German sauna medical research shows that saunas were able to significantly reduce the incidences of colds and influenza among study participants. As the body is exposed to the heat of a sauna and steam (in the case of traditional saunas), it produces white blood cells more rapidly, which in turn helps to fight illnesses and helps to kill viruses. In addition, saunas can relieve the uncomfortable symptoms of sinus congestion from colds or allergies.
In the high temperatures of a traditional or infrared sauna, skin heats up and core body temperature rises. In response to these increased heat levels, the blood vessels near the skin dilate and “cardiac output/circulation” increases. Medical research has told us that the heart rate can rise from 60-70 bpm (beats per minute) to 110-120 bpm in the sauna (140-150 bpm with more intensive bathing), and can often sink to below normal after the cooling off stage. Regular sauna usage has been shown to reduce the risk of all-cause mortality and fatal cardiac incidents along with reduced risk of stroke and hypertension.
Not surprisingly, sauna bathers most frequently cite “stress reduction” as the number one benefit of sauna use. Studies show the majority of disease (e.g. heart disease) is at least partially stress-related. Decades of well-done, peer-reviewed sauna medical research have shown saunas to provide profound health benefits. A 25-year study conducted with more than 2,300 participants at the University of Eastern Finland by Dr. Jari Laukkanen and his colleagues revealed regular sauna use improved cardiovascular health among many other health benefits. In short, regular sauna bathing is a wonderful, feel-good and good-for-you addition to your overall health and wellness plan.
Due to the heat of a sauna, the core body temperature begins to rise. Sweat production is primarily designed to cool the body, and is composed of 99% water. However, deep sweating in a sauna can help reduce levels of lead, copper, zinc, nickel, mercury and chemicals - which are all toxins commonly absorbed just from interacting with our daily environments.
Outlandish claims are often made by some sauna sellers to promote saunas as an end-all weight loss tool. While some individuals may experience high amounts of calorie burn at first - particularly those individuals in poor shape to begin with - over the long term, saunas are simply treated as one of many tools in our arsenal when it comes to burning additional calories. The sweating process itself requires a notable amount of energy. That energy is derived from the conversion of fat and carbohydrates in a bodily process that burns up calories. According to U.S. Army medical research (Ward Dean, M.D.), “A moderately conditioned person can easily sweat off 500 grams in a sauna in a single session, consuming nearly 300 calories in the process.” The body consumes said calories due to the acceleration of heart activity (see section 2 on Heart Health). As heart activity increases and as these processes demand more oxygen, the body begins to convert more calories into usable energy.
The heat in the sauna helps us to relax and regulates the level of cortisol
in our blood. Cortisol is the hormone that is released when we’re stressed, and too high levels of cortisol can lead to a number of health issues such as problems with the immune system and with sleeping. Sauna bathing reduces the levels of cortisol in our blood, and instead it stimulates the production of serotonin. Serotonin is our “happy hormone” that makes us feel good.
Research has shown that a deeper, more relaxed sleep can result from sauna use. In addition to the release of endorphins, body temperatures that be come elevated in the late evening, fall at bedtime. This slow, relaxing decline in endorphins is key in facilitating sleep. Sauna bathers worldwide enjoy the deep sleep experiences resulting from the calming heat of an evening sauna.
Heat bathing is one of the oldest beauty and/or health strategies in terms of cleansing one’s skin. When the body begins to produce sweat via deep sweating, the skin is then cleansed and dead skin cells are replaced - keeping your skin in good working condition. Sweating rinses bacteria out of the epidermal layer and sweat ducts. Cleansing of the pores has been shown to improve the capillary circulation, while giving the skin a softer-looking quality.
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