The Benefits of Sauna
Have you ever thought about the real purpose of sitting in a hot room to experience the often uncomfortable situation of sweating? The thought of going to a sauna may seem out of the ordinary to most people. Who would want to engage in an awkward and humid situation with other people?
However, history tells us that the sauna room or the hot bathroom has been a staple for humankind. It has not only given rise to ideas but has also worked as a health revitalizer for centuries.
Finland is one of the oldest places where saunas are historically found. Heating stones run these saunas, and the room remains hot for up to 12 hours. The word ‘sauna’ itself is a Finnish word meaning bath or the bathhouse. Other countries where sauna was prevalent were Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Scotland.
Even though the modern-day sauna is quite similar to the old Finnish saunas, the heating systems have changed. The old super hot saunas have been replaced by drier infrared or dry saunas.
Nowadays, more people prefer a private sauna to maintain hygiene and for, well, privacy. Jacuzzis have also become popular in the home for a group relaxation experience, but they don’t have the same health benefits as using a sauna. Humankind has ever been grateful to have such a tool to make people a whole lot better after going through a bit of uncomfortableness.
So lets dig into the benefits!
10 Benefits of Using Sauna
It can lead to an Extended Lifespan
One of the most important and surprising benefits that come out of a sauna is an extended lifespan. This is via a pathway called Heat Shock Proteins, or HSP. HSPs are a large family of ‘molecular chaperones’ – they help other molecules inside your body mature, re-fold, and degrade. While some HSPs are continually expressed in some areas of the body, in other regions, HSPs are rapidly increased in response to stressful stimuli.
In our case, this ‘stressful stimulus’ is the sauna. Luckily our sauna sessions can be precisely controlled by regulating the room temperature and timing our exposure to give us a nice measured and consistent dose of heat between sessions.
You can read more about the mechanics of Heat Shock Proteins and how they work, but the summary is that HSPs and the FOXO family of proteins help your cells by:
- Protecting against cell mutation, which may help stop cancer forming.
- Help with efficiently removing cells once they die (autophagy).
- Increase the genes associated with your immune function to help you fight viruses and bacteria
- Increase the production of enzymes that repair DNA
Sounds like magic, right? I assure you it’s all legit – for more details please read our article on Heat Shock Proteins
Enhanced Cardiovascular Health
There was a time when a heart attack was thought to be an old man’s disease. However, the tables have turned, and even young people can suddenly fall ill to cardiovascular issues. No one wants to take a pitstop when their careers are booming, and high-performing individuals think they have the drive and vigor to handle and manage all the stress.
But that constant pressure and the 24/7 work lifestyle is detrimental to the body. Throw in unhealthy food and an almost sedentary lifestyle, and we are bringing doom down on ourselves.
However, there may be a way to condition yourself to handle all that modern-day stress. There was a study published in 2015 in the journal JAMA internal medicine, which recruited 2000 middle-aged men from Finland and compared sauna use with conditions such as heart disease and sudden cardiac death over the course of 20 years. The study found that fatal cardiovascular disease was:
- 27% lower for men who used the sauna 2-3 times per week; and
- 50% lower for men who used the sauna 5-7 times per week.
This was compared to the baseline group who used the sauna once per week or less. To get these benefits, participants had to use the sauna properly, though! That is, it needed to be hot – 174 degrees on average in a dry sauna and in there for at least 20 minutes. As is tradition, a splash of hot water creates some steam to increase humidity.
Because of this, we can’t guarantee that the results are directly applicable to other types of sauna such as steam rooms or infrared sauna – the study was for dry sauna only. The results may well be the same – but we can’t say for sure.
Some of the positive benefits of all saunas are that they have a similar physiological effect on the body as regular exercise. Heart rate can increase to 100bpm during a moderate sauna and up to 150bpm for a more intense session – which is about the same as moderate-intensity cardio. All from just sitting there!
Saunas also help in better blood circulation, improve blood pressure and left ventricle function. It has been seen that older people who use saunas are less prone to heart or even neurological setbacks. Have high blood pressure? Try using a sauna regularly for a few days, and you are bound to see changes.
Regenerate Brain Cells
Yes, you read it right. Frequent sauna use can push your body to make new brain cells or even regenerating new ones. This process is called neurogenesis and involves the formation of new nerve cells through the expression of a brain-derived growth factor called BDNF. This protein acts on neurons in the central and peripheral nervous systems to promote the growth of new neurons.
The same study from Finland referenced above showed that those people who attended the sauna 5-7 times per week had a 65 percent reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to the control group.
Increased BDNF production can help you in retaining better memory and also have better cognitive skills. However, one of the most crucial benefits is the effect of the sauna on mental health. Sauna is often seen as a method of relaxation. If you are suffering from mental health issues, or have severe bouts of anxiety or depression, then the regular sauna session can bring a lot of benefits.
More Effective Fat Loss
Many people relate to the issue of gaining weight. There are many ads online that promote diets and hacks to cut down the fat present in our bodies. However, seldom do these things work, and most of us end up gaining back the weight.
People often give in to the fact that old age will bring obesity and fat buildup. But, a lot of the source of gaining weight has to do with bad lifestyle choices or underlying health issues. Having the extra fat on your body can lead to several chronic ailments like diabetes, heart problems, and thyroid issues. One of the safest and easiest ways to keep the weight off is to have regular sauna sessions.
Weight loss may seem complex, but the easiest way to understand it is through calories. Every human being has a daily caloric requirement. When they eat according to that requirement, most people will maintain their current weight.
However, as a consequence of the modern lifestyle and junk food, most people overeat and get past their daily requirements. So, this leads to the extra fat being stored in the body. Hence, exercise as a tool is used to burn off the extra calories present in the body as a counterbalancing measure.
Fad diets that cut down on calorific load are seldom successful, and most people will give up, which gives rise to yoyo dieting. However, sauna treatments can be a glimmering hope in the wish to lose weight.
Yes, you will still need to eat correctly, but the sauna can ramp up weight loss. The heat of the sauna can directly burn up to 56 calories in a 20 minutes session. But the main benefit lies in the heat targeting the BMR or Basal Metabolic Rate of the body.
The 20-minute session gives a boost to the metabolism of your body, and it will help to burn off fat more efficiently in the hours after the sauna. This is also the reason for people taking a sauna bath after performing their daily exercises. The sauna also increases the level of growth hormones that are often reduced due to the stress of modern life and the overproduction of cortisol.
Improve Muscle and Joint Health
Doctors are constantly suggesting that senior citizens hit the sauna, and there is a good reason for that. For thousands of years, heat has been used as a necessary treatment for bone and muscle-based diseases. Heat is not the only way to heal sore muscles, but it can also help rejuvenate the protein cells.
People often lose the elasticity of their muscles as they age, so sauna sessions can help slow down that process. If you want to know the secret behind the excellent health of the Japanese, you will be happy to know those heat treatments are a big part of it.
Saunas are also a great way to relieve the pain of those who suffer from uncomfortable pain. The sauna sessions will help you relax and will minimize stress caused by joint pain. It can even help with migraines in addition to muscle pain.
As mentioned previously, sauna increases BDNF protein which promotes muscle regeneration. Heat shock also helps with insulin regulation and helps prevent insulin resistance, which is detrimental to muscle health.
Get Better Results from Exercise
You might be familiar with the use of the sauna by athletes. It has been an open truth for a long while that sauna is an excellent addition to any athlete’s exercise and recovery regime. After-workout sauna sessions are used to help your body stay in fat-burning mode. However, the most crucial aspect of a sauna after exercise is the reduction of cortisol and other stress hormones.
Transitioning from an intensive exercise to your daily life is hard on your body, so the sauna helps bridge that gap. Many people also go for sauna sessions before they start to exercise. It is also said to boost their overall performance, as the theory is that the sauna helps in better blood flow. This is more of a personal preference though, as I prefer to have a sauna after exercise – to relax – but there are many people on both sides of this debate.
Detoxifies Your Body
One of the most crucial benefits of a sauna lies in its ability to detoxify your body. Though it isn’t apparent, our body is full of toxins that we take in while breathing, eating, and living in this unhealthy world. Without regular detoxification, keeping these toxins in your body results in the increase of disease and chronic illness.
The sauna can be a significant step towards fixing this problem. When we sit inside a heated enclosed room, especially at the recommended temperature of approximately 175 degrees, we have no option but to sweat. One way our body gets rid of toxins is through the skin, and sweat is the fastest way for toxins to leave the body.
You will feel much more relaxed after visiting the sauna regularly as your body is continually being cleansed. Remember that detoxifying is a long-term and ongoing process. We are exposed to heavy metals and multiple pollutants daily, so to see results, regular and diligent sauna sessions are needed.
An additional benefit is that when it comes to weight loss, people often leave out the factor of toxins. Most of us who are used to junk foods or processed foods are sitting with many toxins present inside our bodies. To lose that extra weight, we will also need to lose the toxins, and the sauna helps us in that.
Better Skin and Hair
Yes, the sauna can help you to have better skin. This can be seen as more of a by-product of going to the sauna. Our skin acts as a mirror to our body.
This is because when we are ill from the inside, it is reflected in our skin. Dry sauna has improved many people who suffer from usual skin problems like pimples, boils, or acne. Regular sauna sessions can also boost collagen production, which helps in maintaining the tautness of the skin.
As you sweat out the toxins, you can instantly see a rejuvenated glow on your skin. It also helps open up blocked pores and clean out the sweat glands to increase their performance. You can also see similar hair health and hair growth results as sebum production can be increased through regular sauna sessions.
Keep Bacterial and Viral Infections at Bay
Do you get paranoid when it comes to the flu season? Many people are susceptible to extreme conditions when it comes to bacterial and viral infections. The body receives stressed fighting bacterial invaders.
Regular sauna sessions will help you in building up your immunity. Yes, you will still need to take the flu vaccine and keep yourself away from allergy triggers. However, the immunity power gained through the sauna will help you in fighting off the viruses and bacteria as quickly as possible.
Other than that, the heat from the sauna itself helps kill the virus and bacteria. It’s what your body does naturally when you get sick to help fight the infection. Keep in mind, though, that this should only be used as a preventative measure – you should not use the sauna when you are already sick or have a fever.
Overall Stress Relief and a Road to Better Sleep
One of the reasons many people visit the sauna regularly is to release themselves from the stress of modern life. Doing this, you become attuned with yourself, and the sauna almost feels like blissful meditation. Alternatively, if you’re an extrovert, the social sauna experience has always been a way for people to get together for thousands of years. During Roman times, bathhouses were used as a place for holding important meetings.
The sauna holds great power when it comes to boosting the mind and body. You only need 15-20 minutes from your day spent in a sauna. While you are inside the enclosed space, let your mind drift and let go of all your usual thoughts.
Done correctly, your stressful thoughts can be cleaned as easily as your physical body, and your stress hormones will naturally be lowered. It is great to have a sauna session after coming from your work as it helps to feel fresh and relaxed. Studies also say that the sauna can help elevate levels of endorphins that can make you feel happy.
When you are relaxed and content, the body gets into a calm state, and you will have a good night’s sleep. Sauna is one of the most holistic ways to give your body a restart.
Hi, my name is Mark, I am a fitness enthusiast and sauna lover. All About Sauna is a project dedicated to helping others make important decisions related to sauna and wellness.