The use of saunas dates back thousands of years. From tribal rights and religious ceremonies to modern day relaxation and cleansing, saunas have always been considered a healthful and rejuvenating practice.
They hold an especially important role in our modern lifestyles – we’ve gone from hunting, gathering and being exposed to the elements and sweating profusely to very comfortable, micro-controlled, air-conditioned climates today.
Personally, there’s nothing more invigorating than a deep, healthy sweat every day for me. When I can’t achieve that in the winter through a long run or ride, the sauna is a great way to sweat!
But there’s a lot more to saunas than just sweating.
Here are some of the main benefits of sauna:
Busy lifestyles and varying geographical locations make it tough for many of us to sweat on a daily basis.
Saunas however, allow us to do this and are one of the best methods for releasing toxins likearsenic, zinc, nickel, lead, cadmium, mercury, lead and other chemicals from our bodies.
Our skin is not only our largest organ, but also one of our major organs of detoxification.
Cleansing the Skin
Sweating cleanses our skin by moving bacteria out of the sweat ducts and off the skin surface. The heat and moisture of sweating clears dead skin cells away, facilitating healthy, youthful-looking skin. Just take a look at the skin of a person who sweats a lot versus the person who never sweats – it’s noticeable!
Muscle and Joint Recovery
The heat from a sauna leads to increased circulation throughout the body, especially away from the core organs and out to the limbs and peripheral tissues.
This increased blood flow delivers oxygen and nutrients, and at the same time removes waste products from the tissues. This helps reduce inflammation, speed recovery, and improve healing and repair of damaged tissues.
Contrary to the popular RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), heat is actually beneficial for the overall healing process. Next time you have sore achy joints and muscles, try a sauna (or hot tub!) and see how you feel the next day – probably a lot better than if you just iced those areas!
Similar to exercise, the increased blood flow and body temperature helps release our feel-good endorphins that in turn leave us feeling calm and relaxed.
Using the sauna an hour or so prior to bedtime is known to promote a deeper and more relaxed sleep. Part of this is because cortisol levels are reduced when the body is under less stress and feeling relaxed.
Heart rate increases in response to heat, resulting in increased cardiac output. Sweating and faster heart rate require energy. As heart activity increases and oxygen demand goes up, the body begins to convert more calories into energy. This is simply another form of exercise for the heart where a thirty-minute session can burn up to 500 calories.
There’s also a benefit here in that sauna can be a great alternative for those that have some degree of cardiovascular health issues where exercise may be limited. As the heart rate is increased and the blood vessels are dilated to allow for heat to escape from the body, this creates a relatively low stress environment for the heart to “train”.
Taking a sauna has the effect of lowering blood pressure, increasing oxygenation and improving circulation – all of which directly support cardiovascular health.
A hot sauna can mimic a fever and help kill off viral and bacterial infections. Your body uses a fever for this exact same purpose; essentially to make the host environment (you) as inhospitable as possible.
If you’re sick or even feeling like your coming down with something (and you don’t already have a fever), taking a sauna twice a day will mimic a fever in your body and hasten your recovery from illness.
We recommend 3-4, thirty-minute sessions a week if you’re not already outside sweating. If you have a medical condition, or aren’t used to the heat, then work up slowly and don’t push it if you don’t feel well. Even a 10-minute sauna will leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, and you'll get all of the above benefits.
The biggest concern with saunas is staying hydrated. You’ll be sweating a lot and you need to replace those fluids, preferably during and after. And as always, we recommend you use an electrolyte formula in your water – it’ll help your body rehydrate more efficiently.
Give it a try – take a few saunas a week and let us know how it benefits you!