Whether it be the traditional Finnish sauna bath, the more modern infrared sauna, a Russian banya, Native American sweat lodge or Roman steam baths, they have been a refuge not only for relaxation, revitalization and social gatherings but also for a wide range of health benefits.
The most apparent physiological change after only a few minutes in a sauna is a rapid increase in sweating and an opening of the skin’s pores. This helps the body remove toxins. Heavy metals commonly found in the environment, such as lead and mercury, excess salts and other impurities are excreted through the pores. Kidney patients may receive an additional benefit as this can reduce stress on the kidneys to eliminate waste from the body.
Regular use of saunas has been reported in some studies to improve cardiac health. The higher pulse rate experienced while bathing increases the blood flow throughout the body, primarily in the skin, improving circulation to the extremities and lowering blood pressure. Vasodilatation helps blood vessels become more elastic and the higher heart rate results in a cardiovascular workout.
Arthritis and Muscle Pain
Individuals suffering from arthritis often find relief during and after a sauna. Muscle pain and cramps can be caused by a buildup of lactic acid and carbon dioxide. Dilation of the blood vessels and additional blood flow restores oxygen to the cells and removes lactic acid, relieving soreness and reducing stiffness in the joints.
The heat of a sauna simulates a fever and an increase in white blood cells and other antibodies. Individuals who take frequent saunas often experience fewer colds, flu symptoms and sinus conditions.
The increased blood flow and high temperature one experiences in a sauna causes the muscles to relax and helps stimulate the body to produce endorphins, a known stress reliever.
The additional flow of blood to the extremities and sweating helps clean the skin’s pores, remove dead skin cells, bacteria and excess oils.
While many use saunas to help maintain a healthier life, it's a good idea to check with a physician beforehand. Your doctor may have specific suggestions concerning the length of time or temperature or may recommend that you not take a sauna at all. Individuals with heart disease, low or high blood pressure, women who are or may be pregnant fall in this category. Although commonly thought of as a hangover remedy, there is no evidence to support this--if you have overindulged you should not enter a sauna.