Table of Contents
Introduction to Health Benefits of Using a Sauna
A sauna is a small room or enclosure that exposes users to dry or wet heat sessions. The heat causes sweating and other physiological responses in the body. Using a sauna has become an increasingly popular way to promote relaxation, detoxification, and various potential health benefits.
During a sauna session, the temperature is usually between 70-100°C with low humidity levels. This causes vasodilation (widening of blood vessels) and increased heart rate as the body works to cool itself down. The sweating process also helps eliminate toxins and impurities from the skin.
Saunas originated in Nordic countries like Finland. However, saunas have become more widespread worldwide in recent years as more evidence emerges on their wide-ranging health and wellness benefits. This article will provide an in-depth look at some key ways to use a sauna regularly to improve your health. The significant areas of health benefits linked to sauna usage include:
- Improved cardiovascular and heart health
- Reduced stress levels and relief from muscle pain
- Possible weight loss support
- Immune system support
- Brain health and cognitive function
The extent to which an individual experiences these benefits can vary widely depending on genetics, age, and underlying health conditions. Consulting a doctor before starting a sauna regimen is advisable, especially for those with chronic illnesses or taking medications.
However, when used safely and appropriately, saunas can be an impactful addition to a healthy lifestyle. Read on to learn more about the specific health benefits of saunas backed by scientific research.
The Main Health Benefits of Using a Sauna
Improved Heart Health
Using a sauna has several benefits for heart health and cardiovascular function. Sauna heat therapy stimulates various physiological responses that can improve circulation, lower blood pressure, and decrease the risk of cardiovascular incidents.
Lower Blood Pressure
Multiple studies have shown exposure to saunas causes an immediate increase in heart rate and a subsequent drop in blood pressure after the session. With regular usage, the body may adapt to promote healthier blood pressure levels overall.
A 2015 meta-analysis published in Vascular Medicine journal reviewed data from seven studies with over 300 participants. They found an average systolic blood pressure reduction of -7.23 mmHg and diastolic reduction of -2.9 mmHg for those using saunas versus control groups. Lower blood pressure reduces the strain on the heart and the risk of stroke or heart attack.
Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Events
In addition to lowering blood pressure, using saunas regularly is linked to better cardiovascular function and fewer incidents. A 15-year study followed over 2,300 middle-aged men in Finland with at least one cardiovascular risk factor. The researchers found men who used a sauna 2-3 times per week had a 22% lower risk of sudden cardiac death and 50% lower risk of fatal coronary heart disease compared to those using a sauna once per week. The vasodilation, circulation improvements, and stress relief saunas likely contribute to these risk reductions over time.
Improved Blood Flow and Circulation
The heat from saunas causes blood vessels to expand and promotes better circulation throughout the body. As blood flow increases to the skin, underlying organs also receive a boost in circulation.
Increased circulation provides fresh oxygen and nutrients to various tissues while removing waste. This can accelerate healing and improve organ function and cognitive processes, relying on ample blood flow. Using a sauna supports healthy circulation for better overall wellbeing.
Stress and Pain Relief
Sauna heat therapy also provides benefits related to stress reduction, relaxation, and relief from muscle soreness or pain.
Release of Endorphins
Exposing the body to heat stress from saunas causes the release of endorphins – chemicals produced naturally by the body that act similarly to opioids. Endorphins interact with receptors in the brain to reduce perceptions of pain and trigger positive and calm feelings.
Many users feel more relaxed, less anxious, and in a better mood after finishing a sauna session. The endorphins bring mental clarity while relieving muscle tension at the same time.
The increased circulation and endorphin release offered by saunas also help sore muscles after intense workouts or injuries. The extra blood flow provides oxygen and nutrients, aiding repair while removing lactic acid buildup.
Human studies have shown using a sauna shortly after resistance training leads to significantly less muscle soreness and improved recovery versus exercise alone. The heat widens blood vessels to facilitate healing and flushes out toxins from muscular exertion.
Mental Health Benefits
In addition to physical relief, using a sauna may also provide mental health benefits related to lowered stress and anxiety. The relaxation response triggered by heat therapy is similar to mindfulness meditation.
A pilot study had participants with depression and anxiety complete four weeks of sauna sessions. The researchers found significant improvements in depression scores and self-reported moods at the end of the study period. While more research is still needed, sauna usage shows early promise for supporting the treatment of some mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
Possible Weight Loss Aid
While saunas should not replace exercise and healthy eating for weight loss, some evidence suggests they may provide modest support for shedding pounds. The sweating and other mechanisms make saunas a supplemental aid when losing weight.
Water Weight Loss
Sitting in the intense heat of a sauna causes profuse sweating as the body attempts to cool itself. This can result in losing several pounds of water weight in a single session. Most of this will be regained when rehydrating after the sauna.
However, regular sauna sessions can lead to a slight but meaningful reduction in body weight over weeks and months. The minor calorie burn from sweating combines with fluid loss to lower the number on the scale.
Exposure to infrared wavelengths in saunas may encourage better sleep through heat-induced fatigue and circadian rhythm regulation. Getting adequate, good-quality sleep is crucial for productive weight loss efforts.
As an additional benefit, improved sleep from sauna usage can increase daytime energy levels. This allows for more engagement in active weight loss steps like exercising.
Some research indicates using a sauna may support a faster metabolism. A small study had participants use a dry sauna for seven days straight. At the end of the week, testing showed increased resting metabolism compared to baseline levels.
Higher metabolism while at rest means the body passively burns more calories throughout the day. Over time, this can incrementally augment weight loss results. While saunas alone will not produce dramatic weight loss, they offer complementary benefits when combined with traditional diet and exercise. The heat therapy supports other efforts targeting sustainable shedding of pounds.
Immune System Support
Some scientific evidence suggests using a sauna may also benefit immune function. Heat stress promotes anti-inflammatory responses that could reduce the risk of illness. However, more research is still required to confirm the extent of sauna-induced immune system improvements.
Reduced Illness Risk
A few studies have found using a sauna may decrease the incidence and severity of the common cold. Researchers tracked groups using a dry sauna several times a week and compared their illness rates to non-sauna control groups. The sauna users had significantly fewer cold and flu symptoms over the study duration.
It’s theorized that these effects result from heat stress, triggering increased circulation, stress hormone release, and cell-mediated responses – all bolster immune system function.
Sitting in the intense heat also appears to initiate anti-inflammatory processes similar to physical exercise. Inflammation control is closely tied to immune health, as excessive inflammation can weaken responses to pathogens.
Using biomarkers, a study showed just one session in an 80°C dry sauna lowered inflammation levels. Repeated long-term sauna usage may enhance these anti-inflammatory benefits.
While the early evidence is promising for immune function improvements, more extensive controlled studies are still needed. Establishing more definitive connections between sauna use and reduced illness could have significant public health impacts.
New research also examines the effects of sauna usage on reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases and supporting better cognitive function. The findings remain preliminary but suggest additional studies are warranted.
Risk Reduction for Dementia
With rising global rates of dementia, scientists are interested in non-pharmacological prevention approaches like lifestyle changes. Some population studies have linked regular sauna bathing to a lowered incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
One 25-year study followed over 2,300 healthy Finnish men. The researchers found men who used saunas 4-7 times per week had a 66% lower risk of developing dementia compared to those using a sauna once per week.
Exactly how saunas may contribute to sharper mental acuity and dementia prevention remains unknown. Improved circulation, lowered blood pressure, and reduced inflammation likely all play supporting roles.
Beyond dementia risk reduction, a few recent pilot studies indicate heat therapy from saunas may also improve some markers of cognitive function like memory, learning, and attention span
.In one experiment, young and older adult participants showed better scores on memory tests after several weeks of infrared sauna sessions versus pre-sauna baselines. Similar small studies have demonstrated faster reaction times and focus improvements as well.
While still speculative, enhancing cognitive abilities could make sauna usage valuable for groups like students or competitive athletes. As more rigorous large-scale trials demonstrate these mental performance benefits, saunas may become intelligence-boosting tools.
Conclusion to the Health Benefits of Using a Sauna
Using a sauna regularly may provide many health and wellness benefits, backed by increasing scientific research. Sauna heat therapy contributes to cardiovascular improvements, stress relief, faster injury recovery, potential weight loss support, immune function enhancement, and even emerging cognitive benefits.
While individual experiences can vary substantially, adding sauna sessions to a healthy lifestyle can be impactful alongside nutrition, exercise, and proper sleep. Consultation with a doctor is still advised, especially for those managing medical conditions or on certain medications.
To maximize the positive effects, most studies show sauna usage at least a few times per week provides optimal results. Depending on personal preference and tolerances, sessions can range from 10-30 minutes. Staying well hydrated before and after saunas is also crucial.
With sensible usage following safety precautions, dry and infrared saunas offer a promising route to better health and prevention or management of some chronic diseases. As more definitive large-scale studies demonstrate specific clinical outcomes, saunas may eventually become standard recommendations from medical professionals.
The growing body of evidence makes investing in regular sauna sessions a wise choice for most adults looking to enhance total body function and mental wellbeing-.