The Finns recently made news with a study that supports the idea that regular sauna use can lead to longer, healthier lives. Finland is not unique in its cultural fascination with saunas. From Thai baths to Russian banyas to Native North Americans’ sweat lodges, humans have been intentionally sweating (with or without exercising) for thousands of years.
There are a lot of different sources that claim that saunas or steam rooms are the answer to a whole host of physical and emotional problems. Are they right? We don’t know, but we don’t blame you for being a little skeptical (especially since sauna enthusiasts are sometimes sauna salespeople). However, there are five benefits that are undeniable:
1. Saunas relieve stress
The high heat of saunas and steam rooms are relaxing, but perhaps more importantly, the five or 10 or 15 minutes you spend sitting and sweating are five or 10 or 15 minutes spent just sitting. They can be your few minutes of calm—your few minutes of meditation or simply stillness. Can’t we all use a few moments disengaged from the break-neck pace of our everyday? (Note that to get the full effect of this benefit, you should leave your ipod, phone, or book in the locker.)
2. Saunas relax muscles and soothe aches and pains
As your temperature rises, blood rushes to your extremities. Whereas our fight-or-flight response sends blood to the core of the body and temps in our extremities drop several degrees, the sauna enforces higher temps, and more blood throughout the body. Any aches and pains you may have will thank you for the extra blood and oxygen. Even aches from chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia respond to “thermal therapy.” Think of it as a hot water bottle for your whole body!
3. Saunas cleanse your skin
It may seem counter-intuitive that all of that sweat would be good for your skin, but lots of sweat helps flush out your pores. It’s not “detox” exactly, more like turning on the taps full blast to get rid of any dirt on the faucet. If you are prone to break outs, consider cleansing your skin before and after your sauna bathing (actually, it’s a good idea for everyone to shower before and after a sauna, and some saunas require it).
4. Saunas burn calories
According to one source, you can burn up to 100 calories per 10-minute session. Saunas should not replace your fitness routine. It cannot provide the full health benefits of exercise. But why not extend your gym session with a sit in the sauna? You could add an extra 100 calories burned!
5. Saunas just feel good
Especially when the outside temperatures are cold, it just feels good to be enveloped in the warmth of a sauna or steam room. If you’re not used to the sauna, start slowly. Stay in the heat only as long as you’re comfortable—as long as it continues to feel good. After all, that’s the best and most important reason to sit in the sauna!
As with exercise, you should check with your doctor before starting a sauna-bathing routine, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions. People with heart or respiratory problems should take special care when considering sauna bathing.
Not sure whether you’d prefer a wet or dry heat? You can try them both at the Simon Family JCC. Both locker rooms have access to both wet and dry saunas. Experiment for yourself. See what feels good. Get started today with your free three-day pass.