“It feels like a sauna in here” is a phrase often used when a space is uncomfortable. But the reality of a sauna is that it is truly a comfortable, calming, restorative place to be! Yes, the extreme environment and powerful heat of a sauna bath can be both mentally and physically rejuvenating. These steamy hot rooms have been used in Finland and throughout Scandanavia for thousands of years. And in various forms, they have slowly been spreading across the globe.
Spend some time in a high-quality sauna, and you’ll lose some serious sweat. Like buckets of sweat, pouring off of the body. And that’s a good thing!
When you step out into the cool air, you’ll feel renewed, revived, and cleaned from the heat. Not so different than if you’d spent some time relaxing in the waters of a luxurious soaking bathtub!
Benefits of Regular Sauna Use
The most important benefits you get from regular sauna bathing are that it will clear your mind, relax the body, invigorate you, and provide a sense of mental restoration. The mental revitalization you get from your time in the sauna is the most important, and most valuable benefit you can get from using a sauna.
That said, there are many claims floating around that saunas provide significant medical health and wellness benefits. Sauna manufacturers sometimes promote questionable claims and overhype preliminary studies to make it look like sauna baths work miracles.
If you start to look around, you’ll find loads of information on how saunas will make you lose weight (hint: it’s water weight, not fat), they’ll cure cancer, they will give you magical fairy wings, etc. The truth is that most of these claims are either outright fabrications, or they are based off very small studies with low quality.
That’s not to say that all the research is bad. There are several solid studies showcasing some real health benefits from both traditional and infrared sauna use. I’ll run through a few of them in a moment, but first, a few works on the different types of saunas.
Types of Sauna
The two major categories of sauna are infrared saunas and electric or wood-burning saunas. Electric and wood-burning saunas heat the sauna up in a similar way, though infrared heat is fundamentally different.
Infrared saunas have been growing in popularity due to their simplicity and lack of hassle compared to traditional saunas. Infrasaunas use infrared panels to generate radiant heat (and run at a lower temperature). Radiant heat warms the surfaces on the body directly, as opposed to warming the room itself.
Infrared light is not the same as the UV light produced in a tanning bed and is not dangerous. IR light is on the opposite side of the 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.
Traditional wood-burning and electric saunas heat the room with direct heat from wood or electricity. Sauna rocks are usually placed on top of the heater, and when you want to add steam to the room, you pour some water onto the rocks.
Infrared saunas don’t use sauna rocks, and there is usually no steam involved.
Most sauna studies have been on traditional saunas with steam, not infrared saunas.
Saunas and Life Extension
This is likely the most interesting study around that looks looking at sauna use. In this study, discussed by Harvard Medical School. researchers looked at the death rates from cardiovascular disease and stroke among sauna users.
The study followed 2,300 Finnish men over 20 years, focusing on their sauna use. That’s a pretty thorough study! It found that “frequent visits to a sauna were also associated with lower death rates from cardiovascular disease and stroke.”
The study considered traditional Finnish saunas, and may not apply to (more common in homes) infrared saunas.
Heart Health and Blood Pressure
A few studies looking at people with existing cardiovascular issues found there may be improvements in cardiovascular function after regular visits to an infrared sauna. The underlying cause of the improvements is still unclear, but regardless, benefits have been found.
This is very much preliminary stuff, and more research needs to be done.
For those who suffer from joint pain and arthritis, saunas may offer some relief. Scientists have found that regular sauna treatments over the course of a month lead to reduced incidence of joint pain, especially in those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.
General Health and Saunas
The Mayo Clinic has a great round-up on the current science around infrared saunas. As they state, “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.”
What about Toxins?
You can find all sorts of claims in sketchy corners of the internet stating that saunas will get rid of toxins, remove heavy metals, etc. The reality is that saunas will definitely make you sweat, and sweat contains very small amounts of metals in it. So yeah, technically, saunas do remove heavy metals.
But seriously, if you have toxic levels of lead or other heavy metals in your body, you need to get to the doctor. The sauna’s just not going to cut it.
A sauna is a great place to relax and enjoy. Spend screenless time in the sauna with friends and family, and you’ll find plenty of enjoyment. Whether you choose a sauna in a spa or gym, or a home model, you’ll find a rewarding, rejuvenating heat awaits!