7 Health Benefits of Saunas and the Science Behind Them

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It doesn’t take an expert to know that a sauna session can be a great way to relax and unwind, but does the sauna have any proven health benefits? While the widespread popularity of saunas is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States, saunas have been recognized worldwide as sources of healing and wellness for thousands of years. So, how do thousands of years of beliefs about the health benefits of saunas hold up in light of modern science? Let’s take a look at recent research regarding the ways that they can help you live a longer, healthier life.

Detoxifying the Bloodstream

Detox diets, pills, and practices have become the latest fad, but is there any scientific merit to detoxification?

Toxins are substances such as pesticides, excess medications, and heavy metals that linger in the bloodstream. While we naturally shed a small percentage of these toxins through every-day sweat, detoxification finds ways to “shake loose” deeper-seated toxins that our bodies cannot naturally expunge and then flush them out of the body. And, research shows, sauna bathing might do exactly that.

The heat from saunas causes a rise in body temperature that mimics the effects of a high fever, which clear away harmful materials and restore the body’s health. Research shows that using a sauna might help you expel heavy metals, cellular waste, and invasive bacteria through sweat.

Researchers are even beginning to investigate whether sauna use might be helpful in detoxing from addictive drugs. To help support this important research, Ecotone recently installed two steam rooms at Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research. Wellbridge is an in-patient facility that specializes in opioid addiction, and we hope that our steam rooms will help them develop innovative strategies for helping people suffering from addiction.

Regulating Blood Pressure and Improving Heart Health

High blood pressure, which affects over 103 million Americans, is a leading cause of heart disease. Sauna bathing causes an increase in body temperature, which widens blood vessels and decreases blood pressure.

A 20-year study of 2,315 men from Eastern Finland found that regular sauna use has drastic impacts on cardiovascular health. Men who used saunas more frequently were found to have lower risks of sudden cardiac death, cardiovascular disease, and coronary heart disease.

They found that using a sauna 4 – 7 times a week could cut chances of fatal coronary heart disease in half, especially for men. And, newer research investigates the heart-health benefits not only for men but also for women.

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Reducing Chronic Pain and Inflammation

Heat therapy is a go-to treatment for muscle aches and injuries due to the fact that heat reduces inflammation. Most of us have used a heating pad at some point to reduce tension, ease sore muscles, or treat a sports injury. However, heat can do more than heal a sprained ankle.The same principles that we see at work in treating acute muscle injuries can also be used to treat chronic pain. Increasing your core body’s temperature in a sauna can reduce inflammation across the entire body, leading to widespread health benefits.

A variety of highly credited studies have found sauna bathing to be effective in treating chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic headaches.

So, if you are one of the 50 million U.S. adults (1 in 5) who experiences chronic pain, spending some time unwinding in a sauna might be just what the doctor ordered.

Improving Neurological Functioning

Although it was once largely overlooked, the importance of mental health has come to the forefront of national attention in recent years. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 1 in 5 Americans experiences a mental illness. People experiencing mental illnesses utilize a variety of treatments, including pharmaceuticals, mental health counseling, social support, and holistic healing methods.

While sauna bathing cannot “cure” mental illness, it may help support healthy neurological functioning, which can help people manage mental illness. (Anyone who is experiencing consistent mental duress should seek help from a medical doctor or mental health professional.)

While we all know that sitting in a sauna feels incredibly relaxing, scientific research is finding that sauna bathing impacts stress on a neurological level. Spending time in a sauna can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, thus reducing overall feelings of anxiety from the inside out.

Additionally, sauna bathing can treat the major depressive disorder. One study from 2016 found that the use of hyperthermia, or the increasing of bodily temperature, can have long-term therapeutic benefits for people experiencing the major depressive disorder, meaning that spending time in a sauna can lift your overall mood throughout the rest of your day or week.

As if combatting anxiety and depression were not enough, spending time in a sauna may even reduce your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Some researchers hypothesize that the increased blood flow to the brain while in a sauna helps preserve brain health, thus decreasing the chances of dementia. While further research needs to be completed, early studies show promising results.

Improving Respiratory Health

Evidence suggests that sauna bathing positively impacts pulmonary functioning. While cool air (including “room temperature” air) causes the lungs to constrict, the heat of a sauna has the opposite effect of allowing airways to open up, much like “warming up” your muscles before a workout.

Research shows that sauna bathing can improve lung functioning and capacity, even among people with asthma and bronchitis. Additionally, the increase of heat and water condensation loosens up mucus so that it can be expelled, thus opening up airways and improving overall pulmonary functioning.

Sauna bathing a few times a week even reduces your chances of developing pneumonia.

Lowering Cholesterol

Sauna bathing causes a variety of bodily reactions similar to those caused by low-intensity workouts. One of those reactions is a decrease in cholesterol. High cholesterol increases risk of heart disease, so reducing cholesterol is another way that sauna bathing can protect your heart.

In a recent study, participants who used saunas every day or every other day saw a statistically significant decrease in their cholesterol levels, and in the week after they stopped participating in the sauna sessions, their cholesterol levels increased.

Notably, decreases in cholesterol were most evident in participants who also exercised. So, hitting the sauna after your workout is a great way to promote heart health, but some cholesterol health benefits are still evident in those who might not be able to engage in vigorous exercise.

Promoting Self-Care and Community Care

Here at Ecotone, we value self-care and community care. Our goal is to create physical spaces that allow people to destress and create meaningful connections with themselves, their communities, and the world. One way we do this is by building exceptional saunas where you can relax and unwind.Our hope is that through caring for yourself by tapping into the many health benefits of sauna bathing, you will be able to “find your Ecotone” — a place that allows you to become your best self.So, the next time you get the chance to unwind in a sauna, take advantage of the opportunity. Know that by focusing on your wellness, you are in turn allowing yourself to find and share your “best self” with you community and the world.

Our sauna products are just one way that we promote wellness in individuals and in our communities. To learn more about out public works projects, click here.

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