Different types of saunas have been used for centuries as a way of treating muscular pain and providing a source of relaxation. It’s commonplace for homes in Nordic and Eastern countries to have a home-sauna, but for the rest of us a sauna is usually reserved for expensive day spas or pricey gyms.
Whilst a sauna might sound like a bit of an indulgence, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that heat therapy can do much more for your body than just de-stress.
Recent scientific research has proven that infrared saunas, in particular, can encourage positive changes in our cells and organs, providing health benefits that range from weight loss through to anti-ageing and improved brain function.
Maybe it’s time we all felt a little more heat?
The low-down on saunas
A sauna is basically any type of small or large room where users can experience dry or wet heat.
- Traditional dry saunas are heated with fire, hot stones, gas or electricity
- Steam saunas apply water to the heating element to create steam
- Infrared saunas use invisible light to penetrate and heat the body
Traditional dry and steam saunas work by heating the room, which in turn causes our body temperatures to rise.
Infrared saunas work differently because they use invisible light to actually penetrate the skin and stimulate muscle tissues directly. It’s called photobiomodulation (which is basically a mouthful to describe therapy that uses light). We can’t see it, but we can feel it as a gentle heat.
How infrared saunas benefit your health
Whilst all forms of heat therapy will help your body to repair cell damage, improve circulation and reduce stress, infrared saunas are thought to be more effective at targeting very specific health concerns.
1. Heart and blood pressure – infrared therapy is thought to help to normaliseblood pressure and reduce the chance of heart failure
2. Detoxification – the sweating that occurs naturally during a sauna helps your body to mobilise and get rid of toxins.
3. Anti-ageing and brain power– heat exposure can stimulate cell growth and repair throughout your body, including in your brain. It can also increasing some of your natural anti-ageing hormones.
4. Mood and brain power–heath therapy increases the happiness hormones (endorphins) in your body, and lowers the level of stress hormone (cortisol), giving you the same natural high as exercising.
5. Weight loss and metabolism–infrared therapy doesn’t burn fat cells, but it can improve your bodys ability to regulate blood sugar levels, helping to prevent obesity and diabetes.
6. Reducing inflammation – by improving circulation, heat therapy can be really useful in the treatment of injuries and inflammatory diseases, such as cardiovascular and kidney disease, chronic fatigue, asthma, bronchitis and arthritis.
7. Healthy skin – after a sauna your body increases blood flow to the skin to cool down, but that can also result in a better skin pH balance, less acne-inducing sebum and a stronger protective barrier which helps conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
Can anyone use a sauna?
Sauna use is considered to be safe for most people, but seek medical advice first. Some genetic conditions can cause people to over-heat or suffer health problems as a result of heat exposure.
Beyond that, common sense prevails. For example, it’s always a good idea not to touch the hot bits in a sauna, or hang around in there for hours on end. Also, it’s important to drink plenty of water so that you don’t get dehydrated.
How long should I stay in a sauna?
If you’re new to sauna use, it is recommended that you start with short durations at lower temperatures, and build up from there. Many Scandi dwellers use their home-saunas daily, but if you can manage 2-3 times a week, for around 30 minutes at a time, then you’ll definitely feel the benefits.
Where can I find an infrared sauna?
Most of us don’t have an empty garden shed or spare room that can be kitted out accordingly, so why not check out the facilities at your local gym or see if your nearest day spa offers cheap twilight sessions so you can warm up after work.
If you do get serious about sauna-ing and want to invest in having your own, there are a number of home-sauna companies who can advise on costs and requirements. Check the internet for details and recommendations. (Oh, and if you do get one, please can we use it too?)
Share your sauna story
Are you a regular sauna user? Do you tackle your stress, skin care or illness with heat therapy? If so, why not share your story? Pop your comments in the box below. We’d love to hear from you.