One of the constant discussion topics that the North American Sauna Society is contacted about is the question of sauna and health. Is the sauna healthy for you and if so, are there clinical studies to prove this?
There has been extensive medical research done on the physiological and emotional effects of regular sauna bathing; the Europeans have mainly studied the traditional saunas and the Japanese the IR bathing, but we haven’t had wide-ranging North American studies. There are also many varying types of heated spaces out there that are marketed as saunas and even more creative ways to use them. Therefore, an important thing when considering the health benefits is the definition of what sauna bathing actually is. Particularly the American sauna bathing sometimes deviates from the more ethnic sauna bathing experiences, such as the Finnish sauna and the claims why people should do sauna are sometimes truthful, sometimes misleading in their promises of a healthy life style.
We have found three user types; there is the occasional newspaper reader that likes his sauna mild; then there is the gym sauna bather with her water bottle and an eye on the gym clock; finally, there is the sauna bather, who repeats the intervals of staying in the heat and cooling off as his/her body tells her to. One would assume that the potential health benefits would intensify, as the sauna experience gets more wholesome. Staying in a heated room for a predefined time is not possible but in lower temperatures. Dipping in a cold lake or a swimming pool for a couple of minutes to cool off craves higher temperatures inside the sauna room to feel comfortable.
The main point is that regular sauna bathing has proven medical benefits, but the results will vary depending upon the individual and the way in which he/she sauna bathes. You do what feels natural to yourself; with sauna bathing there is no place for the idea that it must be painful for it to achieve the benefits. Sauna truly is “not only good for you, it feels good too!” Most of us at the North American Sauna Society represent the idea that only a rejuvenating feeling of repeated rounds of staying in the heat, going out, getting back in, going for a swim or a shower, drinking something while taking a break, and doing this as many times as you yourself find enjoyable is what the sauna experience should be about. If you don’t get your endorphins flowing and you don’t get that fantastic feeling, then your sauna experience is not fully cooperating with you. Feeling of comfort is all that matters. If you are new to the sauna, start slow and work your way up. It will be very rewarding and being outright healthy can be a secondary though, it just makes you feel so good.