Many cultures around the world have harnessed the amazing health benefits of heat and sweating for thousands of years. The ancient Mayans for example had heated rooms which they utilized for religious ceremonies.
The Romans and the Turks had their own versions of steam baths. Among the most popular of these inventions was the sauna and a basic old design continues to be utilized in modern society today. In Finland in particular, saunas have been used since ancient times.
However, as much as there are many health benefits of sauna, there are also some disadvantages. Before we take a look at the pros and cons of the sauna, lets first understand what a sauna actually is in the first place.
What is a sauna?
This is simply a room whose internal temperature is raised to between 700C and 1000C. Finish saunas provide dry heat but other types of saunas will have higher humidity levels such as the Turkish saunas.
Saunas will typically increase the temperature of the skin to about 400C. Sweating will occur and the body in turn tries to bring down its temperature which causes a rise in heart rate.
The different types of saunas
Saunas are categorized based on the method used to heat the room.
Wood burning saunas
Here, firewood provides the heat needed to raise the internal temperature of the sauna. A feature with these types of saunas is that they have low humidity levels.
Electricity heated saunas
In these types of saunas, an electrical heater is attached to the floor and is used to heat up the room. Very much like the wood burning saunas, these also have high temperatures with low humidity.
The infrared saunas have special lamps that heat the person’s body. They do not however heat the room. Through emitting Far-infrared, the person’s body temperature can be brought up to 600C and will cause you to sweat just like if you were in electrically heated or wood heated saunas.
The benefits of infrared saunas are far more than both the electricity and wood burning saunas.
The steam rooms
Unlike the other types of saunas that we have looked at above, these feature high humidity and moisture levels.
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of a sauna that you should be aware of before you start to use any sauna.
Advantages of a sauna
There are plenty of both mental and physical advantages of using a sauna.
1. Reduced stress levels
The most common reason cited by people who use saunas is low stress levels. Since research proves that high stress levels can impair the cardiovascular system, saunas then help to ensure that the heart and blood circulation remains healthy.
Once you are in a sauna, you close off the rest of the world which allows you to relax. The warmth soothes the skin, muscles and promotes blood circulation. The mind releases the feel-good hormones known as endorphins which leaves you in a state of total mental and physical relaxation.
There is an increased heart rate after using the sauna, together with an improved health of the arteries. This brings down the risk of hypertension significantly.
2. Improved muscle and joint recovery
People who experience the pain of arthritis or have recently been under physical strain experience less pain in the sauna as the brain releases endorphins. Due to the high temperatures, the blood vessels dilate which increases blood circulation.
The higher rate of blood circulation also increases the rate at which the body recovers from injury. There is more muscle relaxation which also helps to get rid of the excess lactic acid after a workout including other toxins found in the muscles.
3. Getting rid of toxins
We do not always sweat every day which means that toxins can accumulate in our bodies. There are plenty of health benefits that can be experienced from sweating and saunas help to promote deep sweating.
As the blood vessels dilate under the heat, there is an increased blood flow. The temperature rises closer to the skin which causes the sweat glands, located on the skin to releases the sweat in an attempt to cool the body.
While sweat comprises of 99% water, it also contains nickel, mercury, copper and zinc. These can be extracted from the body through the sweat leaving the skin feeling fresh and revitalized.
4. Social benefits
This is not often cited among the many advantages of sauna. While you will be locked out from the outside world, the people who you share the sauna with can end up becoming great friends as you relax together and interact.
5. Burning calories
While saunas are not the best and most efficient way to burn off calories and consequently lose weight, they do play a role in getting rid of some of that extra fat.
The high temperatures cause increased heart rate and sweating. These processes require oxygen and more energy. In turn the body makes use of its carbohydrate and fat reserves to obtain this energy.
In fact, research shows that a person could burn off up to 300 calories in a single sauna session.
6. Boosts Immunity
Research proves that the body is able to better deal with cold and flues after regular sauna use. The increased heat stimulates the body to produce more white blood cells. The greater number of these cells means that the body is more equipped to deal with the bacteria and viruses that enter the body.
Among the main advantages of sauna is their ability to clear congested nasal passages and provide relief from the effects of sinus and allergic reactions.
7. It feels awesome
Even after taking out the amazing mental and physical benefits of using a sauna, one of the reasons why many people go for a sauna is that it simply feels good on the body. After a busy and hectic day, it offers a wonderful retreat and a great way for the body and soul to relax and reconnect.
8. Better sleep
People who go for a sauna often experience deeper and more comfortable sleep. The heightened temperatures will later drop during evening time. This is accompanied by a slow decline in the levels of endorphins inside the blood which makes you feel relaxed and allows you to gradually fall into sweet slumber.
Disadvantages of the sauna
With all the health benefits of using a sauna, there are also some disadvantages of sauna that are important to note as well.
1. Experiencing burns
While not very common, there are instances of people using the sauna and ending up burnt. Often these are a result of coming into contact with the heater in cases of an electric sauna or the stove in case of a wood burning sauna. Some burns may not be very serious while others may require medical attention.
However, coming into contact with a hot surface is not the only way to get burnt. The high temperatures inside the sauna can penetrate the layers of the skin resulting some serious injuries.
2. Reproductive issues
The temperature of men’s testicles will increase as the body temperature also rises. This has a negative effect on the sperm count. Research shows that even while the low sperm count can be reversed, it will still take up to five weeks to bring it back up to normal sperm levels.
And men are not the only ones affected by the high temperatures. Pregnant women could also cause abnormalities in the fetus due to the high body temperatures.
3. Avoid drinking the water
Sweating causes thirst and any person will want to grab a refreshing drink of water after a sauna session. However, water in saunas is often not safe to drink either due to exposure to contaminants or its connection to wells. Carry your own water or wait until you get home and access a clean source of water.
4. Exposure to harmful organisms
Humidity and moisture can promote the growth of bacteria, mold and other harmful organisms. This could leave the user exposed to certain health issues. Common infections include athletes’ foot and fungus growing under toe nails.
Among the main drawbacks and disadvantages of sauna is that spending too much time can cause dehydration. When the time is extended even further the continued dehydration might cause you to have low blood pressure and eventually become unconscious. One way to tell that you are dehydrated is when you start feeling weak.
It is advisable to end your time at the sauna when you start feeling weak or dizzy. Once you are out of the sauna, rehydrate by drinking plenty of water.
6. Exposure to health risks
The high temperatures at the sauna causes the heart to pump faster. The majority of the blood is sent to the skin. This means that the internal organs may not get sufficient blood which might in turn cause drastic changes in your blood pressure.
The risks are even greater for people who experience heart issues.
7. High core body temperature
In order to maintain the core body temperature at the right level, our bodies have an internal cooling mechanism. This cooling system can get overloaded after spending too much time at the sauna. This may cause your core temperature to rise to extremely high levels.
It is therefore advisable to spend enough time at the sauna preferably no more than 15 minutes at the sauna to prevent the risk of overheating.
8. Avoid the polar plunge
Many people especially those living in cold weather temperatures will follow up on a sauna session with a dip into freezing water. This causes a jolt that can be invigorating. People with heart and cardiovascular issues should however avoid the drastic change in temperature as it could expose them to health issues.
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While there are many advantages of sauna, there are also some associated health risks. To reap the benefits and avoid any health-related issues, always ensure that you use the sauna the correct way. Talk to your doctor and become aware of any medical conditions that you might have. Only then will you know how to approach your sauna sessions the right way.