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Sauna. Finnish Bath. Bath House. Sweat Bath. Spa.
Although there are many names for his extremely hot room, it has had a prominent feature in human history. You have probably heard of a sauna before, whether it be in your local gym, spa, or even in your house. But when did people start using saunas? Who thought it was a good idea to sit and sweat in a hot room? And why do people continue to do it to this day?
The History Behind Saunas
The first saunas date back several thousand years ago. They were originally made as small pits in the ground with tents over them to hold in the heat. They are extremely popular in Finland and other Scandinavian Countries because of their long and cold winters. To combat the cold weather, the sauna was oftentimes the best place to bathe, relax, treat the sick, and give birth. In these countries, saunas have become a part of the country’s culture. Not only is it used as a daily activity with most houses and apartments having their own sauna, but sauna baths are even a part of holidays such as Christmas and Midsummer. What started out as a practical escape from the freezing temperatures, has quickly spread around the world and become a popular activity.
What is a sauna?
There are several different kinds of saunas including the traditional steam sauna (or Finnish sauna), dry sauna, steam bath, and infrared sauna.
The most commonly seen today, especially in America, is an electric sauna. This is considered a dry sauna and it is heated from an electric source and wood lined. This type of sauna is designed to be very hot and used for detoxifying through sweat, providing relief for aches and pains, and relaxing.
What health benefits does the sauna have?
Pleasure And Relaxation
The heat of a sauna can be just the thing you need to relax and de-stress from your day. When you sit in a sauna Cortisol (the stress hormone) is reduced and instead, serotonin (the “happy hormone”) is stimulated. Not only is this nice in the moment, but the relaxation you feel from the sauna can actually help you sleep better at night as well.
The extreme temperature of the sauna causes your body to release endorphins. This triggers the “runner’s high” feeling and can minimize pain. The increased blood circulation from the heat speeds up the body’s natural healing process. This will reduce muscle tension and eliminate lactic acid and toxins.
Increased Heart Health
There have been many long term studies done on saunas in relation to heart health over the years, and many of them have found that people who regularly use the sauna have a reduced risk of vascular diseases such as:
-High Blood Pressure
How can sitting in a hot room do this? Basically, the heat causes your blood to flow more rapidly. When it does this, your heart rate is said to increase to 100- 150 bpm. This is the same effect that you would get from moderate to high intensity cardiovascular exercise such as biking or swimming. Not only are you working out your heart in the sauna but other benefits include:
-Reduced blood pressure.
-Reduction in oxidative stress (the balance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body) and inflammation.
-Helps to balance the cholesterol levels in blood.
-Positive impact on your autonomic nervous system.
There has been a long time study of 2,300 men in Finland that has some interesting statistics. Not only do the men who use the sauna have a reduced chance of sudden cardiac death, but it has also been found that the men that use the sauna 4+ times a week are as much as 63% less likely to die of cardiac death than the men who use the sauna only 1 time a week.
Improved Immune System
There have been several studies that have found sitting in the sauna can boost your immune system. This in turn reduces the susceptibility you have to common colds and infections. The heat of the sauna causes blood to flow more rapidly which helps to fight illnesses and kill viruses.
Good For Your Skin
Sweating it out in the sauna helps to remove the dry and dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. It also causes better circulation to your face which enhances the production of collagen. Sweating is also a great way to clear your pores.
The Sauna For Beginners…
If you’re thinking about starting a sauna routine here are a couple of things that you should know.
Are there any negative effects of the sauna?
Do NOT drink alcohol in the sauna or before getting into the sauna.
This is actually very dangerous in the sauna because not only is it already very dehydrating for your body, but it limits your body’s control over regulating your blood pressure. This can cause you to faint, have an accident, and even in extreme cases- death.
As mentioned above, you will sweat out a lot of water and electrolytes from your body in a sauna. This is why it is so important to have water or an electrolyte drink on hand.
People who suffer from psoriasis or other dermatitis conditions probably shouldn’t use the sauna because it dries the skin, and can make these skin conditions even worse.
Consult Your Doctor
If you have low blood pressure, are pregnant, or have any other health concerns then you need to consult a doctor before going into the sauna.
If you have been looking for something to add to your self care routine, the sauna is definitely something you should try. You can get so many health benefits from sitting and relaxing for a couple minutes a day. As always, remember to stay hydrated!