Saunas have gained lots of popularity over the past few years as an option for relaxing and hanging out as you enjoy their health and therapeutic effects. From reducing stress levels and improving blood circulation to alleviating arthritis symptoms, it's unsurprising we are now seeing more spas and gyms offering this two-thousand-year-old Scandinavian practice.
So what are saunas and are they good for you?
Well, saunas are rooms usually heated by steam or wood to temperatures of between 70-100° Celsius. There are different types of saunas, depending on their origin, such as Turkish or Finnish saunas.
However, saunas are generally categorized based on the heating mechanism used;
- Traditional steam bath. It has high humidity because of moist heat.
- Wood burning saunas –heated by wood. These sauna rooms have low humidity but high temperatures.
- Electrically heated saunas. They also tend to have low humidity and high temperature.
- Far-infrared sauna. Different from the other three,it is heated by a lamp using light waves. Despite the low temperature, the effect on sweating is the same.
Sauna benefits and risks
All types of saunas provide the same health benefits irrespective of the heating mechanism. The general impact of using a sauna is increased heart rate and widening of blood vessels. From these two effects, we end up with the other sauna benefits and risks –depending on an individual.
These sauna benefits and risks should answer the question of whether saunas are good for you. Let's read further and find out.
- Detoxification : improved circulation in the body and increased heart rate forces toxins to move quickly from inside the body onto the skin, where they are eliminated.
- Pain relief : when blood circulation increases, muscle soreness and joint movement improves, thus alleviating arthritis symptoms.
- Improving cardiovascular health : in a study conducted on 2500 men in Finland over 20 years, it was found that using sauna lowered the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
- Improved skin condition : saunas can rejuvenate the skin of people who have psoriasis.
- Benefits to asthmatic patients : when used regularly, hot steam saunas help decongest the airways and loosen phlegm. This provides relief to people with asthma.
- Alleviates stress : improved blood circulation stimulates releases of endorphins and reduces cortisol in the body. This, in turn, gives a feel-good effect, thus reducing stress and improving overall wellbeing.
- Reduced risk of Alzheimer's and dementia : According to the Alzheimers Association, sweating is one way of improving brain health, a critical factor in preventing Alzheimer's. The temperatures inside the sauna raise the body temperature to 40°C. A short time inside the sauna can lose about a pint of sweat.
Risks of using a sauna
While there are quite a number of health benefits, there is an inherent risk to people with certain underlying conditions.
- People suffering from atopic dermatitis may experience worsening of their condition after using a sauna
- There is a risk of raising your blood pressure if you switch from a sauna's heat to the cold of a swimming pool.
- Saunas may also cause a decrease in blood pressure due to the widening of blood vessels. Therefore, avoid using sauna if you have low blood pressure or a history of heart attack.
- Due to the fluid loss associated with the profuse sweating inside a sauna, there is a risk of dehydration, especially for individuals with kidney disease.
How long should you stay in a sauna
As the saying goes, too much of anything is poisonous. The same applies to how long you should stay in a sauna. It is recommended that you limit the time spent inside a sauna.
First-timers should spend between 5-10 minutes while regulars should not spend more than 20 minutes at any given instance inside a sauna.
The controlled use of saunas can generally have good health benefits to your body. As long as you stick to the recommended time inside a sauna and consult your doctor first, a sauna is a good treat for your body any day.