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Health Benefits of Sauna

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Improve your skin, and your outlook. There is lots of information on sauna health benefits, including loads of claims on the many websites selling infrared saunas, ​​but these are my 5 basic sauna health benefits. Keep in mind, sauna wellness benefits quickly turn into health benefits via a well rounded approach to your health. What I’m saying is don’t go buying an infrared sauna and set it up in your living room and sit in there watching TV through the window, then eat Doritos and wonder why your skin looks crappy and you can’t get rid of the tire around your torso. Saunas encourage a healthy lifestyle. That’s the overriding health benefit of a sauna.

Sauna Helps with Stress

The heat relaxes us. Checking out from the overstimulated world relaxes us. Reminds me of that great line in Shawshank Redemption, when Brooks gets released after spending most of his life in prison: “The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.” Go take a long relaxing sauna. You’ll understand how your life has become a big damn hurry. Relieving stress is a huge sauna health benefit.

Sauna Cleanifies

This is an undisputed no brainer: our body releases yucky stuff through the skin, through our pores, when sweating. For those that sauna, after a round or two, we feel dirt, grime, and probably remnants of red dye #5 from that last soda pop literally shedding off our body. Get rid of all that junk and feel great! How cool is that?

Lard Ass Reduction

Here’s the logic of losing weight in a sauna: when in a sauna, heart rate increases up to 50%. This heart rate increase is about the same as fast walking. Body metabolizes when the heart rate goes up. If you follow this logic, you can lose weight in a sauna (not just water weight) because your heart rate goes up, burning fat. I’m good with that.

We need to get Oprah in a sauna and get her hooked, then that Dr. Oz can get some study to verify this, or stay tuned here, I’ll look for a link for further review. I think losing weight as a sauna health benefit can be viewed in a larger context: taking a sauna after exercise feels fantastic, so having a sauna encourages exercise and THAT is a health benefit!

Sauna Helps Your Skin

Temperature of the skin (and body) increases in a sauna, blood flow increases. Increased blood flow and opening of the pores is a recipe to clean out the pores. Let’s look at it in terms of mosquito bites, which are basically small irritant infections of the skin. After a sauna, they go away. That’s an example that can apply to cuts, acne, dirt, etc. One last point: take a look at a Finn or Swede. At 50, they look like teenagers.

Now that logic may not follow completely, but it’s worth looking at! There are undisputed health benefits of saunas in taking care of your skin. I have a close friend with eczema. It is more acute in the cold dry winter season. Saunas help his skin measurably.

Sauna Strengthens the Immune System

When you get a fever, it’s our body’s natural way of killing off the bad virus. Bad germs die in our body when our body gets too warm. In a sauna, our bodies benefit from the same effect. Our immune system produces antibodies and the incubation heat to get rid of bad germs. The health benefits of building your immune system by taking saunas is logical and I’ll get Dr. Phil or Oz or John to verify this to shore up this claim from a medical perspective (or musical perspective in the case of Dr. John).

Other Benefits of Sauna

Sauna Makes You Happy

How do I know this? Two reasons.

  1. Everyone I know is happy when they sauna.
  2. The world’s happiest countries, per Gallup World Poll, each have the highest percentages of saunas, per capita.

Rank

(by % Thriving)

Country

Region

Percent

Thriving

Percent

Struggling

Percent

Suffering

Daily

Experience

1

Denmark

Europe

82

17

1

7.9

2

Finland

Europe

75

23

2

7.8

3

Norway

Europe

69

31

0

7.9

4

Sweden

Europe

68

30

2

7.9

Sauna Builds Community

Our cabin sits on an island in Northern MN. There’s a little foot path connecting a bunch of cabins along the Eastern shore. We have our own sauna of course, but my son and I often trek down the path to join a few others in “the Birmingham Sauna.”

Why do we go there? In that moment, sitting pensively in a sauna on an island on a lake 240 miles from Minneapolis, all that interests us is:

  • Water pump from the lake: “how did you set yours up?”
  • Duluth: “can you pick me up a box of 2 1/2″ deck screws?”
  • Fishing: “Jack caught a twenty four incher off Comet last week.”

Community.

It’s Good for Your Head

One of the more powerful sauna benefits is one that is often overlooked. In this fast paced world of many demands, ask yourself, when is the last time you’ve spent a couple hours just thinking? No TV, no driving around, just ‘recharging your batteries’?

Some people love running or hiking as a way to mentally recharge. And in the film “What About Bob?” Bill Murray (Bob Wiley) is told to “take a vacation from your problems.”

I had a great sauna one night. Alone for a couple rounds, I was able to reconnect. I found myself jotting down a list of things to do. Then my friend Dan showed up for a sauna.

Dan and I discussed how, being so busy, life basically comes down to three buckets: family, work, personal. Now this resonated with me as not only is he right, but I have a freaky appreciation to the power of three relating to sauna.

Over coffee the next morning, I was able to put a “p” for personal, “w” for work, and “f” for family in front of each thing on my list from the sauna. I’m pretty sure “put socks away” would be ‘personal’ but my wife surely notices my socks laying around, so I stick an “f” next to that one, and for that matter, “w” too, as it’s too cold outside to show up to a meeting with just my shoes on. The point is, forging ahead with a focus on all three buckets is a rising tide that lifts the content in each. And at the end of the day, after we kick the bucket, that’s it!

Not sure if you’re a list person, or where you go to recharge. Maybe you take a pen with you while hiking, maybe you jot stuff down in the sauna at your fitness center (avoiding eye contact with Sven), but my backyard sauna is really good for my head. Without a sauna, I’d still be looking for my socks, and you wouldn’t be reading this.

You Can Sleep All Night

During the spring, my wife and I often have a 5 am wake up call. It’s that time of year in Minnesota- everything is alive and making noise. We have this crazy cardinal who starts up at the first sign of light with a maddening incessant chirp right outside our bedroom window.

After taking three sauna rounds in my backyard sauna one night, I tucked myself into bed by 11 pm. When I awoke, it was 7 am and I felt like I had just shut my eyes for a minute.

When is the last time you’ve slept that soundly? A Finnish sauna helps relax your muscles and gets you in a mentally calm state. You may just need someone to help shovel you into bed, but wow, what a way to get even with a noisy cardinal!

Sauna Can Help Your Sciatic Nerve

A close friend was over to my backyard sauna on a cold crappy Minnesota night. With an exceptionally big smile on his face, he started talking and I grabbed a pencil, and this is exactly what he said:

“I’ve had multiple therapies for my sciatic nerve over the last month, including deep tissue massages, yoga, chiropractic treatments, and other prescribed exercises. I’ve had 12 mg of Ibuprofen daily for pain. The single thing that has helped me feel better than anything else has been three rounds in the sauna with cold therapy in between.”

Just after that statement, my other friend who had shoulder surgery, and has been written about in this post, emerged from the outdoor backyard shower:

“That is the truth! The cold therapy between rounds helped my shoulder like nothing else.”

Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite

12/1/2019

It was a great europe trip, but the youth hostel in Amsterdam happened to have bed bugs.

What did I do when I got home? Sauna! And not just sauna, but all my clothes and luggage were able to enjoy a nice long hot round (no cold plunge needed).

According to Terminix, “heat penetrates into small crevices that cannot be inspected. Lethal temperatures for bed bugs range from 117 degrees Fahrenheit to 122 F. The walls of hot boxes reach a higher temperature than the suggested lethal range in order to permeate belongings placed within, killing all bed bugs in all their stages.”

Sauna Health & Wellness Extends Beyond the Doing

3/30/2018

Every time I allow myself to start thinking about 218, I’m filled with calm and joy. 218 is the Northern Minnesota area code. 218 is home to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the Iron Range, small towns with no traffic lights, boundless Nature with a capital N, and thousands of crisp, cool lakes, including the one they call Gitchi Gumi (Superior).

Along these shorelines, dotting these lakes, are many authentic wood burning saunas. Inside these saunas sit many cabin owners who, after tossing water on their sauna rocks, closing their eyes, and taking it all in, step out onto their docks and immerse themselves into their crisp cool lakes with an ahhhhhh. After their clean rinse in Nature, these same folks hang out on their dock or shoreline and are filled with calm and joy.

This is the experience that compels one to 218. A cabin in Nature is one thing. A cabin in Nature with a sauna dotting the shoreline is another. The residual benefit of our sauna experiences is that when we allow ourselves to start thinking about 218, we are filled with calm and joy.

Sauna health & wellness extends beyond the doing. Sometimes just remembering can be a sauna benefit.

Scientific Sources

When it comes to understanding the benefits of sauna to physical health, it can often be hard to separate fact from fiction. This is especially true if your search includes sauna manufacturer websites, and even more so if your search includes infrared sauna dealer websites. To date, the most solid and authoritative sources on the benefits of sauna to physical health are: Benefits and Risks of Sauna Bathing and Health Effects and Risks of Sauna Bathing. In 2001, Minna Hannuksela, MD of the University of Oulu, Finland and Samer Ellahham, MD of Washington Hospital Center, Washington, D.C., completed a meta-analysis using 271 studies completed in the previous forty years to examine the physiological effects of sauna bathing. Their review of the benefits and risks of sauna bathing appeared in the American Journal of Medicine. This was updated five years later by Kukkonen-Harjula and Kauppinen (2006).

I started grooving on this Doctorline.com site , but it’s super long and involved. One initial dispute: It’s important to not just sweat for 15 minutes, then shower off and say you’ve taken a sauna. To me, a sauna is an event that culminates after 3 rounds of: heat, shower (or lake), cool down, repeat. Doing just one sauna round is like going to a hockey game and staying for just one period. Anyhow, there is so much information here! Don’t click on it if you only have 2 minutes.

Better yet, go to the Wikipedia site on saunas and scroll down 3/4 of the way to the section on benefits. This site is a great starting point, and you can link further by diving into a particular ailment you have a question on. As you check out websites that sell saunas, the Finnleo site has a nice clean Letterman style top 10 list. (I especially like #6: Recreational and social benefits in keeping with my overall theme of saunas help enhance one’s lifestyle and appreciation of such albums as King Tubby: Dub From the Roots). 

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15 Comments

15 thoughts on “Health Benefits of Sauna”

  1. Best night sleep! After a good sauna, I have found that I sleep much better. The sauna relaxes both mind and body, if done right you leave feeling as if had a good physical work out, but without any of the aches and pains.

  2. Terry.. great comment.. especially since i know you wrote it while wintering in Hawaii. Being that you are a busy contractor on an Island in Northern Minnesota, your comments prove how important saunas are for staying fit, moving sheetrock and lumber and climbing ladders all day.

  3. What a great post Glenn. For me, the solo sweat is usually a process of watching the knots in my brain unravel, reminding of the things in my life that are REALLY important. I always find myself thinking, “I can’t believe I was stressed about about this…. It was ridiculous to get mad about that…. I have enough money to buy a 6 pack, take a sauna, and head in to my girlfriend so I have nothing to complain about!!”

    Sauna is literally a religion for me.

  4. Hey hi Glenn

    Great website.. I started taking saunas in 1956
    on Lake 14 near Britt Minnesota..
    Over the years I have come to love steam rooms
    the best I know of is at the Marsh in Minnetonka…
    Regarding the office studio in the backyard
    call me at 612-703-7196 or email
    You have good energy..

  5. Your logic works well for the first 5 Glenn, but the US is happier than Germany, Russia and Japan, all of which have more saunas per person than the US.

  6. Chris: I’m happy that you’re happy; this helps account for the high(er) US ranking. We need to help you get your own backyard wood burning sauna. My mobile sauna will be deployed this weekend through Christmas. Video and photos to follow for added encouragement. Come visit.

  7. still the best therapy out there! The hot-to-cold work up does wonders. Try it! Thanks Glen.

  8. Still eyeing that two block run to Lake Superior from my home sauna in Duluth…BUT next Friday night I will be opening my very own plunge pool at the Yellow Lab Lodge in Makinen! Not sure I can ever return to the Big City!

  9. I can confirm that this is true, hot-sauna-cold therapy has made my sciatic pain disappear……after 2 months using chiropractors, physiotherapies, medicines, arcupuncture.

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