The Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Sauna Therapy
Turn up the heat and reap the many benefits of this science-backed wellness practice.
Finding ways to achieve a healthier lifestyle can be tough when there are so many different options to try. How can you really know what’s actually going to be beneficial and what’s just another fleeting wellness trend? Before jumping on the proverbial bandwagon—and potentially wasting money and time in the process—it’s always a good idea to do a little digging and see if the new health craze you want to try is backed by clear evidence of its benefits.
This is part of what makes sauna therapy a reliable option: Not only do saunas have a long history of being used for better health, but according to a survey of scientific research, nearly everyone can benefit from adding sauna therapy in their self care routine. Heating the body and producing sweat not only helps you detox, it also improves your overall physical and mental health.
Here’s how to get started with sauna therapy, as well as the many research-backed benefits of taking some heat.
Types of Sauna Therapy
Before getting into why you should consider incorporating sauna use into your health routine, it’s important to know what options are available to you for using one. There are two main types of saunas, both of which allow you to reap the physical and mental health benefits outlined below.
The more traditional type, Finnish saunas, use hot rocks and water to create steam, heating the room and therefore your body. Infrared saunas, which have become a trendy way to detox, use infrared waves that raise your core temperature from within.
As for where to find a sauna, there are a few options available. Many gyms and health clubs have saunas that guests can use, so signing up for a membership can be a great way to encourage yourself to exercise regularly and to use a sauna. Spas also typically have saunas for use before or after massage or body treatments as well.
If you’re looking for the most convenient way to use a sauna, and to do so daily, you might consider getting one that you can easily install in your home. Or, for the most cost-effective and space-saving option, you can buy an increasingly popular infrared sauna blanket, like this one by Heat Healer, which uses jade and tourmaline stones to evenly distribute heat into your body while you simply lay back and relax.
Physical Benefits of Sauna Therapy
However and whenever you use a sauna, the research shows a number of upsides to sauna therapy, no matter what stage you are at in your life. Here’s an overview of these physical benefits:
Getting rid of toxins is a buzzy wellness phrase but when it comes to sauna therapy, detoxing is a real thing. Studies show that sauna use promotes sweating out industrial toxicants like petrochemicals, heavy metals and pesticides, taking these dangerous substances out of your body.
Sauna use has been shown to increase metabolism, promoting weight loss. Some research has also found that using an infrared sauna in particular can lead to burning as many as 600 calories per session and may even help reduce body fat after habitual use.
Improved cardiovascular function
One of the most studied benefits of sauna use has to do with heart health. Using a sauna increases blood circulation, heart rate and cardiac output. Habitual use multiple times a week can also reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death and all-cause mortality. Saunas can also benefit the lungs by improving respiratory function and reducing the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Improved immune function
Sauna use stimulates the immune system by increasing body temperature and upping your white blood cell count, among other important immune function cells. Sweating is also an important part of keeping one of the key parts of your immune system, the lymphatic system, healthy.
One of the ways your lymph vessels dispose of waste is through sweat so sauna use helps expedite that process.
Those who suffer from chronic pain syndromes or rheumatic diseases like fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis can benefit from sauna use to not only increase pain tolerance but reduce their overall pain.
Athletes use sausas to aid in recovery and rehabilitation, as well as to improve their performance. Even if you’re not an athlete, sauna use can speed your recovery time and help you get to the next level of whatever physical activity you do, from weight training to tennis.
The heat, and subsequent sweat, produced by the sauna can improve skin moisture barrier properties and increase skin blood flow. Detoxification from sweating can also improve the skin as your body rids itself of chemicals and waste. This helps your skin look smoother and younger, giving you that post-sauna glow.
Mental benefits of sauna therapy
Not only is using a sauna great for your body, it also has positive psychological effects that improve your overall well being. The main mental health benefits of sauna use are:
Improved brain function
When it comes to overall brain health, research shows that habitual sauna use leads to risk reductions in both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The CDC reports that roughly 5.8 million people in the United States, mostly over age 65, have Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Starting a sauna routine when you’re younger could potentially stave off these debilitating illnesses.
Sauna use can increase mindfulness, reduce stress, promote relaxation and may even improve symptoms of depression. Research shows that time in the sauna allows the body to release of endorphins, the feel-good brain chemicals that help us cope with pain and stress, as well as other opioid-like peptides such as dynorphins, which are related to pain and stress, in addition to learning and memory and emotional control.
The best time to use a sauna is arguably at the end of the day because of its effects on sleep. Not only does a sauna help release muscle tension, promoting relaxation, it also triggers the brain that it’s time to go to sleep by raising your body temperature. Your body’s cool down response post-sauna can make you feel super ready to crawl under the covers.
Taking the Heat
Ready to add sauna use into your wellness routine? Most people use a sauna for anywhere from five to 30 minutes, which is a relatively small time commitment when you think about the overall physical and mental benefits. If you don’t have access to a sauna, consider getting a day pass to your local spa or gym to try it out before signing up for a membership or investing in a home sauna option. This way, you can know what to expect and can decide the best way to incorporate this super beneficial habit into your daily life.