Health Benefits of Sauna and Steamrooms FAQs
Frequent Saunas and Reduced Dementia
The effects of sauna bathing and the risk of dementia were studied in the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study (KIHD) involving more than 2000 middle-aged men living in the eastern part of Finland.
The study participants were divided into three groups:
- those taking a sauna once a week
- 2-3 times a week and
- 4-7 times a week.
The more frequent sauna takers had a lower risk of dementia
Among those taking a sauna 4-7 times a week, the risk of any form of dementia was 66 percent lower and the risk of Alzheimer's disease 65 percent lower than those taking a sauna just once a week.
Frequent Saunas and Reduced Sudden Cardiac Arrest
Previous results from the KIHD study have shown that the frequent sauna bathing also significantly reduces the risk of sudden cardiac death, the risk of death due to coronary artery disease and other cardiac events. See Scientific Daily: "Frequent sauna bathing may protect men against dementia, Finnish study suggests".
According to the Jari Laukkaanen, the study leader, sauna bathing may protect both the heart and memory to some extent via similar, still poorly known mechanisms. "however," he notes, "it is known that cardiovascular health affects the brain as well. The sense of well-being and relaxation experience during sauna bathing may also play a role."
Jari Laukkanen, jariantero.laukkanen (at) uef.fi, tel. +358 50 5053013
Professor, University of Eastern Finland, Clinical Medicine, Central Finland Central Hospital
Sauna bathing is inversely associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in middle-aged Finnish men. Tanjaniina Laukkanen, Setor Kunutsor, Jussi Kauhanen, Jari Antero Laukkanen. Age and Ageing 2016; 0: 1–5. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afw212
Sauna provide significant health benefits
Blood circulation and sweating
When you taking a sauna, the hot air and heat pumps up blood circulation near the skin and triggers sweating your body tries to cool the body's core temperature. By encourage sweating, the body starts to rid your body of unwanted by-products of metabolism and improves general circulation. As the heat increases, blood vessels dilate, and circulation in the skin climbs. As resistance to blood flow through your veins and capillaries drops, your blood pressure goes down. Then your heartbeat increases to keep blood pressure normal.
Using heat in ancient times
In medieval times, healers relied on saunas to cure illnesses, and priests used their heat to chase away evil spirits. And further back, Hippocrates of ancient Greece (over 2,000 years ago) often referred to as the father of modern medicine wrote, "Give me the power to create a fever, and I shall cure any disease".
Heat has been used for centuries to exact cures for illness. When your body temperature rises above 98.6° Fahrenheit, the immune system is stimulated and the growth of viruses and bacteria slows while the production of white blood cells increases.
White blood cells are the backbone of your body's immune system
The rise in body temperature causes the body to produce more antibodies as well as interferon, which is a protein that has been shown to have powerful disease fighting properties. These processes work together to provide the steam bather with a ton of benefits, some of which are just now being discovered.
Scandinavians do operate their sauna differently from Americans
Typically, they like to heat their saunas up very hot to over 200° in the beginning, then they get a good steam going so the sauna is not dry at all. They prefer wood-fired heated sauna rocks and pour generous amount of water. Electrical sauna can handle a couple of ladles of water, but generally not copious amount of water.
Often the steamy sauna room is better for older sauna bathers or anyone with respiratory issues as the dry sauna air can irritate the upper respiratory tract. If so, add a few ladles of water over the hot sauna heater.
Scandinavians and Americans alike to follow a sauna with a cold plunge. It's incredibly refreshing, invigorating and enjoyable, and good for your arteries and veins. Truthfully, you are as healthy as your circulatory system!
For most, the main risk is staying in the sauna for too long and then fainting from overheating or moving around too quickly. If you know you have heart disease or you've been using drugs or alcohol, then be very careful. Do NOT combine drinking or other drugs with a sauna or hot tub.
In Finland, it's not uncommon for physicians to let patients sauna from conception all the way up to the day of delivery. And of course, children should only use a sauna with adult supervision.
Steam bathing offers several great health benefits:
- Steam bathing provides a cardiovascular workout without stress or strain on your joints.
You heart rate will speed up 50-75% in a 20-minute steam bath. This speeds up the metabolism, thus helping you burn fat. It is about the same as going for a long walk. Some people are under the conception that steam baths raise your blood pressure. While this is true, it also expands your blood vessels to compensate.
- A steam bath will also relax your tense and aching muscles.
If you have had a long day (or month) at work, toxins certainly build up in your body, especially muscle tissue, causing you pain and discomfort. A steam sauna can force your muscles to relax, almost instantly releasing these harmful toxins. It is also great after a workout. The extra blood flow will speed up the repair of your muscle tissue, thus allowing you to exercise again sooner.
- Steam saunas can also help you lose weight.
Sitting in a steam bath for a half an hour can burn as many as 300 calories. Combine this with a healthy diet and exercise and you'll be thinner in no time. The steam sauna can also tighten your skin, in that battle against cellulite.
- The steam sauna also cleanses your skin.
The sweat opens your pores, thus flushing out unhealthy toxins and grime … nothing is better for great looking skin than steam (just ask any dermatologist). Steam cleanses your skin more thoroughly than soap and water.
- The steam sauna also has distinct healing qualities.
By taking your internal body temperature to 104 degrees it brings you to an artificial fever state. As you know a fever's purpose is to kill viruses in the body. So even if you don't feel sick, it will make sure that you don't anytime soon.
How to take a sauna
We have an article that explores taking a sauna in more detail, see: How to Take a Sauna, Enhancing Your Dry Sauna Experience.
Points discussed in the article:
Traditional Sauna Usage
A traditional sauna is heated by a wood-fired, gas or electric sauna heater with a wood interior.
Generally, a traditional sauna should heat up in 25-30 minutes (outdoor saunas in the winter a bit longer) and will be warm enough to comfortably relax. Most like to enter when the temperature is 140°–170°F. or 60°–82°C.
This is enough time for the sauna rocks to provide a soft heat and/or soft steam. The cedar interior will be comfortably heated, too.
If you want to get into your sauna nearly immediately and feel direct penetrating heat, consider adding an infrared sauna light.
We have a longer article that tackles some of the aspects of taking a sauna, see: How to Take a Sauna, Enhancing Your Dry Sauna Experience.
Some tips on how best to use your sauna session
This sauna article discusses each phase of using the sauna: Before, during, and after and healing reactions some sauna bather experience.
Additionally, a healthful lifestyle and an integrated healing program greatly enhance the results of sauna therapy. Rest several times during the day, eat natural foods, breathe deeply and exercise a little each day.
See our full article regarding the sauna experience.
Some of the healing attributes of a sauna session
Our number one goal is to promote health and well being through sauna therapy. Some of the health benefits of saunas include:
- Feeling alive – Nothing like a profuse sweat and a cold plunge to make your senses come alive. During a sauna session, hydrate, hydrate, hydtrate! It's very important to drink plenty of water and/or coconut water to replenish lost fluids during and after the sauna.
- Remove toxins and improve circulation – A good sweat will help you release toxins from your system. A sauna is an easy way to sweat, especially in the winter. The heat from the sauna helps to dilate blood vessels for increased circulation and to open the pores of the skin thereby releasing toxic chemicals from your organs and tissue.
- Tone your skin – We recommend giving your skin a dry brushing prior to entering the sauna. This removes dead skin and promotes movement of the lymphatic fluid. Always brush in the direction of your heart. Did you know you have more lymph than blood and that 80% of your lymph vessels lie just beneath the skin’s surface? By dry brushing, you are circulating your lymph thus accelerating all metabolic processes such as, glucose delivery, removal of carbon dioxide, and oxygenation of your cells. Some also use venik (birch branches and leaves) to tapote (lightly beat) each other's skin. See "What is sauna venik?" for more details.
- Shared community – In the Nordic cultures, a sauna is nearly always a family event. Parents teach their children that naked or partially clothed bodies are natural and need cleansing and care. A sauna is also a common community event with often a dozen or more people participating. It’s a great time to catch up on the news and lives of those around you!
- Fight infection – Most harmful microbes cannot survive hot temperatures, which means they don’t stand a chance in the sauna. Heating up your body with regular saunas has been shown to fight infection by killing off these microbes (viruses, bacteria and fungus).
- Relaxation – The sauna heat easily lulls your senses and relaxes tense muscles. This profound heat drives your thoughts away allowing a space for deep solace and inner calm.
Caution: Do Not Fall Asleep in the Sauna!
- Intimacy – Saunas do create more intimacy and no doubt many couples feel relaxed enough for sex. Of course, individual's health differs so respect your own limits of heat exposure combined with physical activity and stay hydrated.
Practicing Sauna Safety
Of course, each of us may have a different scale when it comes to optimal health and our ability to sustain high heat in a sauna. Children, pregnant women, seniors, men and seasoned sauna bathers all have different tolerances for heat AND humidity. Generally we advise that your first trip into the sauna be for no more than 10-15 minutes while you're hydrating, ie drinking plenty of water.
At the Banya 5 sauna and spa, I entered their sauna when it was well over 220° F and enjoyed it. I am a seasoned sauna bather though AND more important than the temperature was the humidity which was about 27% on their hygrometer (humidity gauge). Their management staff had mounted a sign on the wall that reads: "Humidity can NOT be above 40%!". The sign is intended to stop sauna enthusiasts from putting too many ladles of water on the sauna rocks. While they may love the steam and profuse sweating, not all of us should attempt extreme sauna temperatures.
Most saunas lined with cedar are heated to 160-190° F. Some of the posher modern spas have installed saunas lined with mud, stucco, salt, and even dog tooth calcite, amethyst and quartz. These saunas can handle much hotter temperatures. Just an FYI, steam rooms have high humidity but much lower temperatures (< 115° F), so steam bathers can stay in longer.
A Brief Sauna History …
The sauna is one of the oldest forms of bathing the world has ever known. While archaeologists cannot confirm or deny the origins of the sweat bath — most certainly before the Romans — we know who perfected this fine luxury, the Norse peoples of Finland, Norway and Sweden. The Nordic people's unique sweat bath began to gain notoriety during the Reformation, when European bath houses had disappeared as a lifestyle. In the 1500s, Klaus Magnus wrote: "Nowhere on earth is the use of the bath so necessary, as it is in the Northern lands." Read more in this full article, Sauna History.
Sauna head rests and leg rests make a great gift for the sauna enthusiast
A sauna head and leg rests has several simple benefits:
- Takes pressure off the low back and neck
- Allows the legs and knees to feel supported
- Helps bring the spine into a neutral position
- Improves circulation
- Prevents knees from locking
- Helps the blood flow return to the heart
Sauna bathers use birch leaves or venik to Invigorating their skin by stimulating blood and lymph flow
So you can experience the "Banya" (Russian for Spa/Sauna). Siberian Birch Sauna Venik opens up the pores and help ventilate the lungs — the true essence of the "Banya" experience. Slapping the skin with branches opens capilliaries under the skin turning the skin pink or even red. Then take a cold splash, and enjoy being alive!
A wool sauna hat protects head (and hair) from overheating during your sauna session
Sheep's wool sauna hat lets your head and scalp breath in the high sauna temperatures (over 140° F). A sauna helps you to stay in sauna much longer, so your body can relax and thoroughly sweat, then regain strength.
If you like a deep sweat, you'll love a wool sauna hat. While not for the faint-hearted, experienced sauna bathers love the profuse sweating in the high heat followed by a sustained cold plunge!
We choose an all natural wool hat which comes in grey. See our sauna hat in the store.