It’s odd to think that stepping into an extremely hot environment could be soothing. But it is, incredibly so! Spending time taking a sauna bath can be extremely rewarding, both mentally and physically. These hot rooms have been in use throughout Scandinavia for hundreds of years, and have slowly been spreading across the globe.
When you’re taking a sauna bath in a good sauna, you expel a lot of sweat. Rivers of sweat. That’s the way it should be. When you step out, you’ll feel clean, refreshed, and rejuvenated from the heat, just like if you had spent some time bathing in a luxurious bath tub surrounded by candles.
Regular Sauna Use
There are many benefits to using a sauna regularly. However, many sauna manufacturers will promote questionable claims and overhype preliminary studies to make it look like sauna baths work miracles.
You can find plenty of information out there about how saunas will help you lose weight (they will: water weight, not fat), cure cancer, give you superpowers, etc. Most of these claims are either outright fabrications, or they are based off very small studies with low quality.
That said, there are many significant benefits to regularly using a sauna. I’ll run through a few of them here.
Benefits of Sauna Bathing
Perhaps the biggest benefit of using a sauna is that it can relax the body, clear the mind, and lift the spirits. Simple as that, the mental boost you get from a spa-like visit to a sauna is perhaps the biggest benefit.
Nobody asks for scientific studies to prove that you got benefits the last time you took a bath in your bathtub. Yet, people seem to want science to back their claims about sauna use. Well, here are a few well-studied findings related to time in the sauna.
- Saunas and Longer Lives
Perhaps the most compelling study out there looking at sauna use looked particularly at the death rates from cardiovascular disease and stroke. It was discussed by Harvard Medical School.
This study examined 2,300 Finnish men over 20 years, which makes it a pretty robust study. It found that “frequent visits to a sauna were also associated with lower death rates from cardiovascular disease and stroke.”
The study was done using traditional Finnish saunas, and may not carry over to (more common) infrared saunas.
- Saunas and the Immune System
The evidence isn’t super strong here, but there are some studies that have found traditional sauna baths may improve immune system functioning, and could potentially aid in combatting the common cold.
The heat from a traditional sauna can raise your white blood cell count. This could improve the efficiency of the immune system.
- Chronic Fatigue
There was a small study done that found that the use of an infrared sauna, combined with rest under a blanket, can offer significant relief to those suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. The effects weren’t present during the sauna sessions, but became apparent after the sauna baths were over.
Chronic Fatigue is a notoriously difficult issue to treat. And while this study is very much preliminary, it is promising and worth researching further.
- And Toxins? Saunas Remove Those, Right?
You can find all sorts of writing online stating that saunas will remove toxins, heavy metals, etc. Saunas make you sweat, and sweat contains minuscule amounts of metals in it. So yes, saunas remove heavy metals. But really, if you have toxic levels of heavy metals like lead in your body, you need to visit a doctor, not a sauna!
It’s best to ignore all this toxin stuff.
Does The Type of Sauna Matter?
There are many different types of saunas available, including electric-heated saunas, wood-burning saunas, infrared saunas, and steam saunas. The traditional sauna that has been around in Finland for hundreds of years would be the wood-burning sauna, with the electric-heated sauna filling essentially the same role. These saunas are “dry” saunas, and provide dry heat that can be tempered by pouring water over hot sauna stones to produce steam as desired.
Most studies have been done on traditional-style saunas.
The new, extremely popular entrant is the infrared sauna. These saunas use infrared panels to produce radiant heat, which heats the surfaces on the body directly. These are not like a tanning bed that produces UV light; infrared light is on the opposite side of the light spectrum from UV light. Infrared saunas typically don’t need special wiring, and they don’t heat up as hot as a traditional sauna due to the radiant heat design. They also don’t use sauna rocks, and the steam is not typically present.
Fewer studies have been done on infrared saunas, but the Mayo Clinic has a great write-up on them. As they say in their article on Infrared Saunas, “Several studies have looked at using infrared saunas in the treatment of chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, headache, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, and found some evidence of benefit. However, larger and more rigorous studies are needed to confirm these results.”
If you’re looking for a way to find calm, restful rejuvenation, consider a home sauna, or join a gym that has a sauna as part of its package. Regardless of what you choose, your time in the sauna will be rewarding, enjoyable, and restorative.
About the Author
Alex Grand writes about meditation, saunas, and other topics at Roots of Being. When not writing, you can find him at a Yoga class trying to master the headstand Shirshasana pose.