Have you been thinking about trying a sauna, but aren’t sure if it’s right for you? Perhaps you’ve heard some of the stories about people passing out from the heat, so the thought of a sauna makes you a little nervous.
Well, there are more reasons than not for why you should consider this type of “hydrotherapy” as a positive addition to your health regimen. You don’t have to be fearful of it.
The sauna, which means “bath” or “bathhouse” in Finnish, has been in existence for thousands of years. The concept of “sweat bathing” has been linked to many cultures, including the Russian, Turkish, Japanese, and American Indian societies, and it was even popular in ancient Greece and Rome. However, it’s Finland that has really taken advantage of this therapy for it’s physical and mental health benefits. It’s such a part of the country’s culture it’s said that saunas could outnumber cars!
Nowadays, a sauna, often built or lined with wood, can be a small building or just a single room. Depending on the size, you can fit one or more people in a sauna. Wood, gas, electric, or infrared sources can all heat a sauna, but most of them contain stones. When the water is poured over the hot stones, this creates the famous steam.
The sauna has been used as preventive therapy and as treatment for many health conditions. In fact, some of its supporters claim that it could treat whatever ails you. This amazing therapy has been known to cleanse the body, making you sweat and ridding your cells of toxins. This is why it could be helpful in people with liver or kidney diseases.
The heat and steam can soothe aching muscles and the steam can be especially good for people with respiratory illnesses, such as asthma. There are claims that the sauna makes your body release certain positive chemicals, such as endorphins. Endorphins can lead to increased energy, relaxation, stress relief, better sleep, improved mood in people with depression and other mental/emotional disorders, and even a temporary reprieve from pain in those suffering from arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and cancer.
The sweat bath dilates your blood vessels, which means it could lower your blood pressure and improve your cardiac function. This finding is backed up by a Japanese study, which showed that two weeks of sauna therapy improved heart function and disease symptoms in people with chronic heart failure by boosting vascular endothelial function. By dilating your blood vessels, like you would in a good cardio workout session, the steam bath boosts your heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body.
While there are many potential benefits, you also need to be aware of a few risks that are associated with saunas. Due to the sauna’s effect on the heart and blood flow, if you have an existing heart condition or high blood pressure, you need to consult with your doctor before trying this therapy.
In addition, because of the heat and your increased sweat production, there’s the possibility of becoming dehydrated, which could lead to fainting. Always drink a lot of water before and after your sauna session. If you’re a beginner, or tend to become easily dehydrated, don’t go into a sauna alone. It’s best to have a buddy along with you, in case you become lightheaded.
Also, there has been some controversy in the past about pregnant women and saunas, but some research has proven that the practice should be safe.
So, if the health benefits sound as good to you as they do to me, then you might want to give sweat bathing a try. See if a local gym has one or look up spas in your area. If you become as enthusiastic about it as most Finns are, then you can even consider installing a sauna in your own home.