What Are the Top Health Benefits and Types of Saunas?
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nicole Avena
In the fast-paced modern era, stress has become an unwelcome part of our daily lives.
But the good news is there are many natural ways to alleviate your worries and promote overall well-being. One of those therapies involves sweating it out in a sauna.
Let’s explore how harnessing the healing power of heat can leave you feeling refreshed, revitalized, and ready to take on whatever life throws your way.
Origin of Saunas
The sauna, a small room or building designed specifically for experiencing heat sessions, has been used for centuries as a form of therapy and relaxation. This ancient practice originated in Finland and has since spread around the world, gaining popularity for its numerous benefits beyond just physical health.
The earliest saunas weren’t much more than simple pits dug into the ground with logs placed over them to create a makeshift hut. These structures were primarily used as a place for cleansing and curing illnesses. Over time, saunas evolved into more sophisticated spaces made from stone or wood, with fireplaces or stoves used to heat rocks that would release steam when water was poured over them.
Sauna use was widespread in Europe during the Middle Ages, where the practice became a form of bathing. In some cultures, such as Sweden and Russia, saunas were also commonly used for socializing and conducting business meetings.
In North America, Native American tribes used sweat lodges, which served a similar function to saunas – promoting physical healing and spiritual cleansing. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that Scandinavian immigrants brought the traditional Finnish sauna practice to North America.
Today, saunas can be found all over the world in various forms – from traditional, wood-fired saunas to modern electric ones found in gyms and spas.
The Power of Heat
Saunas can be an effective tool for relaxation. Heat can penetrate deep into our bodies, reaching muscle tissues and stimulating blood flow. This increase in circulation can help alleviate pain and tension while promoting overall health and well-being.
When we step into a hot sauna room, our body responds by releasing endorphins, also known as “feel-good” hormones, which can help to reduce stress. At the same time, sweating allows us to release built-up tension within muscles, which can help ease any pain or discomfort we may be experiencing.
Aside from its effect on stress reduction and pain relief, the powerful heat of a sauna also can improve our skin health. The sweating process helps unclog pores and remove toxins from the body. Also, the increased blood circulation nourishes skin cells, which helps promote healthier skin.
Sauna use may have other potential health benefits for the entire body. Here are just a few…
5 of the Best Health Benefits of Saunas
- Stress Reduction
One of the most well-known benefits of saunas is their ability to reduce stress. Due to work pressures, family responsibilities, societal expectations, or other factors, we all face a variety of stressors. However, excessive stress can take a toll on our mental and physical health.
The heat generated by a sauna helps to release endorphins, which can help promote relaxation and elevate mood, while reducing stress and tension. Additionally, the tranquil environment of a sauna allows individuals to disconnect from outside stresses and focus on their own mental and physical state.
Regular sauna use may help lower levels of cortisol – one of the main stress hormones. High levels of cortisol in the body can lead to various health issues such mood problems, weight gain, and decreased immune function. Taking 15- to 30-minute sauna sessions at least twice a week can help lower cortisol and potentially reduce the risk factors for the above issues.
- Improved Circulation
The heat from a sauna helps blood vessels dilate, which increases circulation throughout the body. This can have numerous positive effects such as lowering blood pressure and improving muscle recovery time after exercise. Improved circulation also aids in supplying oxygen and nutrients to different parts of the body, which helps promote overall health.
- Boosted Immunity
Regular use of saunas may help strengthen the immune system against illness and infection. Sweating during a sauna session can help eliminate toxins, which can allow the body’s defense systems to function more efficiently.
- Pain Relief
The heat from a sauna can work wonders for those experiencing pain or discomfort due to sore muscles from exercise. Increased circulation assists in providing relief by reducing inflammation and promoting faster healing processes within the affected area.
Sweating helps the body eliminate toxins, which makes saunas an excellent way to aid in this process. This can help rid your body of harmful substances that build up over time like heavy metals and chemicals absorbed through daily exposure. As you relax comfortably inside a sauna, your sweat glands help release these toxins from your body. Coupled with proper hydration, this can have a significant impact on overall health and wellness.
Types of Saunas
Let’s take a closer look at the two main types of saunas and their differences.
The basic principle behind this type of sauna is to heat up rocks or stones placed over a fire or electric heater until they reach high temperatures (typically between 70-100 degrees Celsius). Water is then poured on these hot stones to produce steam, which increases the humidity levels within the room.
The temperature and humidity combination in traditional saunas can create what’s known as “loyly,” the sensation produced when steam contacts the skin. This experience can be incredibly invigorating and may have numerous health benefits such as improved circulation, detoxification, respiratory relief, and stress reduction.
While traditional saunas use direct heat from sources like fire or electricity, infrared saunas use special heaters to emit infrared heat waves directly into the body without heating up the surrounding air. These heaters generate waves that penetrate deep into the tissues, causing our body temperature to rise from within rather than from outside air.
Due to this unique method of producing heat, infrared saunas are able to operate at lower temperatures (around 50-60 degrees Celsius) compared to traditional saunas while still providing similar health benefits such as detoxification, pain relief, improved blood flow, and more relaxed muscles.
Differences Between Traditional and Infrared Saunas
The main difference between traditional and infrared saunas lies in the type of heat they use. This leads to a few key distinctions such as the humidity level in the room, the temperature level, and how quickly the room heats up.
Traditional saunas produce high levels of humidity due to the water being poured onto hot stones, while infrared saunas have low humidity levels since they don’t use steam. Though traditional saunas can reach higher temperatures, both types are considered safe with proper usage.
Another key difference is that traditional saunas typically take longer to heat up (around 30-40 minutes) compared to infrared saunas which only take about 10-15 minutes. Additionally, some people may find it difficult to breathe in a traditional sauna due to the excessive heat and heavy steam, making an infrared sauna a more comfortable option for those with respiratory issues.
Both traditional and infrared saunas offer unique experiences with similar benefits for our health and well-being. If you prefer a hotter and more humid environment, a traditional sauna may be the best option. On the other hand, if you want a less intense heat without all the steam, an infrared sauna may be the better choice.
Ultimately, it comes down to personal preferences and which type of sauna best suits your needs.
Turn Up the Heat
For centuries, people have used heat to relax, unwind, and treat various health conditions. From traditional saunas to modern infrared saunas, which are becoming increasingly popular around the world, many are discovering the healing power of heat.
Saunas offer potential health benefits that go beyond basic relaxation. From stress reduction to improved immunity and detoxification, incorporating regular sauna sessions into your wellness routine may help contribute to a healthier and happier lifestyle. So, consider taking advantage of the healing power of heat and reap the rewards for both your mind and body.
Note: Be sure to speak to your doctor or other healthcare professional before starting sauna therapy.
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These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This content is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to substitute for medical or healthcare advice from a physician, nor is it intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult your healthcare provider before beginning a new health regimen.
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