We tell you about the benefits of saunas and why we recommend taking a day of relaxation with a sauna session from time to time.
What is a sauna?
A sauna is simply a heated room, usualy to temperatures of around 70-100 degrees Celsius (150-200 degrees Fahrenheit).
Traditional saunas use a relative humidity of between 10 and 20 per cent, although other kinds of saunas, such as Turkish saunas, are more humid.
The sauna has been used for thousands of years by humans.
There’s data that indicates that the Mayas used them three millennia ago. They already knew the benefits of sauna back then…
Although most think of it as a way to relax, it can also bring a range of health benefits that are rarely discussed.
Health benefits of the sauna
Let’s look at some of the benefits of this practice:
- Cardiovascular benefits.
The greatest potential of the sauna lies in its potential benefits on the cardiovascular system.
There are some very interesting prospective studies on this, such as this one on Finnish men who were observed for 20 years.
Those who used the sauna often had a lower risk of dying from a heart problem compared to those who didn’t.
- Improved skin conditions.
At least some pathologies, such as psoriasis.
- Decreased muscle and joint pain.
By iImproving circulation in muscle and joint tissue, pathologies such as osteoarthritis and arthritis can temporarily improve.
- Decreased stress levels.
Vasodilation and lowering of blood pressure are associated with a relaxation response and a predominance of the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Decreased risk of Alzheimer’s.
This study, published in 2020, looked at the risk of dementia in 2315 Finnish men (yes, saunas are an everyday thing there).
Similar to cardiovascular disease, those who used the sauna 4-7 times a week had a lower risk of dementia than those who only used it once a week.
To date, there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that saunas help us live longer.
However, the sauna can lower stress in your life.
Elimination of toxins
This is a widespread myth among sauna users.
Whether it’s because of the feeling of “purification” or well-being it produces, many people think that saunas help to eliminate toxins from the body.
Benefits in aerobic sport
Some authors have suggested that the sauna acts as an exercise-mimetic.
What does this mean?
That in some way, its effects on physiology emulate those achieved with physical exercise.
This is partly true, as exposure to heat produces vasodilation in most tissues, increased heart rate and thus increased oxygen intake and consumption, as would mild-moderate aerobic exercise.
However, I’m reluctant to equate the sauna with physical exercise.
Does the sauna help build muscle?
Little data exists on the improvement or enhancement of muscle hypertrophy.
However, there is very interesting data suggesting that post-training heat (and not cold as the mainstream proposes) improves recovery from muscle contraction after training.
The sauna and weight loss
Exposure to heat should be treated as a thermal stressor (in the same way as the famous cold exposure).
As such, certain precautions should be taken:
- Risk of hypotension.
This is especially important in people who take antihypertensives or have cardiovascular conditions such as heart failure.
- Risk of dehydration.
People who are frail or at risk of dehydration should refrain from using the sauna. In a very short period of time, water losses can increase dramatically in a sauna.
- Avoid alcohol.
Alcohol intake increases the risk of dehydration, arrhythmias, sudden death, and hypotension.
- The right amount of time.
Don’t spend more than 20 minutes in the sauna.
- Correct hydration.
After the sauna, it’s advisable to drink 1-2 glasses of water.
- If you’re sick, don’t use the sauna.
Apply common sense and don’t add additional and unnecessary stressors if you have any conditions, either mild or severe.
- That sauna eliminates toxins.
This is completely untrue.
The toxins in your body are eliminated by the liver and kidneys, as these organs have specific detoxifying functions.
- The sauna makes you lose weight.
It’s the same effect achieved by those who go running in a raincoat in the middle of August.
Yeah, you’re gonna sweat…
And yes, you can lose up to a pound in a short sauna session. But you won’t have oxidised any more fat than you would have by walking the dog.
- How Older Adults Should Eat We set out some basic guidelines here.
- Have you ever wondered why people don’t exercise? We delve into our thoughts on the matter.