A sauna is a type of heat bath that uses dry heat to create very high temperatures and induce heavy perspiration. Most saunas have interiors lined with wood that is usually cedar, although redwood or hemlock may also be used. They can be heated with small electric or wood-burning stoves with stones on top. You toss water on the stones or on the walls of the sauna to increase the humidity and make it more comfortable. Most saunas reach temperatures upwards of 180 degrees F, so you shouldn't stay in for more than 15 or 20 minutes.
The heat from the sauna increases your heart rate and causes your blood vessels to relax and dilate, allowing more blood to reach your arms, legs, hands and feet. The metabolic effect of a sauna is similar to that of strenuous exercise, although it does not have the same muscular or cardiovascular benefits as exercise.
Relaxation and Pain Relief
The heat from the sauna causes your muscles to relax, which helps relieve stress. Stress reduction can also result from resting in a quiet place and letting your mind wander as your body starts to relax. Increased muscular relaxation can also help reduce pain. According to "The American Journal of Medicine," regular sauna baths may help alleviate the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis and rheumatism as well as discomfort from pulled or strained muscles.
If you suffer from asthma and chronic bronchitis, you can benefit from taking regular sauna baths. The heat dilates bronchial and nasal passages, allowing air to travel more freely. The heat and steam from the sauna also help to clear mucus from nasal and bronchial passages, which offers some relief to people with chronic sinusitis. A sauna bath might also make you feel better when you're stuffed up from a cold.
Taking regular sauna baths will not prevent all types of illness, but it might help reduce the number of colds you get and how long the colds last. A 1990 study reported in "The Annals of Internal Medicine" found that people who took regular sauna baths had statistically significantly fewer colds than a control group who didn't use saunas. A sauna's heat mimics a fever, which might help the body rid itself of some bacterial and fungal infections.
When you sweat a lot, your pores open up and the sweat can rinse out dirt and impurities in your skin. A sauna can leave your skin feeling soft, clean and sometimes tingling. Cleaner pores may reduce acne outbreaks. To get their skin really clean, Finnish people use a loofah or brush while in the sauna to remove rough patches and dead skin cells.
- The American Journal of Medicine: Benefits and Risks of Sauna Bathing
- The Annals of Internal Medicine: Regular Sauna Bathing and the Incidence of Common Colds
- American Cancer Association: High Blood Pressure and Hot Tubs (Saunas)
- The Finnish Sauna: Finnish Sauna and Your Health
- Health Services at Columbia: Go Ask Alice