The ancient sauna — how is it good for us?
When something lasts over 2000 years, there’s generally a good reason for it.
The ancient concept of the sauna has truly stood the test of time and, once you’ve spent a bit of time in one, it’s easy to understand why.
by Rebecca Giorgilli
11 months ago
The medicinal powers of a sauna has made it a way of life in Finland, while the spread of the concept throughout the world has seen it evolve from humble wood fires to infrared lighting.
Whatever the size, shape or method of heat creation, the sauna is created for one major reason — to make us sweat.
A brief history of the sauna
Before we get to Finland, where saunas were made famous, it’s interesting to learn that the concept of heating the body for health benefits have been around since human-kind created fire.
Heat therapy actually began in East Africa in a bid to help rid the body of infectious disease, before the ancient Greek and Roman civilisations took the therapy to a more relaxing and luxurious level in the form of bathhouses — paving the way for modern spas today.
While modern-day saunas offer a more luxurious experience and often showcase sleeker designs, they do not stray too far from the initial make-up and intent of the original Finnish saunas — and their benefits to our health remain vast.
Let’s have a look at them shall we…
Health benefits of the sauna
Reduce blood pressure
Spending time in the sauna does more than just make you sweat. In fact, it has been linked to a reduction in the risk of vascular diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and several neuro-cognitive diseases.
A report published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that spending 30 minutes in a sauna lowered both systolic (pressure on your blood vessels during a heartbeat) and diastolic (pressure between heartbeats) blood pressure.
Arteries become more responsive
When we learn about the impressive reduction of blood pressure saunas have on the body, it’s no surprise that our arteries are the pathways that are reaping the benefits.
These hot and steamy rooms help vascular compliance (how well your blood vessels respond to changes in pressure), which is a massive factor in the health of your heart and how well blood travels around the body.
Not only that, studies suggest that after just 30 minutes in a sauna your blood vessels relax significantly, which is an indicator of good heart health. Living with arterial stiffness can increase your risk of cardiovascular issues and disease.
So, in theory, spending regular sessions in a sauna can actually help increase your lifespan!
Help your brain
With each heartbeat, your carotid arteries carry about 20-25 per cent of your oxygen-rich blood straight to your brain — so, needless to say, these pathways reap the rewards of better arterial functions.
Not only this, but saunas are known to contribute to improved sleep, relaxation and mood. They can also help mental health issues like depression and anxiety, while there are studies that suggest that they can even reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Protect your lungs
It’s a surprisingly common question: is a sauna good for a cold? Well, the answer appears to be, yes!
Spending time in the sauna when you've got a cold, or are in the middle of cold season, might seem counterintuitive, but the research suggests it's a good idea.
Saunas actually improve your lung function, even if you have asthma or breathing problems and even reduce your risk of contracting the common cold or pneumonia. Maybe this is why Finnish people spend so much of their time in them!?
This is not to say that a sauna is a safe haven from all illness. Germs and viruses can still survive in the heat, so make sure you wash your hands before and after entering one.
Skin benefits of the sauna
One of the most powerful sauna benefits is the effect they have on our largest organ — the skin.
Before we even get to the sweaty stuff, the heat itself actually encourages collagen production. This is the protein that gives our tissues and organs strength and elasticity. So, as we heat up, the sauna is helping to rejuvenate our complexion.
The heat also helps rid the skin of dead skin cells and promotes the growth of newer and healthier ones.
Just like sweating when we exercise, the heavy perspiration caused by being in a sauna has a cleansing effect on our pores and glands.
As you heat up, your pores get bigger and release sweat. This sweat flushes out the toxins that were clogged in those pores, which ultimately means smoother skin.
This helps answer the question of, ‘do saunas clear acne?’ — as we know, acne is caused when sebum (an oily substance that lubricates your hair and skin) and dead skin cells clog hair follicles — so our open pores help stop all of this and, ergo, less pesky spots!
To help really cleanse your skin and rid your body of dead skin cells, spend some time dry brushing your skin after a sauna. Check out our dry skin brushing ritual here to learn more.
That elusive winter glow is tough to achieve, but some time in the sauna can help with that. The temperature leads to a dramatic increase in blood circulation, which, in turn, gives your skin a healthy and fresh appearance — a bit like when you come in from a really cold winter's day.
Imagine that! A fresh, healthy glow without the need for makeup!
The sweat caused by the sauna stimulates the sebaceous glands in our skin. These glands help keep the skin moisturised and lubricated by stimulating the production of sebum (remember that!).
We all know how our skin looks and feels after a good moisturiser, and after 30 minutes in a sauna your skin will feel fresh, clean and smooth.
The benefits of an infrared sauna
First of all, what is an infrared sauna? Well, unlike traditional saunas, they don’t heat the air around you, instead they use infrared lamps to warm the body directly.
Their function means they can operate at a lower temperature while penetrating your body more deeply, allowing you to experience a more intense sweat — and the benefits of a normal sauna — at a cooler temperature. This, ultimately, means you can spend more time in one.
There’s tonnes of wide-spread studies on the benefits of a regular sauna, but less-so on the infrared version, so be wary of what people are trying to claim on the internet. However, what is encouraging is that there have been no reports of negative effects so far — beyond the cautions about any regular sauna experience.
Before we finish, there are a few possible dangers of being in a sauna that we need to address. These include overheating, dehydrating, and interference with medication.
You should also refrain from entering a sauna if you are pregnant, have heart disease, or are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
If you are concerned, it’s best to consult your doctor first.
To your blossoming xxx