What does the sauna do for you? Its benefits, explained

If the idea of ​​soaking in an ice bath sounds unpleasant to you, then you might be more interested in a (much more comfortable) (much more comfortable) sauna session. The classic wellness practice has been around for eons, but is currently trending on TikTok, where the hashtag #sauna has racked up over 820 million views. This is where you’ll see people stepping into a warm room to rest, relax, and enjoy all kinds of health benefits.

So what exactly does a sauna do for you? According Dr. Reid Maclellan, MD, assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and founder of the acne brand Cortina, a typical sauna is a small, wood-lined room with temperature controls that can be toggled between 150° and 195°F. Unlike steam rooms, saunas offer dry heat, says Dr. Tom Ingegno, DACM, MSOM, BACdoctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine and owner of Charm City Integrative Health. The temperature range allows people to stay comfortable and safe inside the sauna for about 15 to 20 minutes, he notes, which is the recommended usage time. When your body is enveloped in such a high temperature, you sweat… a plot. And this leads to physical and mental benefits.

There are also infrared saunas that use light to produce heat. “These saunas usually only heat up to 120-140°F,” Ingegno tells Bustle, which makes them a little easier to tolerate. Whichever type you choose to schvitz in, it is said that regular sauna use can be good for your health. Ingegno recommends relaxing in a sauna two to three times a week. Do you have the possibility to enter a sauna? Here’s what the experts say it can do for you.

The benefits of a sauna

One of the main appeals of a sauna is the spa-like rest and relaxation you get from sweating it out. Relaxing in a steam room is a perfect way to combat everyday stress, says says Dr. M Kara, MDphysician and founder of the functional medicine brand KaraMD, which can harm your health over time. “Reducing stress is essential to living and feeling well physically and mentally, and saunas can be a useful tool for [that],” he says.

Studies have also shown that saunas can help reduce joint and muscle tension, which in turn relieves a host of body aches, Kara adds. Soak yourself regularly in the heat, and it is possible that your lower back pain will start to fade. Heat has also been shown to dilate and relax your blood vessels, which increases blood flow to improve your cardiovascular health, explains Kara. In fact, Ingegno points to a 2015 study published in JAMA who found that regular sauna use actually reduces your 40% risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. “Some benefits can be seen with just seven minutes a day,” he told Bustle. Part of the benefit, he says, comes from the fact that sauna use can also help reduce inflammation in the body.

This is why you often see fitness fans on TikTok (and IRL) entering the sauna after a workout. “It is recommended to go to a sauna as it can help speed up recoverysays Maclellan, highlighting how heat increases blood flow and reduces inflammation.

On top of all that, Maclellan notes that regular sauna use is also good for your skin. “Using a sauna has a wide range of benefits for your skin, such as improved circulation, strengthen the skin barrier, decreasing inflammation, detoxifying oil and dirt from your pores, and reducing cortisol levels, all of which can lower your risk of acne,” he explains. Pro tip: After the sauna, he suggests using a body wash or cleanser to wipe away post-sauna sweat that can clog your pores, or at the very least give your face a quick peek with gently clarifying witch hazel.

What you need to know about saunas

If you’ve never been to a sauna before, stepping into the heat can be a shock. This is why Maclellan recommends starting slow with a lower heat setting. Stay for a few minutes to start, then gradually increase to the recommended 20 minutes over time.

Although saunas are generally considered safe, they do come with a few caveats. “Young children, pregnant people, or people over 65 should avoid them,” Maclellan says. You should also jump if you have problems with dizziness, low blood pressure, kidney problems, or if you have heart disease or high blood pressure, he adds, because the heat could be too strong. Maclellan also warns against using a sauna the week you have your period, as the heat can make you dizzy.

If at any time you feel too hot, dizzy or out of breath, cut your sauna session short and get out. It’s also very important to stay hydrated, so have your water bottle handy. “Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after using saunas,” Kara says. As with everything, if you listen to your body, you should be able to get the most out of your spa session.

Referenced studies:

Cho, EH. (2019). Dry sauna therapy is beneficial for patients with low back pain. Anesth Pain Med (Seoul). doi: 10.17085/apm.2019.14.4.474.

Hussain, J. (2018). Clinical effects of regular dry sauna bathing: a systematic review. Evid Based Complement Alternate Med. doi: 10.1155/2018/1857413.

Khamwong, P. (2015). Prophylactic effects of sauna on delayed onset muscle pain of the wrist extensors. Asian Journal of Sports Medicine, 6(2). https://doi.org/10.5812/asjsm.6(2)2015.25549

Kowatzki, D. (2008). Effect of regular sauna on epidermal barrier function and water-binding capacity of the stratum corneum in vivo in humans: a controlled study. Dermatology. doi: 10.1159/000137283.

Kunutsor, SK. (2018). Longitudinal associations of sauna bathing with inflammation and oxidative stress: the KIHD prospective cohort study. Anne Med. 2018 Aug;50(5):437-442. doi: 10.1080/07853890.2018.1489143.

Laukkanen, T. (2018). Sauna baths are associated with reduced cardiovascular mortality and improved risk prediction in men and women: a prospective cohort study. BMC Med. doi: 10.1186/s12916-018-1198-0.

Mero, A. (2015). Effects of far-infrared sauna baths on recovery after strength and endurance training sessions in men. Spring more. doi: 10.1186/s40064-015-1093-5.

Zaccardi, F. (2017). Sauna bathing and incident hypertension: a prospective cohort study. Am J Hypertens. doi:10.1093/ajh/hpx102.


Dr. Reid Maclellan, MDassistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, founder of the acne brand Cortina

Dr. Tom IngegnoDACM, MSOM, LAC, doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, owner of Charm City Integrative Health

Dr. M Kara, MDdoctor, founder of the functional medicine brand KaraMD

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Richard V. Johnson