South American shamans use them to induce religious visions, and in Korea you can spend the night in one.
Saunas are popular all over the world as a way to relax and socialize, but their health benefits have only recently come to the fore.
Saunas are touted the next performance enhancing drug, the ultimate life-extension tool. Which is why some experts recommend for everyone to have a sauna in their home.
Let’s take a closer look at the health benefits of this ‘rediscovered fountain of youth’.
1) Saunas boost longevity
The more often you go to the sauna, the longer you’ll live. A medical study on middle-aged Finnish men found that men who went to the sauna regularly were less likely to die during the 20 years of the study.
The Finns have a long-running tradition of sauna use – of the 2,000 randomly-chosen men in the study, only 12 said they never visited one – so those who live in other countries might find it hard to stick to the recommended regimen of 7 sauna visits a week.
The study’s results was unequivocal: the more often you visit the sauna, and the longer you spend when you’re there, the longer you will live. It’s a pretty surprising result.
Now I see skeptics shake your heads and think, “pfffff, they’re confusing cause with correlation, again”.
The underlying thought: People who visit saunas a lot generally have a higher income, live healthier, exercise more, have more free time which causes less stess, thus live longer.
Which makes you think; sure, “it’s nice to lounge and relax in a warmth, but isn’t it just a room full of hot air?”
No. It’s not, there’s more evidence.
Let’s have a closer look.
Preaching heat therapy
Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D, and self-proclaimed ‘heat shock evangelist’ mentions that raising your core temperature for short periods of time in a sauna increases longevity, according to recent studies.
The American cell biologist, biochemist, science communicator, and podcaster, known for her extensive research on nutrition, aging, and cancer points out that the reduction in all cause mortality from sauna use is dose dependent.
Which is a scientific way of saying that sauna users who go four times or more a week showed more benefits than those who use a sauna once or twice a week.
2) Healthy hearts love saunas
One of the most noticeable effects of a sauna is the increase in heart rate. After a few minutes in the heat, you’ll feel your heart start to thump in reaction to the intense conditions.
This temporarily boosts blood flow and can strengthen the heart. With regular sauna treatments, this leads to a long-term lowering of blood pressure.
3) Soothe muscle pain and grow stronger muscles
Everyone knows that heat soothes aching muscles after a workout, and speeds recovery from minor injuries. A warm shower or a hot compress helps to warm your muscles from the outside only, whereas a sauna raises core temperatures throughout your body.
It’s known to help soothe pain and increase mobility. Many athletes use saunas as part of their training regime: it’s especially popular in Russia and the Baltic states, where saunas are everywhere.
It’s not for no reason the Russians say about the banya ( a kind of steam bath / sauna): “The day you spend in the banya is the day you do not age.”
Muscle healing and the human growth hormone
Until recently, nobody was quite sure why saunas were so beneficial. Recent research has shown that time spent in dry extreme heat helps to boost levels of human growth hormone (HGH), the ‘wonder hormone’ that speeds healing and growth.
And it wasn’t just a measly rise of a few percentage points; after just three days of hardcore sauna sessions, levels of HGH were sixteen times what they had been before.
HGH is already released by the body during exercise. Hopping into a sauna afterwards compounds the effect: one study indicates that you could boost your exercise endurance by almost a third within a few weeks of treatments.
4) Better breathing
The hot, dry air of a sauna feels soothing to the lungs, and can provide temporary relief to sufferers of bronchitis and asthma (source ).
The extreme conditions mean the air in a sauna is almost sterile, and regular sauna users are less susceptible to coughs and colds (source ).
Besides opening up airway passages there’s another respiratory benefit.
Saunas may also offer relief for those who belong to the part of the increasing part of the population struck by sinusitus the past decades (sinusitus is inflammation of the one or more of the sinus membranes).
Especially infrared saunas seem to help by opening up passages and draining bacteria-laden mucous. This is merely anecdotal evidence but considering the widespread occurrence and persistency of sinus problems noteworthy.
5) Sauna’s are brain and mood boosters
The intense heat exposure during sauna use significantly increases the levels of prolactin (which repairs nerve damage), noreprinephrine (which boosts focus), and dynorphin (which underlies the ‘runner’s high’ sensation). As studies show.
A sauna will definitely improve your mood after a workout, and it may even have long-term beneficiary effects on your brain.
Heat stress has been shown to increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, an endorphin linked to improved brain function and learning.
6) Reduce stress
Because saunas cause your body to release endorphins, they help reduce stress and increase your energy level. No matter if the sauna is located at an idyllic beach, in a corner of your bedroom or in your backyard shed.
7) More than just sweating: your core temperature
Half the point of a sauna is to make you sweat like a pig. Sadly, there’s no truth to the claim that this detoxifies the body or cleanses the blood – nobody loses toxins in their sweat unless they are in the final stages of kidney failure.
No need for sad faces though, the effect of sweating is far more interesting than that.
If you exercise regularly, you’ll know how tough it is to work out when it’s hot. A run which feels easy in March will leave you spluttering and exhausted in August.
The heat of a sauna can help your body to stay cool in the long term
Regular exposure to strong heat (such as in a sauna) lowered core body temperature during workouts, meaning less stress on their muscles and internal organs.
The intense conditions nudge your body into improving its thermoregulatory systems – in layman’s terms, you acclimatize your body to heat, meaning you can cool yourself more effectively in the future. ( PubFacts.)
In the long term, sauna use has been linked to increased endurance – and this applies to everyone, from professional athletes to elderly men recovering from heart attacks.
A stronger heart, lower blood pressure, more HGH, and improved thermoregulation; it’s all going to have a dramatic effect on your overall health.
8) Soothe sore muscles and joints
Yep, the common folk wisdom that saunas rid your body of toxins because you sweat out harmful toxins, such as lead, and nicotine is a myth.
Yet this doesn’t even slightly detract from its astonishing health benefits.
Saunas, for instance, relax tendons, ligaments and joints by temporarily relaxing muscles. Thus they help relieve arthritic and other types of musculoskeletal pain.
9) Saunas help maintain healthy skin
Spend time in a sauna and your skin pores will open. The sauna also increases blood flow bringing your blood closer to your skin and extremities.
Nutrients are better able to reach the epidermis boosting cellular growth and skin rejuvenation and facial tension is reduced.
A great additional benefit because your newfound longevity is only so much fun if you’re walking around wrinkled like a moldy raisin.
10) Negative ion exposure
Steam in the sauna produces negative ions which have numerous health benefits. These negative ions are common at the beach, near waterfalls and woods as they are created by plants and moving water.
For this reason a steam sauna can bring you the same rejuvenating feeling you get when you’re out in nature.
Negative ions may sound like hokum but European hospitals use negative ion generators to help patients recover and NASA uses them for the same reason on astronauts returning from space flights.
More on negative ions in this post on Himalayan salt lamps.
11) The sauna helps increase metabolic rate
Not only do you burn calories because your body works hard to cool you off, regular sauna use may also increase your metabolic rate over time.
Do keep in mind that the weight you may lose in a sauna is water weight. So sitting in a sauna is no excuse to skip crossfit.
So is a home sauna worth it?
It seems pretty convincing to me. Obviously you’ll have to like sitting in a sauna because it’s only beneficial if you will use it regularly.
Why get a home sauna? The Benefits of Adding an In-Home Sauna
Here’s a crazy thought…
..next time, buy a sauna instead of a new television. Perhaps postpone getting that new smart LED TV (plasma is way better anyway) and upgrade your home with the healthiest room possible.
Many of us don’t think twice before spending a thousand bucks on a huge television or the latest tablet.
Contrary to plunking your butt down in front of the TV, sitting regularly in your home sauna will boost your health tremendously.
Unlike hot tubs and swimming pools, saunas require little to no maintenance. You’ll have to clean the floor now and then, that’s pretty much it.
Saunas have almost no moving parts that can cause a break down. This goes for all types of sauna heaters, from gas and wood to electric.
Obviously a home sauna is a considerable expense but it’s one that adds value to your home, relaxes the mind, promotes sleep, eases out stress and strengthens your body.
But I don’t have room for a home sauna
How much space you need depends on if you’re getting free-standing sauna, a pre-built, or a pre-cut sauna package. Sauna’s don’t necessarily have to take up a lot of space in your home. But there are some things to keep in mind.
Typically, home saunas measure anywhere from 3×4 feet to 8×10 feet. You can get a well-reviewed 3 by 4 foot in-home sauna for just a little over thousand bucks.
Whether you choose to locate your home sauna in the basement, the attic, the garage, a room, or the yard, there has to be access to a 220- to 240-volt electrical hookup (for the heater) and a waterproof floor.
Convinced of the home sauna benefits? Don’t have room for a full-fledged sauna but do want to indulge in heat therapy?
- This portable infrared arch sauna will offer you the benefits without needing the space.
- Or, if you want to start small, perhaps an infrared heat therapy mat is something for you.
Saunas are hot
There are very few activities which improve your health without any effort. No gruelling workouts, no boring diets, no tedious meditation. Just sit on the wooden benches and let the heat wash over you, knowing that you’re strengthening your heart and muscles by sitting totally still.
The Finns have been right all along.
More scientific hints that sauna goers may live longer on PubMed.