected from moderate-intensity physical exercise.

Again, that’s not to say that you should ditch your regular workout routine because there is not a true substitution for exercise, according to Robinson.

But it is a reason to book some regular roasting appointments.

Saunas Help You Look Younger

One of the significant organs of our body, your skin also needs regular exercise, and saunas are a great way to exercise skin.

As we grow older, more of the dead cells accumulate onto our skin pores, as the skin becomes less elastic. Therefore, a few sessions in the sauna improve blood flow to our skin, which aids the growth of new skin and also removes all the dead cells that were building up previously.

The oils, which are the natural moisturizers and antibiotics present in our skin, are mobilized through saunas. This helps us to look younger in a significant way.

They Help Soothe Chronic Conditions

“Sauna bathing has been linked to an improvement in pain and symptoms associated with musculoskeletal disorders such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia,” the new study says. And chronic-type headaches are also included in their pain-busting properties.

Why? Partially, scientists believe, it’s because saunas appear to reduce inflammation levels in the blood. In several chronic pain conditions, inflammation goes haywire to cause serious pain and fatigue, and saunas appear to reduce those markers. Of course, this isn’t a cure, only a temporary reprieve, but it may be a serious benefit for some.

Saunas Promote Social Interaction

This benefit may not be up for grabs for users of the small-sized private sauna. However, they provide a great medium for social interaction among friends and relatives if you or your acquaintances have a grand private sauna or you use public saunas.

If this is not an option, you can easily go to the nearest public sauna.

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