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Saunas
The Many Health Benefits of Sweating it Out
History

The tradition of sweating for health started approximately 3,000 years ago when the Mayans of Central America used sweat houses for religious ceremonies and good health. From the ancient Roman baths to modern Turkish steam baths, this is a tradition that has been adopted by cultures throughout the world. In Finland, saunas have been used for thousands of years, and currently nearly half of all adults use them regularly. So it only makes sense that the bulk of research has been conducted in Finland or regarding Finnish-style Sauna practices. 

Traditional v. Infrared

There are two main types of saunas: traditional and infrared. While both types of saunas provide key health benefits, there are certain differences between the two which you should be aware of when choosing a sauna experience. 

 

The Heat

The heat is one of the main differences between the two. Traditional saunas use water over heated rocks to create steam and can be either wet or dry. The temperature typically ranges from 150 to 185 degrees, with a dry sauna sauna reaching as high as 195 degrees. An infrared sauna generates heat from the infrared portion of the light spectrum, delivering heat therapy with much milder temperatures. While it typically ranges between 120 and 150 degrees, the deep penetrating heat is applied directly to the body’s cellular level causing a more vigorous sweat.

 

The Humidity

In a dry sauna, humidity is low, typically between 10 and 20%. A wet sauna typically has humidity greater than 50%, which prevents sweat from evaporating and is harder on the cardiovascular system due to reduced evaporative cooling in the body. Infrared saunas use dry long-wave heat that effectively raise the body’s core without the use of steam.

Traditional

Higher temperatures and can use steam for heating

Infrared

Lower temperatures but a more penetrating heat

Behind the Heat

Almost immediately upon entering, sweating begins. The average person may lose up to a pint of sweat, which evaporates almost instantly. During a sauna session, skin temperature may reach 104 degrees within only a few minutes, but internal body temperature rises more gradually, staying below 100 degrees. A person’s pulse rate could jump by 30% and heart rate nearly doubles the amount of blood it pumps every minute. Most of the extra blood flow is directed to the skin, as circulation directs blood away from the external organs.

Sweating for Health

Saunas have become increasingly popular in the United States, where over one million are currently in use. This growing popularity can be attributed to the sauna’s many health benefits, including reduced cardiovascular disease, mental health and fertility improvements and increased athletic endurance. The heat stress resulting from a sauna session elicits certain responses inside the body to protect it from damage, similar to the effect of a moderate to intense workout, which benefit overall health and may prevent aging.  

 

Cardiovascular Health

There have been numerous studies conducted on the beneficial cardiovascular effects of sauna use. In Japan, researchers concluded that two weeks of daily sauna use may improve vascular function in patients with mildly damaged hearts that cannot pump blood normally. Studies have also shown that, like exercise, long-term sauna use can improve blood pressure and overall cardiovascular health. As noted above, many studies have been conducted in Finland which show that moderate sauna users (those who use two to three times per week) are 27% less likely to die from cardiovascular-related diseases and frequent users (four to seven times per week) are 50% less likely to die from such causes. Additionally, frequent sauna users were found to have a 40% less chance of dying from all causes of premature death, regardless of age, activity levels and lifestyle factors. 

 

Inflammation

Acute inflammation often occurs after minor injuries or infections and leads to redness, fever and possible swelling while chronic inflammation occurs on a cellular level in responses to toxins or other stressors. While chronic inflammation cannot be seen, it is a significant factor in the development of many diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Again in Finland, a study involving more than 2,000 men showed that C-reactive protein (CRP) levels were reduced with frequency of sauna use. CRP is one of the several proteins that participates in the body’s inflammation and can cause negative cardiovascular effects. 

 

Mental Health

Sauna use not only influences the physical body, but is shown to have a positive effect on the mind as well. Heat stress is shown to increase a protein in the body that promotes new neuron growth and helps alleviate anxiety and depression. Sauna use also attributes to increased long term memory and executive function and improved mental focus and attention span. In addition, because chronic inflammation commonly leads to depression, frequent sauna use can have an antidepressant effect. In a study of 30 healthy adults diagnosed with depression, participants who were exposed to whole-body sauna use in which core body temperature was increased to 101.3 degrees experienced an acute antidepressant effect within one week of the treatment and continued for six weeks following the treatment.  

 

And Everything Else

If the above reasons haven’t sold you on sauna use yet, it also improves hormonal and metabolic function, fitness and athletic performance and starts the process of detoxification. Many people report relief from chronic skin diseases such as psoriasis and asthmatics have experienced less symptoms. On top of it all, they provide a feeling of relaxation and well-being.

Sauna Safety

Before you close this article and run to the nearest sauna for a sweat session, here are a few things you should know about sauna safety:

  • Always avoid alcohol before and after use
  • Keep sessions between 15 and 20 minutes
  • Cool down gradually
  • After use, drink 2 – 4 glasses of water
  • Do not use when ill
  • If pregnant, always check with your doctor before use. It is interesting to note that pregnant women in Finland use the sauna at least once per week and the incidence of anencephaly (a neural tube defect) is the lowest in the world. In an experimental study in which pregnant women were exposed to sauna-like temperatures, all the women gave birth to healthy babies. However, pregnant women with pre-eclampsia can develop increased resistance to blood flow in the uterine artery, which may negatively impact fetal health, so sauna use for these women should be avoided entirely. 
Local Saunas

Ready to try it yourself? Here are some local sauna’s in our area:

 

Westchester County

N Lighten Hastings-on-Hudson

Nordic Edge Eastchester 

Salt + Sweat Rye Brook 

Evolve Athletic Club White Plains

 

Fairfield County

The Studio Greenwich

Haute Healing Oasis Stamford

Inner Light Darien

Cold Play Cryotherapy Greenwich & Darien 

 

Local Homes with Saunas

Interested in finding your own home with a personal sauna? We’ve collected some current homes on the market where you can sweat it out in the comfort of your own home.

 

View Westchester County Homes

 

View Fairfield County Homes