9 Science-Backed Sauna Health Benefits
1. Stress & Anxiety Reduction
Avid sauna users often associate stress reduction as the main reason they visit the sauna several times each week.
When an individual steps into a warm, quiet place, stress levels naturally decrease. The calming effects of a sauna make it the perfect environment to clear the mind and simply relax.
In today’s busy world, it’s safe to say that nearly everyone could use some extra quiet time and a little stress reduction from day to day. Having a sauna in the home is one of the most efficient ways to make reduced stress a daily habit.
In addition to the stress free environment of a sauna, various other benefits within the warm environment encourage additional stress reduction. For examples, muscles relax, blood flow increases, and endorphins are released in the body. These "feel good" chemicals replicate the benefits of essential oils such as eucalyptus.
As such, some saunas encourage the use of said oils for additional benefits within the sauna. Essentially, the scent creates an additional aromatherapy effect to reduce stress.
The body starts to naturally reduce stress, decrease signs of depression, lower chances for mental disorders and even improves cardiorespiratory fitness levels, similar to the therapeutic effects of a trip to the gym.
2. Improved Heart Health
Since their origin, saunas have been cited as a great form of stress reduction, which means improved heart health. Medical studies report that stress in our daily lives causes an array of harmful, negative affects on our daily lives. Heated bathing reduces stress and therefore improves cardiovascular performance.
Plus, having a warm, quiet place to sit without any distractions allows for individuals to temporarily say goodbye to the rest of the world. Modern sauna users are able to listen to music or simply relax in a room blocked off from exterior troubles of the daily grind.
Inside the sauna, the heat improves circulation, stimulates the release of endorphins, and relaxes the body’s muscles. This relaxation (along with the release of these “feel good” chemicals) provides the “sauna after glow” for users who frequent visits to the warm room.
According to a study by Finnleo, “Using a sauna 2-3 times per week at 174 degrees F reduces risk of Fatal Cardiovascular Disease by 27 percent and 4-7 times per week reduces risk by 50 percent.” In addition, saunas lower the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure).”
Likewise, long-term use and aerobic exercises result in improved arterial compliance, which means healthier arteries. Healthier arteries mean individuals can handle future stress better than before.
Finally, sauna use increases the heart rate like aerobic exercise, where studies have found rates to range between 120-150 beats per minute in the heat.
3. Quicker Recovery Time
In addition to improved cardiovascular performance, saunas also help with recovery after intense exertion. As mentioned, saunas help the body release additional endorphins, which also help recovery time after a workout.
Since endorphins have a mild tranquilizing effect, they’re able to help with muscle soreness after physical labor.
Similarly, saunas also increase the internal temperature of the body, which means blood vessels dilate and blood circulation increases with the temperature.
Increased blood circulation helps the body speed up the natural healing process, be it muscle pains, minor bruises, or even scrapes and cuts.
After a workout, the heat and steam of a sauna helps reduce tension, toxins, and lactic acid in the body.
Regular sauna use helps benefit strength training because the quicker the body can heal, the quicker it can be stressed and build muscle again.
Specifically, growth hormones are increased to help build muscle. According to studies from the University of Iowa, growth hormone increases 200-300 percent after a single sauna use, which helps reduce muscle atrophy.
In fact, three weeks after post-exercise sauna, run time to exhaustion increased 32 percent in male runners. “We found that whole-body heat stress triggers some of the physiologic responses observed with exercise,” the researchers concluded. “Future studies are necessary to investigate whether carefully prescribed heat stress constitutes a method to augment or supplement exercise.”
4. Eradicate Body Toxins
These days, very few people sweat on a regular basis. But, deep sweating has an array of health benefits.
A long, deep sweat can actually occur from regular sauna visits before, after, or in addition to workouts.
Due to the heat (ideally 175 F or above), the core body temperature begins to rise and sweat occurs.
The blood vessels dialate, which causes increased blood flow. As the heat moves to the skin, the nervous system sends signals to the sweat glands. At this point, the sweat glands ignite across the surface of the body.
As the sweat glands are stimulated, the body can start to flush unnecessary toxins out of the body.
Toxins, such as excess levels of lead, copper, zinc, nickel and mercury, can drastically harm the body. Therefore, saunas can help the body eradicate toxins that are absorbed during daily interactions with the body and the direct environment.
There is no shortage of doctor’s advice on removing toxins from the body, so it's best to make a detox part of your monthly routine.
According to the Institute for Natural Medicine, most people don’t realize how toxins can destroy the physiology of the body.
In fact, issues with toxins used to be called “Mad Hatter Disease.” Toxins poison enzymes, displace structural minerals, damage the organs, harm DNA and cause degeneration, modify gene expression, injure membranes, interfere with hormones, and impair the body’s ability to detoxify easily in the future.
5. Decreased Memory Disorders
According to Dr. Jari Laukkanen, sauna use reduces incidents of Alzheimer’s by a record 65 percent. Across the doctor’s 20-year study, over 2,300 participants were tested at the University of Eastern Finland.
Generally speaking, the study determined that regular sauna use (defined as 4-7 times per week at 176 degrees F for at least 19 minutes) lowered the risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia, where the controlled group only used the sauna 0-1 times per week.
Before this test, there were no previous studies linked with repeated heat exposure in regards to memory diseases. The scientists wanted to investigate how sauna frequency may reduce memory issues.
The population-based study assessed at baseline in the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease prospective of healthy men between 42-60 years of age. The baseline examinations were conducted between 1984 and 1989.
According to official reports: “In analysis adjusted for age, alcohol consumption, body mass index, systolic blood pressure, smoking status, Type 2 diabetes, previous myocardial infarction, resting heart rate and serum low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, compared with men with only 1 sauna bathing session per week, the HR for dementia was 0.78 (95% CI: 0.57-1.06) for 2-3 sauna bathing sessions per week and 0.34 (95% CI: 0.16-0.71) for 4-7 sauna bathing sessions per week. The corresponding HRs for Alzheimer's disease were 0.80 (95% CI: 0.53-1.20) and 0.35 (95% CI: 0.14-0.90).”
In conclusion, this report indicated that the male population, using moderate to high frequency sauna bathing lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s or Dementia.
Currently, additional studies are also checking the mechanisms of sauna and memory disease.
6. Improved/Deeper Sleep
Along with stress release and the additional release of endorphins, regular sauna use also improves deeper sleep.
Body temperatures, which are often elevated late in the evening, fall when it’s time for bed. As such, the decrease in endorphins help facilitate sleep. Various sauna bathers have commented on their deep sleep experiences thanks to the calming heat of regular sauna use each week.
While all saunas help with sleep, infrared saunas may actually help with sleep better than traditional saunas. Traditional saunas warm the air around you, while infrared saunas use light to heat the body through radiation.
Infrared saunas produce the same physical effects – increased body heat, improved heart rate and sweating – improve the body without having to warm the air up to an uncomfortable 185+ degrees.
Since sleep is actually somewhat of a complex process, it’s important to understand that saunas help in a variety of natural ways.
Saunas help with body temperature by helping it remain steady through the day (in regards to one’s daily sleep-wake cycle).
Basically, maintaining a cool body temperature is important for helping individuals fall asleep.
In addition, saunas also help with calmness and relaxation, similar to the practice of yoga, deep breathing, or other relaxation techniques near bedtime.
The benefits of a sauna are not directly related to time of day, but new studies are being performed each and every year.
7. Helps Fight Illnesses
German medical research has proven that saunas help reduce illnesses such as the common cold or influenza.
Since the body is exposed to heat and steam, it starts to produce more white cells than normal.
White cells help the body fight illnesses and allergies that interfere with the immune system. Saunas also help to reduce the symptoms of sinus congestion that can occur throughout the year.
Steam, in particular, helps the body fight off illnesses. The vapor of steam helps clear up unwanted congestion in the body.
With more white blood cells and the reduction of congestion, illnesses exit the body sooner or can be avoided all-together.
White blood cells begin in the bone marrow in a process known as hematopoiesis. All blood cells - which includes white, red, and platelets-descend from stem cells and can evolve in different stages.
Individuals with low white blood cell counts may experience fever, cough, urination pain, blood in stool, diarrhea, and infection. Additional issues may cause severe infections, bone marrow damage, autoimmune disease like lupus, or sequestration.
White blood cells – monocytes, lymphocytes, neutrophils, basophils, and eosinophils – work in a variety of ways to improve health.
Different types of white blood cells help fight bacteria, kill fungi, improve the immune system, and destroy cancer cells.
Saunas help to create new white blood cells and lower the chance of these issues.
8. Cleanses The Skin
Heat bathing is one of the oldest methods to help cleanse the skin. When the body produces a deep sweat, the skin is clean and dead skins are replaced, which makes sure the body’s largest organ – skin – work in top notch conditions.
Sweating helps rinse bacteria out of the epidermal layer and sweat ducts across the body. Cleaning the pores helps to improve the capillary circulation while giving the skin a softer looking quality.
Basically, one’s pores open up as sweat releases the buildup from within. Essentially, sweat purges the body of toxins that clog pores, in addition to skin problems like pimples or blemishes.
But, these benefits are meant for mild or moderate sweating. Excessive sweating, known as hyperhidrosis, can actually cause skin infections such as eczema, rashes, warts, and various other issues for those who suffer.
In order to avoid problems from too much sweat, make sure to regularly clean your face after sauna visits and after gym visits.
Most people think of sweating as helping with weight control, but it also helps keep the skin look young and feel firm.
"As we age, we want certain layers of our skin to stay thin, and we want other layers of our skin to stay thick," explains Dermatologist Whitney Bowe. "The natural aging process of skin entails a gradual thickening of the outermost layer of our skin, the stratum corneum."
In addition, sweat contains alternatives to antibiotics like antimicrobial peptides. Bowe concluded, "The specific antimicrobial peptide in sweat, dermcidin, is pumped onto the skin via the sweat glands and coats the skin, thereby providing protection against infection from other microbes and harmful germs."
9. Burns Excess Calories
Some companies promote sauna use as the end-all weight control secret weapon. While this claim may be a stretch, saunas certainly do help individuals burn excess calories, drop water weight, and stay trim.
However, some individuals will experience more of a calorie burn than others, especially if the person is particularly out of shape and inactive.
Over the long term schedule, however, saunas are simply another tool in the toolkit to stay in shape and burn excess calories. Simply put, the sweating process requires energy and energy comes from burned calories.
According the U.S. Army, "A moderately conditioned person can easily sweat off 500 grams in a sauna in a single session, consuming nearly 300 calories in the process.”
The body consumes calories and the activity of heat exhaustion helps produce additional oxygen as the body converts calories into energy. When the sauna is visited after a workout, the body is already in an extended state of calorie burn, which is perfect for weight loss.
Another source calculates calories burned in a sauna as calories burned per 30 minutes of sitting (specific to bodyweight) times 1.5-2x equals burned calories.
Specifically, a 185-pound man burns 42 calories by sitting, so that same person should burn 63-84 calories in one sauna visit.
But, this same number could change if that same person just did an intense HIIT workout, a cycling session, or a weightlifting visit. Overall, the point is to add sauna use to consistent, moderate healthy habits for weight loss and more.