There is growing scientific evidence that suggests a daily sauna, in tandem with eating a balanced diet and exercising, can contribute to multiple health benefits that improves our overall quality of life. Moreover, with numerous high-quality, long-lasting and affordable products available – including Traditional, Finish and Infrared – installing one at home is increasingly a sensible long-term health investment.
An interesting history
In Finland, where using saunas is believed to have originated around 2,000 BC, there are now about 2.3 million in use. For a population of 5 million, this equates to about one per household. Not surprisingly, with a long and established tradition, saunas are clearly a necessity in Finland and an integral part of the culture. Over the last few centuries, migrating Finns have introduced them to communities globally. Further, as technology has advanced, so have designs. A notable inflection point was introducing electric saunas in the 1950s which made them more accessible and boosted their popularity immensely.
Twin benefits of regular sauna use: pleasure and health benefits
While the use of saunas over the centuries has primarily been for leisure, recreation and de-stressing, advances in science in recent decades has uncovered growing evidence there are numerous health benefits. What is more significant is the studies have been done by credible organisations, which provides added weight to the health benefits identified. For instance, The Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study analysed the lifestyles of 2,300 Finish men between 42-60 years old over two decades. An amazing conclusion was that participants who had saunas 4-7 times per week reduced their risk of dying from any cause by 40%.
The simple reason behind the longevity boost was that heat stress, induced by the sauna, activates heat-shock proteins (HSP) and a longevity gene called FOXO3. In turn, the HSPs repair damaged proteins that can otherwise cause illnesses like dementia and cardiovascular disease. Meanwhile, the FOXO3 longevity gene repairs damaged DNA and can act as a cancer tumor suppressor.
In a 2018 study, the world-renowned Mayo Clinic published a comprehensive review titled “Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence.” The paper concluded that “Sauna bathing, an activity used for the purposes of pleasure, wellness, and relaxation, is linked to a remarkable array of health benefits.”
Overall, the simple takeaway message from these two studies suggests regular sauna use is linked to a reduced risk of developing certain life-threatening diseases and living longer. This arguably provides a compelling reason to fast-track installing a home sauna to commence deriving long-term health benefits, whilst in an ultra-relaxed environment.
Unpacking the health benefits
Let’s now look at the specific health benefits regular sauna use delivers by unpacking the findings from various scientific studies and other publicly available sources. Unsurprisingly, the list of health benefits is quite long and includes the following:
1) Lowers blood pressure and improves circulation
Research suggests that sauna use can reduce blood pressure and risk of developing hypertension. In addition, it can lower artery stiffness and contribute positively to improved blood circulation throughout the body. Notably, enhanced blood circulation can aid recovery from muscle soreness and boost mobility via improving joint movement.
2) Improves cardiovascular health and reduces stroke risk
The evidence suggests regularly taking a sauna can significantly lower the risk of having a sudden cardiac event or de-habilitating stroke. Interestingly, the research suggests that by combining regular sauna use with moderate exercise, it can provide even more protection against an adverse event.
3) Reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer disease
Through a combination of improve cardiovascular health, lower inflammation and oxidative stress derived through regular sauna use, the research suggests there is a significant reduction in the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer disease.
4) Enhances lung functionality and immune system boost
Tests done on participants in several studies showed regular sauna use boosted lung capacity and functionality, whilst improved breathing for people with asthma and bronchitis. Another observation during these studies was a significant reduction in all respiratory diseases (common cold, pneumonia), which implies another direct health benefit is a boost to the immune system.
5) Helps alleviate pain
Regular sauna use has been shown to boost the body’s natural ability to alleviate pain, especially for people suffering from musculoskeletal problems (like osteo-and-rheumatoid arthritis) and chronic migraines.
6) Reduces stress and improves mental health
It is quite well known that one of the primary reasons for a sauna experience is to de-stress and chill out, since the heat stress aids producing feel-good hormones like endorphins. For people suffering from mental health conditions, like anxiety, regularly spending time in a sauna can aid reducing stress, significantly improving moods, and enhancing a sense of wellbeing.
7) Removes toxins and impurities
Due to heat stress inducing sweating, regular sauna use aids the body removing unwanted harmful toxins like heavy metals and other impurities at an elevated level. If left unchecked, excess heavy metal build up can cause a wide range of unpleasant symptoms including nausea and fatigue.
8) Promotes healthy skin
As sauna use increases the heart rate, boosts circulation and opens skin pores, an effective mechanism is set in motion that delivers increased hydration and important nutrients to the underlying tissue, which promotes healthier glowing skin.
9) Enhance weight loss
About 10-15 minutes after you enter the sauna room and commence sweating, your weight will reduce due to fluid loss. However, the longer-term impact is more subtle. The dry heat and high temperatures may impact a person’s appetite, resulting in lower calorie consumption over time, while it can certainly boost the metabolic rate. However, the best weight loss outcomes are from people who combine regular moderate exercise and sauna use.
Most of the studies reviewed were based on using the traditional Finnish dry sauna. However, as the focus here is the beneficial impacts of regular heat stress, the results are likely to be similar for other types of heated saunas or steam room products. On balance, the best results – from interpreting the research – seem to derive from combining sauna use and moderate exercise into your daily life. If you want to take it a further step, some studies suggest cold water immersion after a 20-30 minute sauna elevates the overall health benefit impact.
The final verdict
The potential health benefits from regular sauna use are crystal clear: feel better and enjoy a better-quality longer life. Even better, the health benefits derive from partaking in an activity that is relaxing, pleasurable and bolsters your wellbeing. Therefore, investing in your long-term health, through installing an affordable home sauna then using it regularly is arguably a wise decision. On a final note, it is always important to check with your GP if you have concerns before embarking on a new journey.