Saunas have been used for centuries especially in Scandinavian countries as part of a general wellness program. They have been used to treat many medical conditions including hangovers, winter colds, stress, joint and muscle pain, and to improve sleep. But, is there medical evidence to support the health benefits of sauna?
Before we go into the medical evidence let’s discuss other uses of sauna to improve health. Sauna has been used to:
- detoxify the body.
- treat hypertension.
- treat congested heart failure.
- treat fibromyalgia.
- chronic fatigue syndrome.
- chronic pain.
- weight loss.
Medical Evidence for Saunas
Below is a summary of the medical evidence to support the use of infrared sauna for certain medical conditions.
There is moderately strong medical evidence for the use of infrared sauna for management of blood pressure and congestive heart failure. There is fair evidence for the use of infrared sauna in the management of chronic pain. Weak evidence for its used in management of chronic fatigue syndrome and obesity.
Here is another link that discusses medical evidence.
Types of Saunas
There are two main type of saunas. The traditional sauna that uses radiant heating units and infrared saunas which use far-infrared units. The key difference between the two is that traditional saunas heat the air around the body which in turn heats the body.
Infrared saunas infrared lights or lamps heat the body directly heating the body from the inside (think of the difference between heating food on a stove and in a microwave).
Less than 20% of the infrared energy heats the air meaning more energy is used to heat the body. This means infrared saunas can be used at lower temperature ranges than radiant heating units making them potentially safer especially for those with cardiovascular disease. Infrared saunas are typically heating to 110 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit whereas traditional saunas are heated from 150 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit and even higher.
Infrared rays penetrate an inch an half into the body and causes two to three times as much sweating as radiant heating units.
Some report up to a 1,000 calories can be burned with 30 minutes in a sauna. But, the best evidence suggests that 300 calories are burned during a 30 minute sauna.
Guidelines for Using a Sauna
There are some practical safety tips to get the most from your sauna experience safely.
Drink plenty of water prior to going into a sauna. This is especially important if you just completed a strenuous workout and are not entering a sauna to relax. Consider even carrying some water with you into the sauna if you are new to using a sauna.
Unless you have a sauna at home you probably are not going to have much control of the temperature of the sauna. But, if you do it is best to start with lower temperatures like 110 degrees Fahrenheit and then gradually increase the temperature as you get acclimated to taking a sauna. If you cannot adjust the temperature you can offset that by adjusting your time in the sauna.
Duration in a Sauna
Be sensible and smart at first when using a sauna. Limit your first time to 5 to 10 minutes. Like the temperature setting you can increase your time in the sauna gradually working your way up to no more than 30 minutes per session. If you feel dizzy, faint, or lightheaded the get out of the sauna.
Activities in the Sauna
Once your muscles are warmed up feel free to do some stretching in the sauna or gentle calisthenics. You will get better results improving your flexibility when your muscles are nice and warm. You don’t want to raise your heart rate too much so don’t do anything too vigorous, though some people will run in place or do jumping jacks, push ups or sit ups. You should only do those activities if you have achieved a high level of fitness.
Consider reading a book or meditate. Do not, however, fall asleep especially if you are by yourself. You run the risk of becoming dehydrated and over heating your body if you fall asleep. Also, it is not wise to consume alcohol before taking a sauna.
Cool down after your Sauna
Let your body gradually cool down after a session in a sauna. Once cool downed you can shower. Be sure to rehydrate yourself, too.
Even if you don’t have a medical condition for which sauna can provide medical benefit, you will likely find using a sauna on regular a relaxing experience.
Just go slow and easy with it at the beginning.