One of my favorite parts of going to the gym is relaxing in the sauna. I actually just re-joined the gym, and the decision was heavily weighted on there being a sauna. I can do a lot of workouts at home, but having 1. classes and 2. the sauna influenced me to start up again.
As I was laying in the hot room focusing on my breath, I wondered what it is about saunas that are good for us. I know I love them and the way they make me feel, but what are the actual health benefits of saunas? I figured it had to do with relaxation and sweating, but I couldn’t give specific reasons for the wonders of the sauna. Perhaps I just like them because I’m adverse to anything cold (I was meant to be born on the equator, not sure how I ended up in NJ)…
Lately I’ve been challenging myself to get facts behind something I intuitively know, so I can understand it better and be more trustworthy when it comes to things I’m interested in. Just knowing something is good for me doesn’t cut it. I need facts. It was clear research was to ensue.
Here is what I found.
Saunas reach up to 185 degrees Fahrenheit of dry heat and can increase our skin temperature up to 105 within minutes. The main benefits are due to the fact that saunas induce sweating. The two essential functions of sweating are to: help cool us down and rid us of toxins. I learned that the effects of sweating in a sauna is not exactly the same as sweating when we exercise. This is why saunas are sacred. They have unique benefits. Some health benefits of saunas include:
Flushes Out Toxins
You will almost immediately work up a sweat in the sauna, and that is a good thing. Sweating helps flush out the toxins that are in our bodies. We are exposed to toxins every single day: between the products we use, foods we eat, and air we breathe. Our skin and bodies are in contact with chemicals, metals and toxins daily. Sweating all this junk out is a major gift to our bodies! No matter how healthy or clean you aim to be by the food you eat, toxins are unavoidable in our daily environment. Many doctors advocate a daily deep sweat to detox our bodies. Since most of us aren’t profusely sweating on the reg, saunas are a great way to actively sweat it out.
How affective are saunas at releasing toxins? After 9/11, firemen and other clean up workers had been exposed to thousands of chemicals and debris while dealing with the aftermath. This lead to serious health issues for many. A large number of workers participated in a sauna detox treatment for 33 days, which resulted in: a significant drop in symptoms; significant improvements in thyroid function, balance, reaction time and IQ; and 84 percent of workers had discontinued all drugs and medications because they no longer had any symptoms! This is truly awesome. The power of sweat. Go saunas! I knew I loved you for good reason J
The heat of the sauna promotes relaxation and just makes us feel good. Taking 10 minutes to destress in the sauna is meditative and calming. Our minds slow down and our bodies relax as we sweat it out. As our muscles begin to relax, the sauna stimulates our body to release endorphins, which are natural “feel good’ chemicals. Stress takes a toll on our physical and mental health, so anytime we get can a “natural high” we’re doing ourselves a grand favor. I mean isn’t that “natural high” the best feeling ever? Dealing with stress is key to longevity and good health. We can all use stress relieving time to time, and a sauna can do just that.
There’s a reason saunas exist at the gym. They are highly effective at workout recovery and helping muscle pain. As the heat of the sauna increases our blood flow and circulation, our bodies natural healing process is activated and our muscles to soothe and heal our muscles and aches quicker. Getting in the sauna after an intense workout or physical activity is relaxing and helps reduce muscle tension. The same goes for those with arthritis! Studies show that saunas help relieve the pain and stiffness for sufferers of arthritis. It is a relaxing experience for both mind and body.
This benefit rules. Healthy looking skin is really key to aging gracefully. Sweating in a sauna helps shed dead skin cells as well as rinse out our pores and glands. Since our blood flow circulation is increased, oxygen and nutrients are brought to the skins surface, leaving our skin looking cleansed and moisturized. It is also said that collagen production is increased, which is responsible for keeping our skin tight and firm. (This sounds like a less painful facial 🙂 )
Improves Cardiovascular Performance
I find this benefit super interesting. The theory is that sitting in a sauna has affects similar to exercising. In high temperatures, our heart rate responds and “cardiac output” increases. Our heart rate can rise up to 120 bmp in the sauna. When we are in the cooling stage post sauna, our heart rate may frequently dip below normal level. This leads to improvement in endurance while also training our heart muscles and improving our heart rate. Japanese researchers also say that going in a sauna is extremely helpful for those with congestive heart failure.
Saunas should not be used as your primary weight loss initiative, but being in a sauna does burn calories. During a sauna session, the body’s metabolism speeds up while tons of energy is burned in the dry heat. A sauna will burn additional calories, but never believe claims from companies that it is a stand-alone weight loss tool.
Boosts Immune System
A session in a sauna boosts your immune system and can help fight off illnesses. Sitting in a sauna helps produce more white blood cells, due to the heat and steam—this is so cool! White blood cells are the cells of are immune system that are in charge of protecting the body from illness and fighting off colds and viruses. Regular sauna users are generally “healthier” and experience less overall illnesses.
Saunas are also beneficial if you’re currently sick. Sitting in a sauna can help fight off symptoms and sinus congestion from a cold or allergies, while sweating out the illness. This is great to know during the winter months!
This was the most shocking benefit to me, who knew!? We apparently have a special gland called the “sebaceous gland” on our scalp, whose function is to release an oily matter in order to moisturize our hair and skin. Spending time in a sauna activates this gland, and the compound is released to condition and moisturize our hair. This is great news as I take the health of my hair very serious 🙂
Above all else, saunas just feel good. That’s how I ended up in them in the first place. After a good workout or when you need time to relax, stepping into a sauna can be the ultimate form of medication and meditation. The sauna is a restorative retreat we can escape to for 10 minutes a day, and get all of these great benefits as an extra gift.