Clear Health Related Benefits
While we consider the main benefit of sauna being genuine and pure relaxation, sauna bathing has clear health-related benefits that can make a difference in ones’ life. These benefits have been proven in medical studies in Finland, Germany and Japan. The most commonly mentioned health benefits include the following:
Soothing and Relaxation of Tired Muscles
When exposed to higher temperatures of a Sauna, the human body releases endorphins, the body’s naturally produced pain relieving chemical. Endorphins both quell the pain of arthritis and muscle soreness from an intense physical workout. Athletes use Saunas to improve their range of motion and to help loosen tight muscles and eliminate lactic acid and other toxins after a hard workout.
Sauna bathing causes the circulation rate to increase, which also accelerates the soothing of aches and pains.
Improved Circulation and Lower Blood Pressure
Blood vessel dilation brings blood closer to the surface of the skin and, as blood vessels expand to accommodate increased blood flow, circulation in the extremities improves, and the blood pressure gets lower. The effect on the blood pressure is temporary, but medical research shows that frequent sauna bathing can make person’s blood pressure level also to stay lower.
Relieved Tension, Stress and Mental Fatigue
Stress has become a significant disease of its own in the modern day life, and it is a primary reason behind several serious illnesses. Sauna bathing greatly relaxes body and mind, and promotes a sense of well-being.
Finnish researchers have reported that the regular use of Saunas helps maintain the blood vessels in a healthier condition. Vessels become more elastic and pliable longer due to regular dilation and contraction from the process of heating and cooling the body repeatedly. Medical research shows the heart rate can rise from 60-70/min. to 110 to 120/min. in the sauna (140 – 150 with more intensive bathing), and can often sink to below normal after the cooling off stage. The heart rate increases in the Sauna create a demand for more oxygen, which in turn burns calories and provides a mild workout for the heart. Regular sauna use not only “trains” the heart muscles and improves the heart rate/cardiac output, but also positively influences the regulatory system. Repeated and multiple sauna “innings” further increase the cardiovascular workout.
Better and More Restful Sleep
The released endorphins and higher body temperature before the sleep time result in more restful and deeper sleep.
Increased Resistance to Illness and Relieved Congestion
Finnish and German studies show that regular sauna bathing leads to a 30% less chance of getting a cold and influenza. Sauna heat puts the body into an artificial fever state (hyperthermia). Fever is part of the body’s natural healing process. This “fake fever” stimulates the immune system resulting in an increased production of disease fighting white blood cells and antibodies.
Sauna bathing can relieve sinus congestion from colds or allergies—especially when used with steam (water on the heater rocks!). The steam vapor action helps clear up uncomfortable congestion.
Sauna use can help in burning calories, due to the sweating process itself, and due to increased heart rate. Even though most of the weight lost in sauna is water, regular sauna bathing can complement a weight-loss program.
Removal of Toxins and Impurities from the Body
Sweating and high temperatures in a sauna open the body’s pores, and help reduce levels of toxins and impurities like lead, copper, zinc, nickel and mercury — all commonly picked up from our environment. There are also many detoxification programs that use the Sauna daily to rid the body of chemicals.
Maintaining clear and healthy skin
In the sauna, skin is cleansed and dead cells are replaced, keeping the skin in good working condition. Sauna heat also relaxes facial tensions, and improves skin elasticity. Sweating rinses bacteria out of the epidermal layer and sweat ducts.
Reducing Pain from Sunburn
Sauna heat soothes sunburned skin as blood rushes to the surface to aid in healing.
Helping with Kidney Function
Sauna bathing can augment proper kidney function. Perspiration through the skin’s pores excretes a good amount of the body’s wastes and reduces the load put on the kidneys.
Possible Health Risks
As mentioned above, the health benefits of sauna use have been widely studied, and the same applies the potential health risks involved. The following is a statement from the Finnish Sauna Society (this, and related additional information can be found from their web site – see the links):
“For any healthy person the sauna bath presents no health risk, but rather gives a pleasant, relaxing and refreshing experience beneficial to both body and mind. Groups of people who may have health risks in the sauna and who therefore should pay special attention to the way they bathe are patients with various diseases, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma or skin disease. However, for most people in these groups moderate sauna bathing presents no health risk. "Moderate" here means keeping the temperature under 90°C (194°F) and avoiding any rapid changes from hot to cold or vice versa. Also pregnant women can safely go to the sauna under the same conditions, but should stay in somewhat lower temperature (around 70°C/158°F).
People who should avoid the sauna completely are e.g. people running fever or having inflammatory diseases or injuries. Anybody with a contagious disease should bathe only in his own sauna. Also people under the influence of alcohol should not go to the sauna, nor is there any evidence that the sauna would help in a hangover.
A more scientific approach on sauna and health is presented in the article Sauna and Health by Lasse Viinikka. Further reading on this subject can be found in the journal Annals of Clinical Research listed in Sauna Literature.”