Even after thousands of years, saunas are as popular today as ever. Saunas are found in gyms, health clubs, spas, resorts, and homes. Personal saunas for home use can often be purchased at big-box retailers or online. Some people have saunas built into their homes.
What is a sauna, and what makes it so popular?
A sauna is a small room that provides dry heat to the body, as opposed to a steam room that supplies moist heat. The temperature in a traditional Finnish sauna is typically between 158 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity typically falls between 10 and 20 percent.
Saunas come in different styles, as shown below:
- Electric heat: electricity heats the sauna rocks in the room for low humidity and dry heat
- Infrared heat: light waves from special lamps send electromagnetic radiation heat to the person rather than the entire room
- Wood burning heat: these traditional saunas use burning wood to heat the rocks and the room, producing dry heat and low humidity
Pouring water on sauna rocks creates steam and increases the humidity in the room.
Although many people use saunas for relaxation, their health benefits make them worthwhile for most adults.
Saunas are easy to use, but public or shared saunas require a bit of etiquette. As tempting as it might be to remove all your clothes, do not do so if everyone else in the sauna is wearing a bathing suit or wrapped in a towel. Also, unless it is your private sauna, do not sit directly on the bench without placing a towel down. It is also wise to shower briefly before entering the sauna. Do not engage in any grooming activities while inside. Make sure to open and close the door quickly to prevent heat from escaping.
How Does a Sauna Impact Your Body?
From health to emotional well-being, the benefits of saunas are many and varied. As you sit in a sauna, your muscles begin to relax, and you start to sweat. Sweating helps release some toxins from inside your body.
Here are some of The leading benefits of using a sauna:
- Improves muscle tissue
Saunas help to relax muscles, especially after exercise. Dilated blood vessels increase circulation to the muscles, speeding muscle tissue healing. The heat helps eliminate lactic acid and reduce muscle tension.
- Reducing pain
As the sauna’s heat penetrates the body, the muscles relax, and the blood vessels open, improving blood flow to painful areas. Heat soothes nerve endings to ease the pressure on the nerves, reducing painful sensations and decreasing pain signals to the brain. With improved circulation, oxygen-rich blood travels faster to the source of pain to facilitate healing. Spending time in a sauna may help reduce pain and improve joint mobility in rheumatic disease patients. Saunas may also help improve chronic tension headache disorders. Some women may find that sauna use helps reduce menstrual pain.
- Balancing hormones
The endocrine system experiences a significant boost from sauna usage. Cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) levels decrease, while renin, prolactin, noradrenaline, and growth hormone levels increased in studies that measured hormone levels. There were no significant changes in testosterone, thyroid, adrenaline, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), or luteinizing hormone (LH) from sauna use.
The release of growth hormone in combination with proper sauna timing has been shown to increase GH levels profoundly. But if you have HGH deficiency, you should consult a doctor and get the proper treatment. Find out how to order HGH online in the US with a doctor’s prescription.
- Stress reduction
Other hormones influenced by a sauna’s heat are dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin – all chemicals that influence mood. Sauna bathing helps to regulate cortisol levels, reducing stress to improve immune health and sleeping. As cortisol levels decline, serotonin levels increase. Serotonin is the “happy hormone” that improves overall emotional well-being.
- Heart and blood vessels
Sitting in a sauna increases the heart rate, often up to 100 to 150 beats per minute. Blood vessels widen, improving circulation. Blood pressure levels decline, and regular sauna use may lower the risk of developing hypertension. Sauna bathing is associated with reduced inflammation, improved vascular endothelial function, and lower pulse pressure, factors that, along with high blood pressure levels, can increase the risk of dementia. Sweating helps increase HDL cholesterol, which can lower total cholesterol levels.
Studies on cardiac health and sauna use have demonstrated the following:
- Fewer premature ventricular contractions per day in people with congestive heart failure.
- Decreased pain scores and improved 6-minute walking distance in people with peripheral arterial disease and reduced cardiothoracic ratios (heart size) on chest x-rays.
- Individuals who visit a sauna 4 to 7 times weekly exhibit lower heart disease and stroke death rates.
- More frequent sauna sessions reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, with those having 4 to 7 sessions per week receiving fewer fatal CVD events than those who had only one or 2 to 3 sessions per week.
- Stimulating collagen and elastin production
Using a sauna can help improve your skin’s appearance in multiple ways. First, extreme sweating flushes toxins from the body, promoting healthier skin through detoxification. Heat opens the pores, allowing impurities in the skin to sweat away. Improved circulation sends oxygen-rich blood to the skin. Some people with psoriasis have seen improvements in their skin with sauna bathing. Infrared saunas provide exposure to red light that helps increase collagen and elastin production for younger-looking skin.
- Increase your metabolic rate
Sweating in a sauna increases energy usage, causing the body to burn through fat and carbohydrates. Much of what is lost via sweating is water, so once you hydrate after a sauna, that weight will return. However, increased cardiac activity and fat conversion utilize calories, but they are not enough to stimulate weight loss on their own. If you combine sauna bathing with exercise and a healthy diet, you may achieve better weight loss results.
- Lung functions
Sauna bathing helps improve ventilation, forced expiratory volume, vital capacity, and volume for better lung functions, reducing the risk of respiratory diseases, including chronic bronchitis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and pneumonia.
- Cognitive health
Two studies out of Finland found that regular sauna use lowered the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The benefits mentioned under heart and blood vessels above show how sauna use helps improve cognitive risk factors, as they are interconnected.
- Immunity boost
The heat from a sauna helps increase white blood cell production to fight infections, improve overall wellness, and reduce illness. Improved white blood cell production speeds healing. Sauna bathing helps reduce and relieve sinus congestion associated with allergies and colds.
Some Sauna Safety Rules
Although sitting in a sauna is generally safe, there are some basic guidelines to ensure you have an enjoyable time and can reap the rewards associated with a sauna.
Here are some sauna safety rules to know:
- Ensure you are in good health: Do not use a sauna if you feel ill. Some health conditions require approval from a doctor for sauna use, including abnormal heart rhythm, diabetes, heart failure, high blood pressure, and unstable angina. Follow your doctor’s guidelines for use, and if it is for only a few minutes, do not remain longer. Do not use a sauna if you have an acute respiratory infection.
- Cool down properly: Unless you are doing a combination of heat and cryotherapy, you want to let your body cool back down slowly.
- Avoid dehydration: Hydrate your body properly before and after the sauna. Drink at least one full glass of water before you go in and again after use.
- Do not fall asleep: Never use a sauna for a nap, as your body temperature can become dangerously high. If you are tired, take a nap before or after the sauna.
- Listen to your body: If something feels wrong or you feel dizzy, exit the sauna. Limit sauna use to 10 to 20 minutes at a time, building up slowly if you have never been before or if it has been a while.
- Limit food consumption: Do not eat a large meal before you use a sauna, and do not eat while in a sauna.
- Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs: Do not consume alcohol before entering a sauna, while in use, or after you get out. Your body is in a state of detoxification from the sauna. Alcohol use increases the risk of arrhythmia, dehydration, and hypotension, which can result in sudden death. The same applies to all recreational drugs.
- Pregnancy rules: Women and men should speak with their doctor before using a sauna if they are planning to conceive. The high heat in saunas, as well as in Jacuzzis, can reduce sperm count, reducing the risk of conception. Do not use a sauna as a form of contraception. Pregnant women should discuss sauna use with their obstetricians, as they are more prone to overheating, which can be dangerous for the mother and baby.
- Medication rules: Speak with your doctor about any medications you use before entering a sauna. Medications that make you drowsy or alter temperature regulation do not mix well with saunas.
Saunas provide many benefits for our physical and emotional health. The hormone benefits of going in a sauna are significant, and appropriate rules are followed for safe use.
Always check with your doctor before using a sauna, especially if you have any medical conditions, take medications, or are trying to become pregnant.
Using a sauna in the morning can help improve cognitive functions and mental acuity during the day. At night, a sauna can provide relaxing benefits to help you sleep. The time of day you choose is what works best for you. Either way, day or night, enjoying a little time in a sauna provides superior benefits for your health and life.