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Article: Are Saunas Good for Your Lungs and Respiratory Health?

Are Saunas Good for Your Lungs and Respiratory Health?

Are Saunas Good for Your Lungs and Respiratory Health?

Written by Chris Lang

Although sauna bathing is an ancient practice deeply rooted in Finnish traditions, it has found its way into modern wellness practices. In the past, a sauna was a sacred place for rituals. It was also a place for mental and physical relaxation. As researchers continue to discover more health benefits of sauna bathing, a new question arises – is sauna good for lungs?

Today, these heated chambers have become popular globally, and you’ll find them in homes and spas. This is not only because of their mental and muscle relaxation benefits but also because of the health benefits linked to them. For instance, a sauna improves cardiovascular function. When exposed to heat, the heart rate increases, and blood vessels widen. In turn, this improves blood flow to all body parts. 

Also, the heat causes the body to sweat and, in the process, remove toxins. Moreover, it opens up skin pores, leaving the skin healthy. Lastly, increased heart rate and sweating lead to calorie burning and can promote weight loss. 

This article explores more about saunas and respiratory health. By the end of it, you should be able to answer the question: can sauna sessions positively impact lung health?

Understanding Sauna Sessions

Sauna sessions are common worldwide for their health benefits. To have an enjoyable experience in the sessions, you ought to understand what saunas are and how they work. 

What Is a Sauna?

Sauna rooms are wood-lined rooms that hold dry or wet heat. The design and heat produced inside induce sweating by raising the body’s temperature.

There are various types of saunas, which differ based on the method used to heat the room. Traditional saunas, which evolved from Finnish saunas, have fireplaces or chimneyed stoves with small to medium-sized stones placed on top. You light pieces of wood on the fireplace or inside the stove to heat the sauna room and the rocks. Such saunas have high temperatures and low humidity. However, bathers can pour water on the hot stones to produce steam that raises the humidity level. 

Although similar in structure to wood-burning saunas, electric saunas feature a heater with rocks on the floor. They are more common in modern sauna rooms since they are cleaner and heat up faster than wood-burning types. 

Far-infrared saunas, on the other hand, differ from wood-burning and electric heater saunas because they don’t heat the entire room. They emit infrared light, which heats the body directly. As a result, the room temperature doesn’t change, encouraging you to stay for longer sauna bathing sessions. You can view a collection of far infrared saunas at Komowa.

The Experience of Sauna Bathing

Sauna baths and steam rooms have the same sweating effect on a person. However, steam baths differ slightly from saunas since they use moist heat from steam boilers. They are a common preference among asthmatic people because the humid heat is better suited to relieve sinus irritation and clear phlegm.

Sauna bathing also includes wet sessions, and the experiences vary based on personal preference and the type of sauna.

Normally, sauna sessions start with hot baths or massages to speed up blood flow and gradually warm the body. Doing so reduces the risk of sudden heat shocks on the skin. Temperatures range between 70-100 degrees Celsius (158-212 degrees Fahrenheit) in traditional and electric heater saunas. On the other hand, infrared saunas have a lower temperature range of between 50-60 degrees Celsius (120-140 degrees Fahrenheit). 

The sweat sessions may last 15 to 20 minutes, depending on heat tolerance. Due to the intense heat, the body releases endorphins, or stress-relieving hormones that create a sense of relaxation and well-being. Moreover, sweating releases urea and traces of heavy metals, which aids in detoxing the body. 

The Potential Effects of Sauna on Lungs

Is sauna good for the lungs? Well, saunas have a mostly positive effect on lungs and lung function. The dry and moist heat temporarily boosts respiratory symptoms, especially in asthmatic patients and people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Saunas May Improve Respiratory Health

The impact of saunas on lung and respiratory health is not fully understood. Nonetheless, several studies have shown that saunas do actually improve respiratory health. 

For instance, according to a research paper, sauna heat improves lung function. This results from increased heartbeat and dilation of blood vessels, which boost blood flow into the lungs. Also, the airways expand, leading to increased airflow. 

According to the same study, the heat contributes to the thinning of mucus stuck in the airway. Coupling this with dilated airways reduces pulmonary congestion. The research also concludes that repeated sauna therapy clears the airways of patients with COPD. 

As mentioned, sauna heat improves airflow in the lungs. A study supports this by showing that saunas increase blood oxygen transport function. Because of the panting during higher temperatures, the diaphragm expands and contracts more than it normally does. When you breathe in, expansion decreases the pressure within the lungs. 

As a result, the partial pressure of oxygen in the alveoli becomes lower than the partial pressure of oxygen in the atmosphere. Oxygen then flows from the higher atmospheric partial pressure to the lower alveolar partial pressure. Due to the high availability of oxygen, the exchange of air becomes more efficient. 

A sauna for allergies also comes in handy for individuals with asthma. Study shows that heat from a sauna can help soothe the respiratory tract and reduce swelling. It also clears congestion in the airway, offering relief from symptoms such as wheezing. 

Sauna Use and Lung Function

As research suggests, regularly visiting saunas can benefit your lungs in several ways. The heat in saunas causes you to take deep breaths and increase your respiratory rate. This enhanced breathing pattern strengthens respiratory muscles and improves overall lung function.

The sauna heat causes dilation of blood vessels, which lowers blood pressure and promotes a better flow of nutrients into the lungs. As such, going to the sauna from time to time can improve the overall lung health. Furthermore, sweating clears toxins that might burden the respiratory system, making it work more efficiently.

Though a sauna might not be a cure for lung diseases such as asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, and COPD, it offers some benefits. For instance, it relieves common respiratory symptoms, such as shortness of breath and wheezing. 

Also, individuals with chronic illnesses might not be tolerant to working out. Fortunately, sauna bathing is a form of passive workout that can help them stay fit and healthy. 

Lastly, the heat produced in a sauna helps to soothe and relax respiratory muscles. This, in turn, offers relief from inflammation and pain. 

Sauna Safety and Precaution

Although the elevated heat in saunas offers tons of health benefits, it has its fair share of potential health risks. There are universal precautions that all sauna users need to observe to make the sauna experience safe. 

Making Sauna Use Safe

 By following safety guidelines, you can enjoy the benefits of saunas without any harm. Here are some safety guidelines to apply when using saunas:

  • Keep sessions short: Sessions should last 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Although heat tolerance varies among people, exceeding the standard time in a sauna can cause dehydration.

  • Stay hydrated: It’s crucial to stay hydrated before, during, and after sauna use. Drinking water helps to replace fluids lost through sweating. 

  • Monitor your body: The high sauna heat makes the heart beat faster and work harder due to dilated blood vessels. Leave the sauna room immediately if you start feeling dizzy, nauseous, or sensitive to the heat.

  • Remove jewelry: Metal jewelry or ceramics should not accompany you in a sauna. These materials heat up quickly and cause skin irritation or serious burns.

  • Tag along a friend or family member: Also called the “buddy system,” stepping into a sauna with a friend or family member ensures you can assist each other in case of problems.

  • Cooling down: The long-held Finnish sauna tradition of jumping straight into snow or ice may be inappropriate for people with underlying conditions such as hypertension. Gradual cooling by taking a cool shower or sitting outdoors prevents shock and sudden drop in blood pressure. 

  • Rest: Lying or sitting down for a minimum of 10 minutes helps to bring down body temperature to normal levels and also slows down your heart rate.

People with chronic illnesses such as asthma, cardiovascular issues, or kidney disease, among others, should consult with a doctor before using a sauna. This is crucial in maintaining their well-being and safety while in a sauna. Pregnant women should also keep away from saunas or get a doctor’s recommendation for session lengths. Overheating in a sauna can be dangerous for both the mother and baby.

Risk Factors and Sauna Use

Although saunas offer a lot of health benefits, there are also risk factors that can be life-threatening. Some of these factors include:

  • Dehydration: Sauna sessions induce sweating, which can lead to fluid loss and dehydration. Excessive sweating also reduces your blood volume and can hinder circulation. It’s important to stay well-hydrated before and after entering a sauna by drinking lots of water.

  • Blood pressure: Sauna use causes blood pressure fluctuations. The heat lowers the pressure by dilating blood vessels, while rapid cooling can increase the pressure. People with uncontrolled blood pressure issues such as hypertension or hypotension should check with a doctor first before using a sauna. 

  • Illness: Although saunas have pain-relieving benefits, they do not cure the body of illnesses. As such, anyone with a health problem or taking medication that affects their body’s ability to regulate temperature should stay away from a sauna.

  • Alcohol use: The heat in the sauna raises the heart rate, which strains the heart. Alcohol intoxication, on the other hand, thins the blood and exerts more stress on the heart, which might lead to heart attacks. People should enter sauna baths while sober to counter such risks. 

Further Research and Considerations

The existing research on the health benefits of sauna bathing is promising. Nonetheless, there are several areas where more in-depth analysis is needed to solidify these findings. 

Ongoing Research on Sauna Benefits

As of now, research on saunas and their lung benefits is still limited. Most of the findings that exist are not conclusive. Despite that, several studies indicate that saunas positively impact lung health.

For instance, an observational study in 2022 sought to assess the relationship between sauna bathing and COPD risks. They concluded that three to seven sauna sessions per week significantly decrease the risk of COPD. This is because sauna baths have anti-inflammatory benefits that reduce systemic inflammation and oxidative stress

Another research examined whether sauna bathing reduces the risk of respiratory diseases, including asthma and pneumonia. The conclusion was that frequent sauna baths lessen the risk of acute and chronic respiratory conditions. 

The common trend in the research is trying to verify the benefits linked to saunas and lung health. However, there is a need for more exploitative research to affirm these findings and establish more potential benefits of sauna baths on respiratory health.

Holistic Health Benefits

Besides improving respiratory health, saunas have other health benefits. Firstly, sauna heat dilates blood vessels, which increases blood flow and supply of nutrients to the skin and other organs. But this begs the question, does a sauna lower blood pressure? The blood pressure decreases temporarily, but once you leave the sauna, it returns to normal. 

The heat stress experienced in a sauna may stimulate the cardiovascular system in a manner similar to mild to moderate aerobic exercise. Research shows that this reduces the risk of heart disease. 

Sauna heat promotes the production of antioxidants, which reduce inflammation. In addition, muscle relaxation also reduces an imbalance of the stress hormone cortisol, which can cause inflammation. 

Another benefit of sauna heat relates to the gut. The high temperature provides a conducive environment for gut microbes, boosting intestinal health. One of the main causes of bloating is fluid retention. Sweating results in the release of water and electrolytes from the body, reducing overall fluid volume and indirectly reducing bloating.

The interconnectedness of various physiological processes closely links with the benefits of a regular sauna bath. This creates a comprehensive impact on the overall well-being.

Sauna Bathing as a Key to Sustainable Health

Saunas play a pivotal role in reducing stress, the risk of cardiovascular diseases, detoxing, and improving lung health. The heat produced improves blood flow, relieves inflammation in lung tissues, and opens airways by clearing obstructions such as mucal phlegm. All these factors enhance lung function and improve the overall health of a regular bather. You can get a home sauna from Komowa and start enjoying these benefits today.

However, it would be best to prioritize your safety by following the guidelines and precautions. Those with pre-existing conditions can consult healthcare providers to moderate their sauna use better.

 

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