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Article: Sauna: Health Benefits, Risks, and Precautions

Sauna: Health Benefits, Risks, and Precautions

Sauna: Health Benefits, Risks, and Precautions

Written by Chris Lang

A sauna is a heated room or building with controlled humidity. Traditionally, it’s wood-lined and uses heated stones to produce steam. Finns have been using saunas for centuries to relax, meditate, and socialize; the word “sauna” is of Finnish origin, and it’s said that there’s roughly one sauna for every two people in Finland.

If you’re wondering “What is a sauna good for?” then you’ll find the answer here. This article looks into the health benefits of being in a sauna often, such as cardiovascular advantages and mental well-being, as well as possible risks and precautions.

Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing

Sauna bathing goes beyond a mere relaxation ritual; it is steeped in numerous health sauna time benefits. Scientific research and anecdotal evidence have highlighted the positive impact of using sauna regularly on overall well-being. The warmth of the sauna improves cardiovascular and mental health, touching upon various aspects of human health. Let’s dive deeper into the medical benefits of a sauna to understand why.

Cardiovascular Benefits

Does sauna help with blood pressure? Maybe. Sauna bathing has been linked to improved heart health. The dry heat of up to 185° F stimulates physiological changes in the body. While sitting in a sauna, your skin’s temperature can reach 104° F. In response to the increased heat and sweating, the heart rate may elevate by 30%, allowing it to pump twice as much blood per minute, most of which is directed to the skin.

Blood pressure changes vary among individuals. Some might see an increase while others could see a decrease, which could have a different effect on their cardiovascular health. If your doctor approves sauna use for improved heart health - go for it. Just don’t do it blindly.

Saunas may not be suitable for everyone. People with high blood pressure or heart disease should consult a physician before trying. It’s a good idea to limit sauna use to around 15 minutes per session and cool down gradually afterward. Also, drink two to four glasses of water post-sauna.

Studies, such as that from Harvard Health, have shown that regular sauna use can lower risks of heart failure, depending on the condition. Nevertheless, it should be done with caution and understanding of individual health conditions.

Mental and Brain Health

Sauna use has been practiced for centuries, and studies have explored its potential benefits for mental well-being and brain health. Notable findings include:

  • Using a sauna post-workout can give you a powerful sense of relaxation and well-being. It soothes your muscles and reduces mental stress. The warmth and humidity create an atmosphere of calm that promotes good mental health.

  • Regular sauna sessions might offer some level of protection to the brain, although the exact mechanisms are still under investigation. Studies suggest that heat can influence brain activity to result in better cognitive functions.

  • The heat and humidity of the sauna help your body release endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and other “feel-good” chemicals, boosting your mood and sense of well-being.

  • The “Totonou” state is a concept that explores the harmony of body and mind through sauna use. Researchers studied this state by measuring brain activity during sauna bathing to better understand the neural characterization of the “Totonou” state.

Muscle Recovery and Pain Relief

A hot sauna is a great way to help your body recover from intense workouts. It helps you relax and reduces soreness after long exercise sessions. Saunas improve blood flow, delivering more oxygen to muscles for their recovery. This can reduce muscle soreness and tension while providing relief from muscle pain. Heat can also help relax tightened muscles.

Not only that, but a sauna or hot tub after a workout can boost the effects of your training. Studies found that people who wore a sauna suit or soaked in hot water afterward experienced better maximum oxygen uptake and lactate threshold. In simple terms, these treatments make you build muscles better and with less strain. As such, the benefits of using a sauna regularly include maintaining muscle mass and warding off inflammation.

Heat, such as heat packs or baths, often reduce pain. A sauna can also provide similar benefits, significantly reducing lower back pain. The warm, humid environment soothes tense muscles, providing a natural antidote to mental stress that often contributes to physical stress and chronic pain. If you visit places like Komowa Wellness, you can see these effects for yourself.

Skin Health

Did you know that there are numerous effects of sauna on the skin, too? Here are some skin benefits of going to a sauna:

  • The hot air and moisture boost collagen production. Collagen is a protein that keeps your skin elastic. The increased collagen allows the skin to shed old cells and create new, healthier ones to achieve a more refreshed complexion.

  • The sauna has a cleansing effect. The induced sweating flushes out impurities from the skin, like dust, bacteria, and more. That leads to healthier skin with a lower chance of acne and other blemishes.

  • A sauna can improve your circulation. With increased blood flow, the skin gets more nourishment, which may lead to a brighter, healthier look.

  • Essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, and sandalwood, in combination with a sauna, can have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. They also soothe and moisturize the skin. To cleanse and nourish your skin even more, apply a natural face mask between sauna sessions.

Respiratory Benefits

Sauna bathing has long been associated with relaxation and sauna detoxification. However, recent studies have revealed its potential for improving respiratory health. Reduced risk of respiratory diseases, enhanced lung capacity and function, and increased hydration of the respiratory tract are just some of the benefits of going to a sauna. So regular sauna sessions can be a natural way to maintain and improve your respiratory health, possibly offering relief from certain conditions, like asthma and chronic bronchitis.

Detoxification

The heat from steam rooms and saunas encourages sweating, which rids the outer layers of skin from contaminants. Blood vessels expand in response to heat, improving circulation, and toxins can go away more easily.

Breathing becomes easier because mucous membranes open up in the sinuses and lungs so you can breathe more deeply, assisting with toxin removal. Thus, regular sauna sessions can be an effective natural way to detoxify, so long as you have realistic expectations and don’t rely exclusively on the sauna to rid your body of toxic or waste materials from bad habits like smoking.

While it’s often thought that saunas detoxify through the skin, this isn’t necessarily a fact, at least not for everything, so be cautious. Rather, substances like alcohol, mercury, and aluminum are mainly removed by organs other than your skin, like the liver and kidneys.

Longevity and Anti-Aging

The benefits of sauna use go beyond relaxation and detoxification. Some research shows that regular sessions could contribute to a longer life and anti-aging. An analysis revealed that those who went to a sauna four to seven times a week had a 31% lower mortality rate from cardiovascular issues than those who went only once.

The relaxing environment of saunas could reduce stress, while the high temperatures may provide cardiovascular conditioning comparable to moderate-intensity physical exercise. Both of these pros of sauna can help you live a longer and healthier life.

Immune System Boost

Saunas could boost the immune system. As mentioned, one of the perks of a sauna is increasing circulation. This effect is similar to low-moderate exercise, which aids in the transportation of immune cells. Along with that, they reduce stress and pain, and heightened stress has been linked to overloading the immune system. Circulation also stimulates the production of white blood cells. Finally, sitting in the sauna regularly might even aid with a reduced risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Types of Saunas

There are two main types of saunas - traditional and infrared. Both promote well-being but work a little differently. Traditional saunas use hot air, while infrared saunas rely on radiant heat. Both have unique features and benefits, so let’s compare them.

Traditional Sauna

Traditional saunas use dry heat that can range from 70° to 100° C or 158° to 212° F. They often have a relative humidity of 10-20%, though you can pour water on the rocks to increase it for a time. Its benefits include relaxation, improved circulation, and sweat cleansing. However, not everyone can tolerate the extreme temperatures, and there is a risk of dehydration if you don’t drink enough water after using it for a while.

Infrared Sauna

An infrared sauna may be better than a normal sauna for some. They use far-infrared lamps to emit light waves that directly heat your body instead of the air around you. The lower temperatures (around 60° C or 140° F) can make it more comfortable for people who don’t like traditional saunas.

Potential health benefits of infrared sauna include improved cardiovascular health, increased exercise tolerance, and reduced chronic pain. However, comprehensive research on all its potential benefits and risks is still ongoing, and some people may experience skin sensitivity or react adversely to infrared light.

Risks and Precautions

There are many health benefits of using a sauna, but be aware of the dangers and take steps to make it safe and enjoyable.

Some possible sauna risks are:

  • Blood pressure – Alternating between the heat of a sauna and cold water can cause significant fluctuations in blood pressure, which isn’t safe for some people.

  • Dehydration – Excessive sweating from high temperatures can lead to dehydration, so stay hydrated before, during, and after a session.

  • Heart conditions – Individuals with certain heart conditions or those who have experienced a recent heart attack should speak to their healthcare provider before using a sauna.

Some precautions to keep in mind are:

  • Limit time in the sauna – Recommended time for infrared sauna and traditional sauna shouldn’t exceed 5-10 minutes for newcomers. Experienced users can ramp up to a maximum of 20 minutes per session.

  • Hydrate – Drink a few glasses of water after a session.

  • Avoid alcohol – Alcohol can be dangerous, and you shouldn’t have it while using a sauna, since it can dehydrate you even more.

  • Supervise children – Kids should always have an adult present, and limit their time inside to 15 minutes max. Toddlers and young children might not regulate their temperature well, so limit their time in the sauna to around five minutes.

  • Consult your doctor – People with medical conditions or pregnant women should speak with a physician before sauna.

Myths about saunas:

  • Detoxification through sweating – It isn’t conclusive that sweating detoxifies the body. Organs such as the kidneys and liver are responsible for removing most toxins from the body, much more compared to the skin.

  • Weight Loss – Weight loss from a sauna is actually mostly just fluid loss, as fat loss is negligible in this environment.

Frequency and Duration

Sauna sessions can be a great way to relax and promote health, but you should be vigilant of how often and for how long you use them to really feel the benefits and avoid risks. Many regular users incorporate saunas into their weekly schedule. Some studies suggest that frequent use (for example, the maximum times to use an infrared sauna in a week is 7) may have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health and longevity, but one must be aware of their body before trying this.

For most people, 15-20 minutes per session is best. After exiting the sauna, gradually cool down by sitting in a cooler room, taking a lukewarm shower, or resting for a few minutes. Then, rehydrate with two to four glasses of cool water after each sauna session.

But the one thing that will guide you the most effectively is your own body. If staying in a sauna for a typical session feels like too much, and you’re starting to feel uncomfortable, it’s perfectly fine to leave. Don’t push yourself. There are many positive effects of sauna, but you won’t reap those benefits if you overexert yourself.

Scientific Evidence

Saunas have been studied extensively and shown to offer numerous health benefits. Finnish Sauna Bathing and Vascular Health, Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing, Sauna as a Clinical Tool, Clinical Effects of Regular Dry Sauna Bathing, and Sauna Bathing and Incident Hypertension are just some notable prospective cohort studies showing the potential for sauna to benefit cardiovascular outcomes, reduce risk of hypertension, and improve health in other ways. Naturally, individual results may vary, so always consult your healthcare provider before making saunas part of your routine if you have a chronic illness.

Conclusion: What Does a Sauna Do for Your Body?

Saunas are culturally significant, relaxing, and healthy for you. Some of the health benefits of sauna use include improved cardiovascular and mental health, muscle recovery, skin and respiratory function, longevity, and immune system boost. Traditional saunas use heated rocks to create steam, while infrared saunas use infrared heat panels.

However, exercise caution and drink plenty of water before and after a session, limit how long you stay in the sauna, and avoid alcohol consumption around sessions. Before making the sauna your regular go-to spot, consult a doctor. Start with shorter 10-15-minute sessions and gradually increase the duration if your body allows. Komowa Wellness is there to give you the utmost peace and relaxation whenever you need it.

References:

  1. Finnish Sauna Bathing and Vascular Health

  2. Cardiovascular and other health benefits of sauna bathing

  3. Sauna as a valuable clinical tool

  4. Clinical effects of regular dry sauna bathing

  5. Sauna bathing and incident hypertension

  6. What are the benefits and risks of a sauna?

  7. Sauna Health Benefits: Are saunas healthy or harmful?

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