What Is A Sauna Anyway?
One of the nicest things you can do for your body is to visit a sauna. A steam room with its clouds of wet heat is classified as a sauna, but that is not the same experience as the dry heat sauna we’re talking about here.
If sitting in a room of dry heat doesn’t sound like an ideal gift to yourself, you might be surprised. Found in most gyms, spas, and sometimes built into clubhouses and homes, a sauna is by definition a small room with controlled heat and moisture, designed to make you perspire, profusely.
The heat levels are typically between 70° to 100° Celsius or 158° to 212° Fahrenheit. Dry heat with a relative 10 to 20 percent humidity is common in traditional saunas, but there are variations of moisture found, depending on the type and style of the sauna. As the skin temperature rises and perspiration begins, the heart rate quickens and blood vessels widen as the body strives to cool itself, and this is how the magic happens.
The Mayans, Aztecs and Native Americans have all used sweat baths and sweat lodges for purification and healing. The sauna is likely an offshoot of the public baths and rituals that date back to 250 B.C., but the word “Sauna” is derived from ancient Finnish language, and it is they who are credited with the sauna we use today. Evolving from wood-heated rocks in caves to a variety of stoves and ovens, today one in three Finns reputedly use saunas with high numbers of Finnish homes having a built-in sauna.
In Finland, a small country, there are over two million saunas. An estimated one million saunas exist in the United States today, and you will find popular variations of them in many other countries, including Turkey, Korea, Japan, and Russia. Almost all the European countries have some type of sauna.
Type Of Saunas
Similar to the type of sauna that originated with the Finns, wood burning saunas use wood to heat the room and sauna rocks that maintain the heat. These saunas are usually high in temperature, low in humidity. The same effect can be achieved with electrically heated saunas. A floor heater run by electricity heats the sauna room.
One of the newer, interesting saunas is the far-infrared saunas (FIRS) which use neither wood or electricity. Light waves from infrared lamps are used to directly heat the body, and not the entire room. It produces the same perspiration but with somewhat lower temperatures.
Normal infrared saunas are about 60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit. People with mobility problems and health issues that make it difficult for them to be in the high heat saunas are sometimes advised to seek out Infrared saunas instead.
Can Saunas Help You Lose Weight?
This is probably the most popular question from people who are just getting to know saunas. Because of heavy sweating, people lose water rapidly and see a loss on the scale afterwards. It must be said that losing water weight is not the same as losing fat. Boxers and wrestlers might use the sauna as a secret weapon to whip their poundage down to hit a weight class, but dieters cannot expect such statistics to be permanent.
Some, when selling saunas, make outlandish promises for weight loss. To promise weight loss as a main reason for using saunas would be foolish. However, coupling sauna use with a sensible workout program and nutritional diet would be an optimum choice.
So, How Many Calories Can You Burn in a Sauna?
It is true that perspiring to a high degree requires energy and energy burns fat which ultimately burns calories. But the weight loss is mostly water, and the amount of calorie burn will depend on many factors, depending on your BMR, how much you perspire, the sauna settings and time spent in the heat. Furthermore, the time you should linger safely in a sauna is limited, due to dehydration and other factors (see Section on Risks and Time) so we recommend that dieters do not focus on sauna for weight loss.
The calories lost are bonus points to the rest of your dieting regime; that’s the smart, safe way to think about it.
But There Are Many Health Benefits!
It is difficult to ignore the benefits of saunas, since man has been using them for centuries and continue to praise their virtues for good health, relaxation and detoxification.
1. Eases Pain & Stress, Revitalization
Due to the increased circulation, many report reliefs from muscle soreness, joint soreness and arthritis pain. With sauna heat, the body also releases tranquilizing endorphins which can alleviate stress and create a soothing, healing, revitalization experience. In addition, many people reported deeper and more relaxed sleep after using the sauna.
2. Cardiovascular Health
The reduction in stress levels were once studied in Finnish sauna users, and the findings indicated that over a period of 20 years, a group of men had an overall lower risk of cardiovascular disease. The research was not definitive, but stood to reason that there could be a helpful benefit, in the same way, lower blood pressure and enhanced heart function have been reported. One should not think of it as a replacement for exercise, in any case, but as a way of reducing tension.
Long-term sauna use and aerobic exercise are associated with improved arterial compliance, which means the arteries are healthier and better able to handle additional stresses. If you have existing cardiovascular disease or low blood pressure, it is always prudent to speak to your doctor before starting a sauna routine.
3. Skin Cleansing
Perspiration rinses away bacteria from the epidermal layer and sweat glands, keeping pores cleansed. Some with psoriasis have reported reduced symptoms, although anyone with atopic dermatitis should check with a doctor first.
4. Fighting Illness
The heat of a sauna produces white blood cells more rapidly, which in turn helps to fight illnesses and helps to kill viruses as well as relieve sinus congestion from colds or allergies. It is always better to check with a doctor before using the sauna if you are seriously ill.
Sometimes people find relief from asthma, as a sauna may help open airways, loosen phlegm, and reduce stress.
There is research being done on the effects of saunas on Alzheimer’s. A 20-year study in Finland indicated that there was a reduction in incidence in dementia and Alzheimer’s, but proof is still not definitive as yet.
5. Social Benefits
One can use a sauna for personal and private time or extend the relaxation to family and friends. The sauna room can be a great place to meet people and converse. It feels good and is good for you.
Sauna Risks And Recommended Treatment Time
While saunas might not appeal to everyone, it has been the considered opinion of many scientists, physicians and researchers that tremendous health benefits are available for those who put themselves on a regular cleansing regime in a sauna. When these many life-giving advantages are available for 20 minutes a day, why would anyone snub the chance to do their body a favor? Besides the health factors, there is a relaxation and revitalization of the mind and spirit which all of us could use on a regular basis.
We’re in the camp that says, find a sauna and sweat it out!