Sauna Benefits

June 28, 2016

“No goal was ever met without a little sweat.” The inspirational poster has dogged humans for years with constant reminders that hard work pays off—but it turns out we have been duped. A little sweat while relaxing in a sauna can just as well lead to incredible health goals, without even lifting a finger or batting an eye.

Saunas are small, enclosed rooms filled with dry heat and set to very high temperatures (typically between 150 and 185 degrees Fahrenheit). They are meant for relaxation and cleansing purposes. Though there is no set time for how long to stay inside, it’s recommended that you begin in small increments and go no longer than 30 minutes due to the combined high heat and risk of dehydration from profusely sweating. If you are pregnant or have a chronic health condition, consult your doctor first.

Most frequently, saunas are found in fitness centers, day spas, and even homes (see these tips for how to hack your bathroom). With such convenient access, there’s little excuse not to use them on the regular—especially when you consider that doing so can detoxify the body, ease joint pain, and even lead to a better workout.

How many different types of saunas are there?

Here’s a fun fact—”sauna” is the only Finnish word in the English language. It translates to bath or bathhouse, and its origins go back nearly 2,000 years when it was first invented by digging into ground embankments or building small log structures with only a small air vent. Rocks were then heated in a stone stove, and the process took more than a half-day to fill the one-room enclosure with hot air. Today’s options are a bit more progressive and unique, with numerous variations that each have their own unique heating methods.

Wood-burning sauna

The wood-burning sauna takes the most inspiration from its historical predecessors. It has a central stove that uses fire-burning wood to heat the entire room. As such, this type of sauna can become quite hot, but the bather is able to control the overall heat in the room by adjusting a temperature gauge. Other than sanitation, there is not much maintenance required with this variety.

Electric heater sauna

Though they only got their start a few decades ago, saunas that operate by use of an electrical heater are now the most common in the world. The heater is plugged in and can be mounted to any of the walls or to the floor in order to heat up the space. This type is praised for its efficiency and safety, particularly since the temperature from an electric heater is much easier to control, often giving the individual the ability to make easy adjustments via a remote control. Similar to its wood-burning counterparts, electric heater saunas require very little upkeep and are cost-effective.

Infrared sauna

The infrared sauna is the newest innovation that has recently become available for use in sweat therapy. Unlike other saunas that use conventional methods of heating the air or entire room, infrared options use rays of light that transfer heat directly to the individual’s skin without affecting the temperatures of nearby surroundings. Because of this, no steam is used in infrared sauna rooms, and the temperatures are considerably less drastic. This type is primarily used for physical therapy applications for patients that are experiencing minor ailments, or as preparation for professional athletes competing in upcoming sporting events.

Sauna vs. steam room

Another option is a steam room. Though similar in theory—both make your internal temperature rise and induce sweat—this is not a sauna at all. Rather than using dry heat, steam rooms are “wet,” working with conditions of 100% humidity that produce cloudy air. Some may find humid air more intolerable, though steam rooms are great for added moisturization and relieving any kind of respiratory issue.

The health benefits of using a sauna

Saunas are one of the most natural ways of allowing the body to perspire, which is important for cleansing pores, removing toxic agents from the body, and relaxing the mind (which can relieve stress and improve happiness). Sweat therapy, as it’s come to be known, has also been the focus of recent studies that have kept a watchful eye on just how much good it does for physical health. Here are just some of the findings.

  • Reduced risk of heart disease: According to a report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, dry saunas can be almost as good as exercise when it comes to promoting heart health. In patients with diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, sitting in a low-heat sauna for 15 minutes a day, three to five times per week improved blood vessel and heart function. This is likely due to the fact that high heat dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow as well as overall circulation.
  • Assistance in weight loss: Though you will lose weight after sweating in a sauna a few days a week, this is just water weight, which will be added back on the next time you have a meal. However, the benefit of regular sauna usage is that it provides some level of cardiovascular conditioning. The high temperatures naturally increase heart rates, which mimics the levels you could achieve while doing moderate exercise. So, when combined with a physical exercise program, saunas can almost double your efforts.
  • Easing joint pain and asthma: Good news for arthritic and asthmatic patients—studies from the Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health illustrate that all the sweating from sauna heat can actually help to ease joint pain and improve breathing conditions. The improved circulation from high heat situations is key for joints, while increased temperatures also helps encourage blood flow to the lungs and allows the air sacs to take in more oxygen. As well, sweating opens pores across the skin, which contributes to the release of harmful toxins, improves hygiene, and promotes an overall feeling of wellness.

Improving the sauna experience

Just the act of sitting in a sauna for 15 minutes can provide numerous benefits and single-handedly improve personal health. However, adding in these extra steps can have an even greater impact on getting the most of out each session.

Apply a facial mask to prime the skin

The sauna is an invaluable resource for deep cleansing the skin, especially on the face where dirt and oil can build up. As a pre-sauna treatment, apply this revitalizing face mask to help get rid of dead skin cells and begin the steps to revealing a healthier complexion. The natural ingredients present in this hypoallergenic mask are a safe and gentle way to open pores—and when combined with a trip to the sauna, your skin will feel even more youthful and nourished.

Exfoliate the rest of your skin

Before heading in for sweat therapy, gently exfoliate your body. This relaxing body scrub will slough away dead skin cells, so when you head into the sauna, your pores can release all the deep-down toxins that may have been trapped. And that will leave you feeling great and looking even more radiant.

Hit the shower

Taking a quick shower beforehand will remove surface dirt and oil from the body and can maximize the effect of the impending deep sweat. Hopping back in the shower afterwards will cool down your body temperature and also ensure complete sanitation, especially after using a shared space like a sauna. Make the experience even more pleasant with this refreshing orange and vanilla body wash.

Stay hydrated

A typical 20-minute session in the sauna can draw as much as one quarter of water from the body as you engage in a deep sweat. It’s imperative you replace those lost fluids so that your body has the hydration and vital nutrients it needs to optimally function. Pack your gym bag with a bottle or two of refreshing coconut water, which not only tastes great but also replenishes the water, electrolytes, potassium, and sodium that may have been lost through perspiration. Unlike sports drinks, it also doesn’t have the unnecessary sugar content.

Enjoy the cool down

The time directly after a sauna can lead to deep relaxation, and in some cases, the best sleep you’ve ever had. It is recommended to take a brief shower or a dip in the pool to cool the body down before resuming the rest of the activities of the day. At night, a good cup of tea with herbal remedies will help to promote a restful sleep (or even a short nap during the day).

Devise a total detox plan

If you really want to take detoxifying to the next level, combine sauna therapy with a complete detox diet plan that can help reach the final goal of maximum wellness. Doing so will allow your digestive system to release toxins in the same way sweating does for your skin. To get started, try Thrive Market’s five-day detox plan.

Saunas are still gaining traction as a healthy lifestyle choice

Researchers have only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible from using a sauna on a regular basis. Not only does this method of therapy provide relaxation to the muscles and joints of the body, it also works to release endorphins that act as natural painkillers, relieving the aches and soreness of a long day or week.

Visiting these heated rooms should be done in conjunction with a healthy diet and frequent exercise, and physicians have stressed that patients should consult with them first before starting any new regimen.

Photo credit: Trinette Reed via Stocksy

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