People have been enjoying bathing in heat for centuries. The Russians, Native Americans, and the Finnish, among many others, have been reaping the benefits of banya, sweat lodges, and saunas. But what are the health benefits to sauna use, and who should be using them?

Sauna bathing is sitting in a hot room for 15-20 minutes, where the temperature is anywhere between 160°-200°F. Yes, it gets hot!

Benefits of using a sauna

At those extreme temperatures, why you should sit in a hot room, uncomfortably, for about 20 minutes while you pour sweat, if you don’t have to?

Here are some scientifically proven benefits of sauna bathing:

  • Heart health and cardiovascular benefits
  • Brain heath (lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease)
  • Sore muscle recovery
  • Improvements in pain and range of motion in people with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis
  • Decreased chronic pain for people with conditions like fibromyalgia and low back pain
  • Detoxification (excretion of toxins and heavy metals via sweat)
  • Increased metabolism and weight loss
  • Less muscle and joint pain
  • Skin health and anti-aging benefits
  • Possible mild improvements in breathing for people with asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Reduced inflammation and decreased cortisol (stress hormone) levels
  • Improves your immune system
  • Mind recovery (reduced stress, improved sleep)
  • Overall relaxation

In order to see and feel some of the health benefits, experts suggest using a sauna 3-7 times a week, for about 10-20 minutes but you can start with five minutes and work up to it as you get used to the heat.

As your skin temperature increases, sauna-goers undergo a ‘fight or flight’ response, resulting in a raised sense of alertness, decreased pain perception and an elevated mood.

When sauna bathing is used in conjunction with cold exposure, which has it’s own benefits, stresses on the cardiovascular system (2) and increases in adrenaline (4) are greater.

For a  more detailed description of these benefits, please visit the sources below. Dr. Rhonda Patrick is a longevity medicine specialist and has an exhaustive list of health benefits associated with sauna bathing on her blog. Additionally, Dr. Peter Attia weighs in on why he’s changed his mind about the sauna in this interview with Tim Ferriss.

Types of saunas

There are dry and wet saunas, also known as steam rooms, and infrared saunas.

In the past the heat was generated by burning wood. Today we use electric heaters that heat up the room and air first, and then the body.

The difference between regular saunas and infrared saunas lies in the heating mechanism. Infrared heaters emit thermal radiation, which heats the body directly while also warming the surrounding air (6). Therefore the temperature in the infrared saunas is generally lower than in a regular sauna, sitting at 113°-140°F.

A steam room, or wet sauna, is less hot than a dry sauna (110°-120°F), with humidity greater than 50%. The high humidity will prevent sweat from evaporating, and therefore can be more challenging on the cardiovascular system (2).

When sauna use is contraindicated

Even though sauna bathing offers a long list of benefits, none of those will behoove you if it is dangerous for your health. So please check with your doctor if using a sauna is safe for you.

Some reasons to avoid using a sauna:

  • If you’re not feeling well or are sick
  • If you have high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, or another serious condition, check with your doctor
  • If you’re pregnant
  • If you’re dehydrated. With high temperatures, it’s extremely easy to become dehydrated, especially if you have any kidney issues.
  • For men: the elevated temperatures can temporarily reduce sperm count. Keep this in mind if you and your partner are trying to conceive.
  • Children should be supervised while using a sauna, and not stay longer than 15 minutes

Hopefully this introduction to the sauna world gave you valuable information on why you should or should not add sauna bathing to your lifestyle. Thankfully, there are lots of things you can do to enhance your recovery and you might find success with ice baths if the heat is too much for you.


Hyatt Strength + Wellness is a team of certified, enthusiastic and innovative personal trainers in Portland, Oregon. Get in touch with us by emailing Go@HyattGym.com.


References

https://www.goodrx.com/well-being/alternative-treatments/sauna-benefits

https://www.foundmyfitness.com/topics/sauna

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1tRxI9ri2ZIPujndzZSdduplmtMlW1x9T/view

https://longevity.technology/lifestyle/hot-and-cold-the-health-benefits-of-ice-baths-and-saunas/

https://www.inonaround.org/sauna/

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/313109#possible-health-benefitshttps://www.finnleo.com/pages/health-and-wellness