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Sauna Health Benefits, Risks, and Precautions

Sauna Health Benefits, Risks, and Precautions
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Last Updated: 30 April 2019

People have used these hot places for many thousands of years and today they are still on the rise in terms of popularity. It’s a great piece of kit to use — it can really help your health in many ways and has been used in therapies for a long time. So what are the benefits of a sauna environment? The main sauna benefits include improvements to cardiovascular health and relaxation but there are many more. In fact, over 3000 years ago the Mayan tribe were using primitive sweat houses for sauna health benefits.

These rooms have been a prominent part of Finnish culture too — people have regularly convened in these hot rooms for many centuries. It’s a place where stories have been shared, new friendships have been formed and even some diplomatic decisions have been carried out. It should be noted however that although a warm room can provide a nice relaxing environment, it isn’t for everyone and can be risky for anyone who is pregnant or anyone that has consumed alcohol under 5 hours before. With the risks in mind, what are saunas good for? Let’s look at what a sauna is and we’ll answer, is sauna good for you?

What Is a Sauna?

These places people relax in a room that is typically between 80 and a Hundred degrees Celsius. So what does a sauna do? Typically, dry heat is used to fill the room and the relative humidity within these rooms reaches between 15 and 20%. This can vary across types though, for instance, Turkish types have much higher humidity. When someone sits in this room, their skin temperature roughly increases to 40°C. As the temperature of the skin increases, one perspires more and their heart rate rises in order to keep themselves cool. Don’t be surprised, you could lose about a pint of body sweat with very short experience.

Types of Saunas

There are all sorts of types that are available to use, depending on the way a room is heated.

Wood Types

Wood burning types unsurprisingly make use of wood in order to create the heat and aroma inside the room. These types are quite low in their humidity and get very hot inside. It’s wonderful to have one of these next to a cold pool outside to jump in!

Electrical

Heat can also come from electricity in the form of a heater which attaches to the floor. Similar to a wood burning type, electricity can create a high temperature in the room. These types typically create a much lower humidity environment.

Infrared

Far Infrared saunas are quite different from the other two categories. Here, special lamps send light radiation towards a person’s body in order to heat them up. This is much different because the body is heated, not the room. The temperature in a room is much lower, but the person within it sweats in a similar way to heated room type.

Don’t forget that there are also steam rooms. These differ a lot from good health saunas because they have a high humidity level. The heat is wet and moist. So how are these warm environments good for us?

Proven Sauna Health Benefits

Irrespective of the way in which a sauna is heated or its humidity, they always have similar effects on the body. So, are saunas good for you? Let’s look at some health benefits commonly associated with their use and the sauna benefits.

1. Easing Pain

When a person sits within their room, the heart rate starts to increase and blood vessels begin to widen. What does a sauna do here exactly? As a result, circulation is increased in a way that is similar to doing moderate exercise. An increase in circulation can help reduce sore feelings, arthritis, pain and can improve joint mobility.

2. Reducing Stress Levels

Similarly to improvements in circulation, these heated rooms can also promote relaxation. There’s nothing more relaxing than sitting down in a nice warm place. These warm rooms can really do wonders for well-being.

3. Improving Cardiovascular Health

A person stress reduction level can be linked to lower risks of cardiovascular problems in the future. Studies carried out over 20 years in Finland have shown that people who use saunas are far less likely to die from cardiovascular problems. There were a number of participants who died from cardiovascular diseases but these were often people who did not use one at all. Statistical analysis showed that an increase in use was related to a reduction in fatal cardiovascular problems.

Participants who had used their warm room between two and three times a week were 20% less likely to experience sudden deaths related to cardiovascular problems. People who use their sauna up to 8 times a week were 60% less likely to experience these problems. More research is needed, especially in different countries and different cultures, however, the findings are very interesting. There could be links between better cardiovascular health and some other factors, but these results are promising. It goes without saying though that sauna use should not replace regular exercise, because this would not be healthy.

4. Skin Problems

Depending on what type one uses, they may experience differences in their skin. Dry types can cause the skin to dry skin more and this can be both good and bad thing. People who have psoriasis have had some of their symptoms reduced when using a warm room, yet those with atopic dermatitis have found the opposite effects of sauna exposure.

5. Asthma

It is common for people to use these warm environments for their asthma relief. This is actually a good idea because they can open up the bodies airways and remove some of the phlegm. Along with this, relaxation and stress relief are good for combating asthma in general.

6. Lowers Risk of Alzheimer’s?

You may have heard about saunas and Alzheimer’s, but do they really reduce the risk? Another study from Finland over 20 years found correlations between sauna use and a reduction in both Alzheimer’s and dementia. This study which involved over 2000 healthy men showed that people who visited these places around twice a week were 20% less likely to develop these conditions. Those who used it six times a week were 60% less likely.

Although these are just correlations which do not actually prove that these places reduce the risk, they are interesting nonetheless. It could also be the case that people who have Alzheimer’s or dementia do not like to use saunas. Either way, more research is needed to list accurate facts. It should be noted that moderate use is generally accepted as safe.

7. Improved Immunity

With the immune system, can a sauna act as a substitute for taking a flu shot? The answer to this question is a definite no! However, studies such as one found in the Journal of Human Kinetics as noted that athletes who have spent ¼ of an hour in the warm room experienced immediate increases in white blood cell count, which is an indicator of high immunity. Of course, these are studies carried out on athletes, people far from the norm, but the study does touch on some promising conclusions.

8. Improves Mental Health

The people who you see sitting in a warm room do seem pretty relaxed, but are they really? It’s not possible to sweat away stress, but sit for an hour in one of these hot rooms and you’ll notice just how relaxing it is. There is research to back up that our lovely, warm, humid rooms help us relax, providing quiet places that make you feel safe, much like if you were relaxing in bed.

Studies in the journal Psychomatic Medicine have found that every day exposure has shown some advantages of sauna use for those suffering from depression. These warm environments can act as a safe space to unwind, with peace and quiet all around you. It is no wonder that patients suffering from mental health problems have been prescribed with regular visits by practitioners. If you are feeling depressed, you’re not going to walk in and out of one feeling like a whole different person, but it is likely that you will feel much more relaxed.

Health Risks and Precautions

We’ve discussed some of the health benefits, but what does one need to be wary of? Precautions need to be taken. There are certain things you can and can’t do. Do consult your doctor if you think that a sauna could pose problems for you.

Blood Pressure Risks

If you switch between the hot room environment and a quick cold environment such as a swimming pool, this can have problems for the body. It may feel very nice to do this, however, this might cause a fall in blood pressure. People who experience blood pressure that is too low might find this practice jarring for them.

Dehydration Risk

You sit in a highly warm environment, you can begin to sweat a lot. Sweating too much can create dehydration if you’re not careful. Always drink enough if you will staying in a sauna for a long time. People have chronic kidney problems may be at a significantly higher risk of dehydration, so they should always consult their doctor before entering a hot room.

Precautions

To be sure that you avoid negative health impacts, there are a number of precautions that you need to consider.

Avoid Drinking alcohol

Alcohol leads to an increased risk of dehydration, hypotension, and sudden death syndrome. If alcohol is combined with sauna use, this can have drastic consequences. In studies of sudden death syndrome in Finland, almost 2% of cases had been people using a sauna whilst having a drink. This just goes to show the risks that alcohol can pose in a hot environment.

Limit Your Time Inside

The warm rooms are very relaxing places and once again you may never want to leave, but try not to spend more than 20 minutes at a time. If you’re using one for the first time, this number should drop to 10 minutes. It takes a little getting used to in order to increase your time, but it is worth it for your health.

Drink More Fluid

Because of increased dehydration, it is important to drink plenty of water within this hot environment. This is irrespective of the type of sauna a person is using – sweating is always going to occur. There are some benefits of sauna after a workout but be careful as you will have lost water through your exercise. After you leave a sauna, drink three glasses of water as a precaution. This should help negate any dehydration.

Don’t Go in if You’re Ill

If you’re feeling unwell, you should wait until your symptoms subside before using a sauna. It is quite an extreme environment, so it could exacerbate any illnesses and medical conditions. People who are pregnant should ask their doctor before they enter a sauna.

Far-infrared Saunas: Do They Work?

As discussed before, far infrared saunas are a type that heat with infrared activity. Far infrared therapy has been recommended to people who experience problems with mobility and any other health problems that make it difficult for them to stand or sit in a high-temperature environment. There has been a lot of scientific evidence on infrared sauna benefits and some on the infrared sauna dangers. The reduction of cardiovascular problems through far infrared sauna use, as well as reduced chronic pain and fatigue, are some of the benefits. People have also noted far infrared sauna benefits in the form of increases in exercise tolerance after repeated exposure in a room. However, studies have been fairly limited and more research needs to be carried out to see if infrared sauna therapy really does work or not. Hopefully, we will know more about the health benefits of infrared sauna in the future.

Health Myths

You may or may not have read a lot of dubious content online about saunas. As with everything you read, not everything is true. There may be a lot of benefits to using them, but there are also a lot of myths and negative effects of sauna use. Let’s take a look at two of the most common myths out there today.

False: Sweating Removes Toxins

It has been claimed that sweating results in the removal of toxins from the body. Of course, people sweat profusely within saunas, but no research has concluded that this sweating needs to detoxification of the body. Most of the bodies detox process come from the many processes which occur within their liver, kidneys, and intestines.

False: Sauna Use Aids Weight Loss

Another one of these myths is that saunas lead to changes in weight, for instance, people boasting infrared sauna weight loss. People may come out of the warm room and weigh themselves to find that there is 1 pound lighter, but this is misleading. This drop in weight is due to fluid loss, not fat loss. There is a significant difference and any weight lost will be replaced right after a person in this scenario has something to eat or drink.

Final Thoughts

We’ve taken a look at many of both the benefits of sitting in a sauna and risks of using them, so what can we conclude about the health benefits? It is indeed true that saunas can have a significant positive impact on the ones physical and mental health, so do look into purchasing your dream sauna if you have space. There are some caveats and of course, overdoing anything is not recommended, however, in general, moderate use of sauna is something that can be encouraged. Don’t be shy, take everything off, slide the door back, have a seat and relax.

Are you a regular sauna user? What do you think, are saunas good for you? Maybe you’ve noticed some of the positive benefits of going inside the sauna. We would love to hear more from you, whatever the case may be. Please leave your thoughts and comments with us below.

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