In Finland, one out of every three people uses a sauna, so it’s not surprising that researchers there decided to carry out a review exploring their health benefits. In Finland, sauna bathing typically entails spending brief periods in temperatures in the range of 158 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. As people’s skin temperature rises in a sauna, their body sweats heavily. This prompts their heart rate to rise in an attempt to stay cool.
The researchers link the practice to a lower risk of vascular diseases like cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. They also revealed that sauna bathing regularly can reduce inflammation, blood pressure, arterial stiffness, vascular resistance and oxidative stress.
In fact, they discovered that the physiological responses caused by sauna bathing correspond to those seen after moderate or high-intensity physical activities like walking. Past studies carried out by this research team found that combining physical activity with sauna bathing offers additional health benefits compared to participating in each activity on its own.
When it comes to mental health, many of the benefits come about from the increase in the production of endorphins that sauna use spurs. This is what causes the feelings of relaxation and calmness that drive many people to use saunas frequently.
They also found a reduction in nonvascular conditions like pulmonary diseases and neurocognitive diseases. In addition, they found that sauna bathing can alleviate conditions such as flu, arthritis and skin diseases.
A 2015 report in JAMA Internal Medicine that looked at more than 2,000 middle-aged men over the course of 20 years found that regularly spending time in saunas not only boosts heart health – it might also extend people’s lives. After categorizing the men according to how many times they went in a sauna each week, they found that 49 percent of those who went once a week died, 38 percent of those who went two to three times per week died, and just 31 percent of those who went four to seven times per week died. They also found that those who visited saunas frequently had lower rates of death from stroke and cardiovascular disease.
However, the researchers point out that Finnish saunas are not the same as steam baths or hot tubs. The saunas in Finland are wood-lined rooms that are generally heated using a stove that is topped by stones. The air inside is not just hot; it’s also very dry, although water is sometimes added to the stones to create a vapor.
They also said that study participants who use saunas frequently aren’t better off economically and therefore have an “easier” life overall; saunas are easily accessible to Finns in all socioeconomic classes, often found in homes and workplaces and even factories.
If you want to enjoy the benefits of sauna use, you need to follow a few precautions to avoid negative health effects. First, don’t use a sauna after you’ve consumed alcohol. Start out by spending five to ten minutes in the sauna, slowly increasing your time to 20 minutes as your body gets used to it. Never spend more than 20 minutes at once in a sauna.
Pregnant women and people with low blood pressure should avoid saunas, and everyone who uses a sauna should drink a few glasses of water afterward to replace fluids lost through sweating.
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