Sauna bathing, a tradition in Finland for many years, is commonly thought of as a relaxing way to ease joint and muscle discomfort. Recently, there is much emerging evidence to suggest the activity has a plethora of benefits beyond a simple time-out in a stressful day.
The therapy shows a reduced risk of developing vascular diseases such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. It serves as an aid for those with lung conditions and flu; contributes to improvements in immune functions and metabolism; alleviates pain and symptoms associated with musculoskeletal disorders such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia; and offers improvements in headache disorders in people with chronic tension-type headache.
Studies also suggest that sauna bathing, or thermal therapy, may be of benefit to patients with psoriasis, as it facilitates the removal of hyperkeratotic scales (a thickening of the outer layer of the skin).
A trip to the sauna is often recommended by professionals as a complimentary therapy for the potential effects on our emotional and psychological states. There is evidence it helps those who are working through addictions such as drug dependency and smoking. A Japanese study also shows thermal therapy improved the symptoms of patients with mild depression.
Sauna bathing is associated with a better quality of life and can enhance physical wellness – particularly for people with mobility issues. A typical hot sauna experience increases body temperature and heart rate to between 120 and 150 beats/min, causing more efficient blood flow and increased cardiac output. Evidence suggests our body’s response to an ordinary sauna is similar to our response to moderate or high-intensity physical activity.
The sauna is usually made of log or wood with benches well above the floor for bathers to sit on. The recommended temperature for a sauna is from 80°C to 100°C, at the level of the bather’s head, but it is lower at the floor level. A typical Finnish person has a sauna bath between two and three times a week.
Naturopathic doctor and author, Nicole Redvers, says clinical studies show human sweat contains antibodies to Hepatitis B and Tetanus. That it very likely enhances our resistance to viral, bacterial and parasitic infections.
“Heat Therapy has been shown to improve markers of type 2 diabetes: such as reductions in fasting glucose, body weight and adipose (fat) tissues.”
Redvers says long-term studies show regular heat baths reduce incidents of cardiovascular incidents, such as heart attacks.
“Not many people would turn down jumping into a relaxing sauna with the smell of warmed wood if given the opportunity. That’s especially true when people know their hearts would get a workout, similar to exercise!”
Studies have also found that our adipose tissue contains a variety of toxic components. Including environmental chemicals and carcinogens derived from plastic products and those found in our cremes and moisturizers.
Redvers says once these potentially harmful elements settle in our tissue it can be challenging to get them out. However, thermal therapies like sweat baths and saunas may provide an effective treatment.
“Sweat bathing helps us release some of these built-up chemical exposures, in addition to heavy metals. Sweating functions as a way to release toxic build-up in our systems from the normal physiologic process, but it also releases other man-made toxins.”
She adds that sauna bathing has been recommended as a treatment for those suffering from occupational exposure to harmful, or toxic, elements. Suggesting regular sweat baths, from saunas at the local pool or gym, can help us keep up with the necessary discharge of combined chemicals we are exposed to year after year. In addition, it will help tone our cardiovascular system.
Redvers does note that pre-screening, for those at risk for heat-related illness, is recommended.