For many, saunas are the epitome of health and wellbeing luxury. Originating in Scandinavia, they are now a staple in day spas and gyms around the world.
However, new health technologies are coming out all the time, many offering similar health benefits to saunas but often at inflated prices. The question is, are we better off sticking to the tried and tested benefits of saunas or should we be seeking out more advanced technologies? Here are the facts.
Health benefits of saunas
With a sauna’s dry heat reaching temperatures of around 80C, pushing skin temperature up to 40C within minutes, are these warm, cosy rooms actually good for you?
Studies by naturopathic physician, Dr Walter Crinnion, showed that sauna-induced sweating can help to lower blood pressure and assist with a range of chronic and acute health problems.
Sauna therapy for chronic heart failure
Several researchers and health practitioners praise the benefits of sauna therapy for a range of health problems.
A study by Takashi Ohori (2011) and colleagues found that repeated sauna use could help patients with chronic heart failure. Heart failure occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood around the body, resulting in fatigue and shortness of breath. Saunas help to increase the heart’s ability to pump blood.
Common cold prevention
A study by Ernst et al (1990) found that regular sauna use could probably help reduce the prevalence of the common cold. Although the authors concluded that more research was necessary, it was a good step forward in potentially preventing the thousands of deaths that occur each year from the common cold, most of which are elderly patients.
There are varying opinions on the benefits of saunas for weight loss. Most people will lose approximately one pint of sweat during an average sauna session, which can give the illusion of almost immediate weight loss. However, this weight will go back on as soon as you consume any food or fluids (JAMA, 1981).
However, it can cause weight loss in another way. When the body is exposed to high heats, it causes the pulse rate to increase by 30 per cent or more. This causes an increase in metabolism, resulting in more calories being burned per minute than if you were sitting in front of the television, for example (Harvard University, 2005).
Your increased metabolic rate will also continue after the sauna should you then exercise, meaning a better result from a workout.
Muscle pain relief
When put in a warm environment, a body’s blood circulation is increased causing strained muscles to relax. After a workout, the heat of a sauna can help relax muscles and prevent the buildup of lactic acid and potential strains.
Toxins can build up in our bodies over time and one of the best ways to remove them is through deep sweating. While normal sweating will contain almost only water, deep sweating, which can be achieved in a sauna, may allow the release of chemicals such as lead, copper, zinc, nickel and mercury. These toxins get into the skin just by being surrounded by our everyday environment.
However, some argue that although you sweat a lot in a sauna, the toxins stay in the body. Professor Donald Smith from the University of California said that almost all toxins are excreted through urine and feces, and only 1 per cent through sweat (LA Times, 2008).
Neck and head pain reduction
New Zealand researchers found that saunas could help ease neck and head pain in chronic sufferers. The study, led by Dr Giresh Kanji, concluded that not only could sauna sessions minimise the intensity of a headache, but could shorten its duration too.
In his analysis, Dr Kanji said that saunas could be more effective than painkillers as they helped to treat the cause of the pain rather than mask it.