It is no secret that I enjoy the sauna after my workout. Here are five reasons that I love the sauna.
- Relief of joint pain. I was recently diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and have found that the sauna eases the pain and stiffness, as well as lifting some of the fatigue associated with flare ups. This is due to an increase in the release of anti-inflammatory compounds such as noradrenaline, adrenaline, cortisol and growth hormones, as well as an increase in positive stress on the body, causing it to release natural pain-killing endorphins. A recent Finnish study in the American Journal of Medicine found that saunas can improve joint mobility in those with rheumatic disease.
- Healthy heart and lower death rates from cardiovascular disease and stroke. A study tracked more than 2,000 Finnish men for nearly 20 years on average. Most used saunas at least once weekly. Those who used them four to seven times weekly received the greatest survival benefits. The study showed it lowers blood pressure and is good for the blood vessels. The higher temperatures push heart rates to a rate that is often reached when performing moderate intensity physical exercise. This is not to indicate that sitting in the sauna is a substitute for exercise, but it is a good supplement to a consistent workout program. Of course, this study only looked at men. Thus the exact benefits for women has not been thoroughly researched.
- Possible increase in athletic performance. A study conducted by the University of Otago in New Zealand found that male distance runners who did three weeks of post-training saunas increased their run time to exhaustion. This was attributed to an increase in blood and plasma volume from using the sauna. However, keep in mind benefits occurred over a period of time rather than immediately following the sauna use. As with exercise fatigue, leg strength and muscle endurance is lower immediately following sauna exposure.
- Detoxification of the body from chemicals and environmental pollutants and boosting the immune system. The body is effective at eliminating toxins via the skin, but this only works if you make your body sweat. Many of us sit in air-conditioned indoor environments all day. We then go to gyms with temperature control where it can be more difficult to really sweat. A sauna can purify the body from the inside out, eliminating compounds such as PCB’s, metals and toxins that are stored in fat cells.
- Softer skin. When your body begins to produces a deep sweat, the rate at which dead skin cells are replaced can be increased. Also, heavy sweating helps to remove bacteria out of the epidermal layer of the skin and the sweat ducts. The cleansing of pores causes increased capillary circulation, giving the skin a softer appearance. When you sweat, fluid is moved to the skin delivering nutrient and mineral-rich fluids to fill spaces around the cells, increasing firmness.
- The history of the Finnish Sauna dates back to 1112. These saunas were dug in the ground and considered to be holy places like churches where even babies were born.
- There are more saunas than cars in Finland. The Finns consider their weekly sauna as a necessity.
- A famous Finnish proverb says, “Build the sauna. Then the house.”
- Most Finnish businesses have their own company sauna, as does the Parliament House, the Finnair lounge in the Helsinki airport, the Pyhasalmi zinc and copper mine ( its 4600 feet underground), every home, summer cottage, and apartment building.
- When Finns travel, they bring their sauna. Those serving in the UN Peace Corps build tent saunas at every base. The western Finland town of Teuva, holds a mobile sauna rally every year where saunas are built into telephone booths, farm equipment, old cars and even on the back of bikes.
- According to Finnish folklore, there is a sauna elf called a saunatonttu that is rumored to be magical.
Is there anyone who should not use the sauna?
Saunas are generally safe when used appropriately according to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Prevention and Rehabilitation Centre. The general guidelines recommend avoiding extreme temperatures and staying in the sauna for an unreasonable or uncomfortable amount of time. Also, pregnant women, those with certain liver and kidney diseases, or people suffering from cardiac failure are advised to avoid sauna use. Progress slowly and allow time for your body to adjust to the heat. Always consult independently with your physician to determine if sauna use is acceptable for you.
It is recommended to drink at least half your weight in ounces of water and to be careful not to deplete calcium, magnesium and potassium. They are the tri-salts that are essential to a healthy detoxification.
The sauna should be a place to reduce stress. Reconsider loud music, political discussions, and other controversial issues.
Beth Shapouri. Reviewed by John Varga, MD and Michael H. Welsman, MDHealth Monitor: Soothe your Rheumatoid Arthritis Aches. April 2013.
Beverly Merz. Harvard Health Publications Harvard Medical School. Sauna Use Linked to Longer Life, Fewer Heart Problems. Feb. 2015.
Keast ML, Adamo KB. The Finnish sauna bath and its use in patients with cardiovascular disease. J Cardiopulm Rehabil. 2000 Jul-Aug;20(4):225-30.
School of Medicine and Public Health: Sauna Induced Sweating Offers Many Health Benefits. University of Wisconsin Madison. Jan. 2011
Scoon GS, Hopkins WG, Mayhew S, Cotter JD. Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners. J Sci Med Sport. 2007 Aug;10(4):259-62. Epub 2006 Jul 31.
Hedley AM, Climstein M, Hansen R. The effects of acute heat exposure on muscular strength, muscular endurance, and muscular power in the euhydrated athlete. J Strength Cond Res. 2002 Aug;16(3):353-8.