May 11, 2017
In their native Finland, saunas have always been associated with good health. Indeed, the first saunas – usually small cabins with fireplaces – were conceived by their Scandinavian inventors as spaces in which people could cleanse their minds, rejuvenate their spirits, bathe socially and even give birth. Even today, there is an average of one sauna per Finnish household and bathing in them is often a daily routine.
Though saunas are nowhere near as popular in the United States as they are in Scandinavia, most large gym complexes usually contain at least one of them. Below is a list of reasons why these saunas – which are sadly often empty, even during peak hours – deserve far more attention than they currently receive.
Few people in the modern world perspire on a daily basis. Our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, coupled with regular antiperspirant use, prevent our bodies from releasing toxins in the safest and most efficient manner it can – by sweating.
Saunas, of course, can take care of this problem. Due to their high, but tolerable, heat levels (usually between 60 to 100°C or 140 to 212°F), saunas raise our bodies’ core temperatures, which stimulates our millions of sweat glands and induces deep sweating. Sweat is 99 percent water, but that one percent contains some seriously undesirable toxins, such as excess nickel, copper, lead, sodium, mercury and a multitude of chemicals. Sweating in the sauna can also help us remove the chlorine and bromine found in public swimming pools and hot tubs.
When our bodies’ core temperatures rise, our blood vessels dilate and our circulation increases. This increased blood flow boosts our bodies’ natural healing processes, thereby soothing aches and pains in our joints and muscles and accelerating the healing of bruises and cuts. While this is beneficial to the average person, it is especially beneficial to weight lifters and others who engage in rigorous exercise regimes. Indeed, studies have shown that just 10 minutes of sauna use post-workout can greatly accelerate our bodies’ recovery rate, putting us in good stead for our next workout.
When our bodies are exposed to high heat, they release endorphins – mood-boosting neurotransmitters that have analgesic and tranquilizing qualities. This, combined with the fact that saunas tend to be peaceful, quiet spaces, make sauna use an effective remedy against stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia. In fact, many doctors in Finland prescribe regular sauna use for patients (including pregnant women) suffering from these conditions.
Research has shown that our heart rate can accelerate from 60-70 beats per minute to 110-120 beats per minute in the average Western sauna, then decelerates to a below-average rate during the cooling process. These rapid temperature changes exercise our heart muscles and boost cardiac output, thus improving the health of our cardiovascular and regulatory systems.
If you’re new to sauna usage, consider a series of progressively longer sessions until you feel comfortable with the heat. Try and work up to sessions that last between 15-20 minutes (though it varies from person to person, deep sweating tends to start from around the 10 minute mark). Hydrate yourself before and after the session and always end with a shower (ideally a cold one). Finally, remember that heat rises – so the higher you sit in a sauna room, the hotter it will be!
Sources for this article include:
Don Fisher D.O.
Medical Director/ Physician
The BEST Program, Inc.