Not sure of the health benefits and risks associated with moderate sauna use? Or which sauna model, type, heat source or construction material may be right for you? You are in the right place; below we discuss this and more.
Sauna health benefits
Sweating has long been used as a therapy. The Mayans used sweat houses 3,000 years ago, according to Harvard Health Publications. In Finland, saunas have been used for thousands of years, and 1 in 3 Finns still use them. In the United States, there are thought to be over a million saunas in use.
Regardless of how a sauna is heated, or the humidity level, the effects on the body are similar.
When a person sits in a sauna, their heart rate increases and blood vessels widen. This increases circulation, in a similar way to low to moderate exercise depending on the duration of sauna use.
Heart rate may increase to 100-150 beats a minute while using a sauna. This may bring some health benefits.
Increased circulation may help reduce muscle soreness, improve joint movement, and ease arthritic pain.
As the heat in a sauna improves circulation, it may also promote relaxation, this can improve feelings of well-being.
Improving cardiovascular health
The reduction in stress levels when using a sauna may be linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular events.
One study, conducted in Finland, followed 2,315 men ages 42 to 60 over the course of 20 years. Findings suggested that people who use a sauna may have a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
Of the participants in the study, a total of 878 died from cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, or sudden cardiac death. Participants were categorized by how often they used a sauna, including once a week, two to three times a week, and four to seven times a week.
After adjusting for cardiovascular risk factors, increased sauna use was linked with a reduced risk of fatal cardiovascular-related diseases.
Participants who used the sauna two to three times a week were 22 percent less likely to experience sudden cardiac death than those who only used it once a week. Those who used a sauna four to seven times a week were 63 percent less likely to experience sudden cardiac death and 50 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those who only used a sauna once a week.
More research is needed to find out if there is a definite link between sauna use and a decrease in deaths from heart disease.
Sauna use may also be associated with lower blood and enhanced heart function.
While studies may be promising, sauna use should not replace an exercise program to keep the heart healthy. There is more evidence to support the benefits of regular exercise.
Scientific studies reveal that within a half hour of sitting in a sauna your body burns an average of 40-80 calories. While that isn’t as high as running a few miles or engaging in more physical activities, it’s not so bad for merely sitting and relaxing! While saunas aren’t typically the best weight loss alternative on the market, pairing physical activities with regular sauna use is a an excellent choice if you’re looking to tone your body.
A dry sauna dries the skin during use. Some people with psoriasis may find that their symptoms reduce while using a sauna, but those with atopic dermatitis may find that it worsens.
People with asthma may find relief from some symptoms as a result of using a sauna. A sauna may help open airways, loosen phlegm, and reduce stress.
Lower risk os Alzheimer's?
In 2016, researchers from Finland published findings of a 20-year study that linked sauna use with a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. The study involved 2,315 healthy men aged from 42 to 60 years.
Those who used a sauna 2 to 3 times per week were 22 percent less likely to get dementia and 20 percent less likely to get Alzheimer's than than those who did not use a sauna. Those who used a sauna four to seven times a week were 66 percent less likely to get dementia and 65 percent less likely to get Alzheimer's than those who used a sauna once a week.
Saunas induce a deeper sleep
Research has proven that regular sauna use improves quality sleep patterns after the calming heat of a sauna. In addition to the release of endorphins, body temperature , which become elevated in the late evening, fall at bedtime. This slow, relaxing decline of endorphins is key in facilitating sleep. Numerous sauna users worldwide report sleeping much better when using their saunas moderatley.
Health risks and precautions
Moderate sauna use appears to be safe for most people; however, a person with cardiovascular disease should speak with a doctor prior to use.
Blood Pressure risks
Switching between the heat of a sauna and cold water in a swimming pool is not advisable, as it can raise blood pressure.
A sauna use may also cause blood pressure to fall, so people with low blood pressure should talk to their doctor to make sure sauna use is safe.
People who have recently had a heart attack should also talk to their doctor first.
Dehydration can result from fluid loss while sweating. People with certain conditions, such as kidney disease may be at a higher risk of dehydration. The increased temperatures can also lead to dizziness and nausea in some people.
Remember, If you are not sure you are healthy enough for moderate sauna use, or have any concerns, discuss this with your doctor prior to using a sauna.
To avoid any negative health effects, the following precautions are also advised:
Alcohol increases risk of dehydration, hypotension, arrhtmia, and sudden death.
Limit time spent in a sauna: Do not spend more than 20 minutes at a time in a sauna. First-time users should spend a maximum of 5 to 10 minutes. As they get used to the heat, they can slowly increase the time to about 20 minutes.
Drink plenty of water: Whatever type of sauna a person uses, it is important to replace the fluids lost from sweating. People should drink about two to four glasses of water after using a sauna.
Avoid sauna use if ill: People who are ill should also wait until they recover before using a sauna. Women who are pregnant or those with certain medical conditions, such as low blood pressure, should ask their doctor before sauna use.
Supervise children: Children aged 6 and above are safe to use a sauna, but should be supervised when doing so. They should spend no longer than 15 minutes in there at one time.
What is a sauna?
A sauna is typically a room heated to between 70° to 100° Celsius or 135° to 212° Fahrenheit.
Traditional Finnish saunas usually use dry heat, with a relative humidity that is often between 10 and 20 percent. In other sauna types, the moisture is higher. Turkish-style saunas, for example, involve a greater level of humidity.
A sauna use can raise the skin temperature to roughly 40° Celsius or 104° Fahrenheit.
As the skin temperature rises, heavy sweating also occurs. The heart rate rises as the body attempts to keep cool. It is not uncommon to lose about a pint of sweat while spending a short time in a sauna.
Types of saunas
There are several types of sauna, based on how the room is heated.
- Wood burning: Wood is used to heat the sauna room and sauna rocks. Wood-burning saunas are usually low in humidity and high in temperature; however, water can be manually poured over the hot rocks to increase humidity. If you are considering a wood burning sauna, please be aware these saunas have a fresh air intake vent, a chimney and fire-proof heat barrier around the wood stove.
- Electrically heated: Similar to wood-burning saunas, electrically-heated saunas have high temperatures and low humidity. An electrical heater, attached to the floor, wall, or celing heats the sauna room.
- Infrared: (recommended for inside use only) Far-infrared saunas (FIRS) and NEAR-infrared saunas are different to wood-burning and electrically-heated saunas. Special lamps use light waves to heat a person's body, not the entire room. Temperatures are typically lower than other saunas, but the person sweats in a similar way. Usually, infrared saunas are about 60° Celsius. Far-infrared saunas have been recommended for people with mobility problems and health issues that make it difficult for them to be in the high temperatures normally found in a sauna.
- Steam room: These are different from saunas. Instead of dry heat, a steam room involves lower heat level, but high humidity and moist heat.
What is a steam room/steam shower?
A steam room is created when a water-filled generator pumps steam into an enclosed space so there is moisture in the air when people are sitting in it.
The temperature inside a steam room is generally between 110℉ and 115℉ with a humidity level of 100 percent.
A steam room provides additional health benefits than that of a sauna, the steam opens up the sinuses, loosens stiff joints (some athletes use a sauna prior to exercise and competitions), removes toxins below the skin and is a very good treatment for acne.
The wood used to construct a sauna or steam room varies by manufacturer, location, availability and price. The ideal material is also somewhat subjective, many manufactures offer and recommend sauna models in several different materials, such as Aspen, Pine, Basswood, Poplar, Spruce, Hemlock, Redwood and Cedar. Generally, the most popular and most recommended is Hemlock or Cedar. Cedar and Hemlock are lightweight, resist moisture, does not split, crack, warp or shrink like some other woods, they resists decay, are comfortable and clean to sit on, have natural anti-bacterial resistance and anti-fungal qualities, as well a soothing rich aroma makes them an ideal material for a sauna. Aspen Aspen is also a good choice for saunas as well. Aspen, Western Red Cedar & Hemlock saunas usually cost a little more than other wood constructed saunas; however, under normal circumstances, they usually last much longer.