Saunas have gained popularity in recent years, with many noteworthy people in pop culture and healthcare workers discussing their use of saunas. Although this may seem like a new craze, saunas have actually been around for over 2,000 years. Sauna is a Finnish word (pronounced sow-nah, not saw-nah), and simply means “bathhouse.” The earliest written description of the sauna dates back to the year 1112. Today there is estimated to be 2 million saunas in Finland (a country with a population of 5.5 million people). There are saunas in most apartments, homes, offices, and even restaurants (!), as I quickly found out upon moving here.
Here are just some of the many health benefits gained from sauna use:
In a Binghamton University study measuring weight loss and sauna usage, people who used an infrared sauna 3 times a week for 30 minutes dropped 4% body fat in 4 months, and people who used an infrared sauna 5 times a week for 20 minutes dropped 4% body fat in 2 months. Interestingly, those who used the sauna late in the day or in the evening lost more body fat than those who used it in the morning. The control group who didn’t use the sauna had no change in body fat. The researchers hypothesized that the increase in body temperature stimulates human growth hormone production, which led to the fat metabolism. Fascinating!
In 2007, a study was conducted on male distance runners and sauna usage. The study concluded that the runners’ plasma and red blood cell volumes increased after regular sauna use and the runners’ run time to exhaustion increased by 32% after sauna use.
The human growth hormone helps accelerate muscle growth for adults. In 1976, a Finnish team examined human growth hormones before and after sauna usage. The study concluded that human growth hormones were 140% higher after one sauna session.
In 2015, a study was published that researched the cardiovascular benefits of saunas. The study subjects were 2,315 Finnish men between the ages of 42-60. The study was conducted over the course of 20 years. The study found that men who used the sauna 2-3 times a week were 22% less likely to have sudden cardiac death. Additionally, men who used the sauna 4-7 times a week were 63% less likely to have sudden cardiac death and 50% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.
That same study also found that men who used the sauna 4–7 times a week were at a 66% lower risk for dementia and a 65% lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
A Canadian study examined the benefits of sweat secretion for the removal of heavy metals and chemicals in the human body. The study found that induced perspiration (a side effect of sauna usage) may be useful in eliminating toxic compounds in the human body.
In 2013, a study was conducted to investigate the effects of the Finnish sauna usage on white blood cells and cortisol levels on athletes and non-athletes. The study found that white blood cell count increased due to sauna usage. White blood cells help with fighting infections in the body. Increased white blood cell count can help strengthen and boost the immune system.
Since many of us do not have access to a sauna, especially due to the coronavirus, regular sauna usage can be challenging. Installing a sauna in your home can be rather expensive. If you are looking for cheaper alternatives to gain the health benefits of saunas here are a few options:
1. Portable sauna
When browsing on Amazon, a plethora of portable saunas can be found. The price of a portable sauna appears to start at around 120 USD.
Doing some vigorous resistance exercises while breaking a sweat can help you release natural heat shock proteins which are released during sauna usage.
3. Hot baths
A one-hour bath at 40°C (or 104°F) can mimic the effects of a sauna: lowering blood pressure, decreasing blood sugar, and increasing heat shock proteins.
If you are interested in more in depth knowledge on the use of saunas to prevent Cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s disease, check out this video.
Also by Angela: Why It’s Easier Than Ever To Be Vegan In Finland
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Photo: Anne Nygard via Unsplash