Sauna bathing is a form of thermotherapy that has been used for centuries in many parts of the world for hygiene, health, spiritual and social purposes. I will be highlighting some of the potential benefits that regular sauna sessions have on your health and well being. In my studio, I offer 15 minute and 30 minute sessions to my clients as either an adjunct to their lymphatic massage or a stand alone session. 30 minutes is recommended, however it is often a good idea to start with 15 minutes for clients who are new to saunas to ensure proper heat tolerance before jumping into a 30 minute session.
Let's look at some of the evidence based research that can be found in "Clinical Effects of Regular Dry Sauna Bathing: A Systematic Review" by Joy Hussain and Marc Cohen.
There is profound evidence to suggest that sauna bathing can induce significant physiological effects. Intense short-term heat exposure elevates skin temperature and core body temperature and activates thermoregulatory pathways via the hypothalamus and CNS (central nervous system) leading to activation of the autonomic nervous system. The activation of the sympathetic nervous system ( a division of the autonomic nervous system), leads to well-documented cardiovascular effects with increased heart rate, skin blood flow, cardiac output, and sweating. Why is that important to your health? Let's breakdown some common health conditions and you will see why sauna bathing might need to become a regular part of your weekly regimen.
Congestive heart failure: A study of 149 patients showed after regular sauna sessions an increase in endurance as demonstrated by the 6 minute walk test, reduced heart sizes measured by cardiothoracic x-ray and an improved classification of disease after 2 weeks. Similarly, 9 out of 12 infants with ventricular septal defects and severe congestive heart failure who underwent 5 minute sauna sessions daily for 4 weeks averted the need for surgical repair. Individuals with premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) combined with congestive heart failure demonstrated significantly less PVCs after repeated sessions in 2 weeks.
Peripheral Artery Disease: A pilot study with 20 candidates showed reduced pain scores, improved 6 minute walk distances, improved ankle/brachial index (ABI), and increased visible collateral vessels in ischemic legs. A follow up study was completed for further data and showed similar positive results.
Risk reduction: One of the largest studies done in Finland followed 2315 men over 20.7 years with data collected regarding cardiovascular-related outcomes. Their findings included a 66% risk reduction of dementia, a 65% risk reduction of Alzheimer's disease, a 63% risk reduction of sudden death and a 40% risk reduction of all-cause mortality.
Fibromyalgia: A study of 44 patients with fibromyalgia underwent sauna sessions with underwater therapy and reported subjectively less pain, reduced symptoms, improved quality of life and objective findings of fewer number of tender points upon physical exam after 12 weeks.
Headaches: One study in New Zealand found patients with chronic tension headaches reported 44% reduction in headache intensity within 6 weeks of regular sauna use.
COPD: Two studies focusing on patients diagnosed with COPD found infrared sauna use showed improved forced expiratory flow, improved symptom scores, decreased pulmonary artery pressures during exercise, increased exercise times and improved oxygen saturation during exercise.
These studies indicate that frequent sauna bathing improves a variety of subjective and objective health parameters, making it an alternative, holistic and all natural addition to your wellness regimen. Limited adverse side effects have been reported from sauna use, however it is important to get approval from your physician prior to starting a new routine.
In addition to the significant physiological effects on health, sauna bathing is reported to have psychological effects related to improved well-being, improved pain tolerance, forced mindfulness, stress reduction, relaxation, improved sleep, and time out from busy life schedules.