Saunas have a long history in Scandinavian health and culture.
With over 2000 years of history and more saunas in its native country than there are households, Finland’s greatest export has had a lasting impact in the world of health (1,2).
In the past, saunas were a place of birth and death, as women typically gave birth in smoke saunas and bodies were purified in them before burial. Even now, spending time in the sauna is considered an essential practice for long-term health (3).
So why are saunas so popular outside of Finland ? The secret lies in their intense heat.
Here’s a list of benefits you get from going to the sauna:
1. Weight Loss
Saunas are often used by athletes after working out to loosen up muscles and relieve pain. Their significant heat also opens up arteries and improves blood flow. Regular sauna use is even said to improve recovery time after a major injury.
By heating up your body and making you sweat, saunas actually boost your metabolism and promote energy expenditure, helping you lose weight.
A recent finding also shows that saunas promote a natural hormone called human growth hormone, which is vital for maintaining healthy body tissues and improving endurance (4).
Because it promotes heavy sweating, regular sauna use can help your body get rid of heavy metals and other toxins present in the environment and in your food.
These toxins are often stored in your fat cells and other bodily tissues and can lead to illness or even death over time.
In fact, a 2012 study showed that sweating from sauna use was very effective at removing harmful heavy metals such as Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury (5).
Case study: The New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project
Sitting in a sauna can boost detoxification so much that researchers used sauna therapy to treat over 500 rescue workers after the World Trade Center attacks of 2001.
These workers were suffering from respiratory illnesses as well as gastrointestinal complaints, depression, and cognitive disorders after being exposed to a massive amount of toxins during the disaster.
The workers, ages 35-45 experienced an incredible transformation during their 33-day treatment (6).
- They missed a median of 2.1 days of work per month,
- Had 4.4 days of limited activity,
- Symptom severity scores—which rated 10 systems, including skin, respiratory, emotional, cognitive and musculoskeletal—were high,
- And half of the participants were taking drugs to manage their symptoms.
- The number of days of missed work or limited activity fell to 0.2,
- Symptom scores dropped dramatically,
- 84 percent of participants had discontinued all their drugs because their symptoms had cleared up.
- They also had significant improvements in thyroid function, balance, reaction time and even IQ!
Taking niacin can help mobilize fat cells and speed the detoxification process as well as improve mood and stabilize blood pressure (7).
3. Cardiovascular Health
Sauna therapy can be used to manage hypertension, congestive heart failure, and for post-myocardial infarction care. It can also improve airflow in patients with respiratory conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Regular sauna use can even benefit people suffering from chronic fatigue and chronic pain (8,9).
A Finnish study also found that spending time in a sauna 7 days a week made men less more than 50% likely to die of heart disease. Overall mortality rate also diminished with regular sauna use (10). Just 15 minutes a day for 14 days is enough to improve endothelial function by 40 percent (11).
4. Stress Release
Saunas aren’t just good for your physical health, they’re also great for your mental and emotional health. Saunas are meant to be a place to relax and unwind with your family and friends.
By relaxing your muscles, saunas help relieves nervous tension and stress that may have accumulated throughout the day. Combine sauna use with relaxing breathing techniques for the ultimate stress relief.
If you’re not familiar with using a sauna and you’d like to get started, here is a quick routine to get you up to speed.
- Take 500 mg niacin 30 minutes before working out. Make sure to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements to find out if they’re right for you.
- Exercise for 15 – 20 minutes.
- Cool down with simple yoga stretches for 5-10 minutes.
- Breathe deeply and enter a dry sauna for 20 minutes. Rest outside the sauna for 15-20 minutes and enter again for another 20 minutes.
- Follow up by plunging into an ice-cold bath for 5 minutes, breathing deeply.
- Repeat 3-4 times a week.
Always make sure to drink plenty of water after each session!