One of the latest health trends seems to be frequenting the sauna. And there’s good reason for it. But are all saunas created equal? Steam, Finnish, infrared, dry— aren’t they all pretty much the same? Yes and no. While the main function of all of these types is to heat you up, there are slight differences in what they have to offer.
Here, we’ll take a look at the different types of saunas available, and explain why you should consider making it a regular part of your self-care routine — and yes, we’re telling you that you should have a self-care routine, because it’s super important!
As a quick refresher, the modern-day sauna is a typically a small room covered in wooden panels and containing a rock-filled heater, which increases the temperature to between 70º C and 100º C. Depending on the type of sauna, the humidity levels will range between 10-20%, leaving a hot, dry heat.
- Steam sauna — The opposite of a dry sauna, steam saunas are humidity-sealed spaces made of tiles, glass, or acrylic to maintain the highest possible levels of humidity (usually 100%). Temperatures are typically kept around 50ºC.
- Finnish sauna —Finnish sauna experiences are based on minimal heat and humidity control. The temperature must be at least 65.5ºC (150ºF) to reap any benefits, and humidity is controlled by the amount of water ladled onto heated rocks — generally anywhere between 20-40%. Often times, Finnish saunas will have lower temperatures and higher humidity.
- Infrared sauna —IR saunas use infrared light to produce radiant heat that is absorbed by the surface of the skin. They do not omit as much heat, but the heat penetrates much deeper into body tissues than other types of saunas, thus producing a more rigorous sweat at much lower temperatures.
- Dry heat sauna — Similar to Finnish saunas, but lacking water ladled onto the heating source, maintaining very low humidity levels (often below 10%).
Now, willingly sitting in the heat sounds like a great time if you’ve got an ocean in front of you and a drink in your hand. But why would you want to do it otherwise? Regular saunas are ridiculously good for you. Let’s break it down.
There’s a link between the sauna and life expectancy. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2015 showed that frequenting the sauna four times per week or more caused a 40% reduction risk of sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart diseases, fatal cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality. The greater the frequency of sauna use, the higher the life expectancy was.
Regular sauna use improves heart function. Much like during exercise, when the body heats up, the skin begins to flush and sweating begins. The same applies for the sauna. However, while flushing and sweating is the bodily response to increased temperatures, the heart’s response to these temperature changes is even more important. Pulse rate increases by up to 30% and the amount of blood pumped out each minute nearly doubles. Although it may seem like the sauna increases stress on the heart, it actually improves heart function and blood circulation.
Saunas help the body detoxify. The skin is our largest organ – and one of the easiest ways to rid the body of toxic compounds. The high temperatures in saunas help to stimulate sweat-induced excretion of toxins, drugs, and medications and promote increased efficiency of various metabolic pathways. However, to increase the excretion of toxic compounds, longer sessions are needed.
Need more reasons to visit the sauna? Studies on sauna benefits also suggest that they help to:
- Reduce blood pressure
- Improve blood flow
- Increase full-body relaxation
- Decrease triglyceride levels
- Decrease fasting blood glucose levels
- Increase blood circulation to major tissues (kidneys, muscles)
- Increase lipolysis (fat oxidation)
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve respiratory function
- Promote pain relief
- Boost your mood
Ready to incorporate the sauna into your weekly routine? Instead of stretching in the gym after your workout, why not take 30 minutes and stretch in the sauna? You’ll reap all the benefits that the sauna has to offer, all while getting a good stretch after an intense sweat sesh. Alternatively, you can bring in a good read, meditate, do some light yoga, or simply just close your eyes, breathe, and relax. Whatever your preference, set aside time a few days a week to rejuvenate your body.
Here’s what Paleo Menu’s Daria had to say about her experience using a sauna:
“After hearing about sauna use benefits from Dr. Rhonda Patrick — especially the increased stamina in studied subjects — I was curious to see if I would see any tangible results myself. And just my luck, my gym had a sauna! I started doing sauna sessions 3-4 times per week, spending roughly 15-20 minutes at 85-90ºC. After about 6 weeks, I noticed I had much better endurance during workouts with shorter recovery times. I steadily increased the amount of time I spent in the sauna and found light stretching and “box breathing” to be a great and enjoyable way to kill time!”
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