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Saunas – Healthy or Harmful

Sauna (a Finnish word) means a room in which water is splashed on the hot rocks to produce steam. Whilst traditionally a sauna involve adding water to hot coals to produce a steam atmosphere, these days there are several different types of sauna. These include:
Sauna benefits

– Infrared Sauna
– Wet Sauna
– Dry Sauna
– Smoke Sauna
– Steam Sauna

The heat of the sauna (which can get as high as 85C) can have significant effects on the body. The temperature of the skin rises to over 40C and the sweat begins to pour out. For most people their pulse rate climbs by more than 30% which results in the heart pumping nearly twice the volume of blood in a given time. The extra blood flow is directed to the skin however the effect of a sauna on blood pressure is not predictable as it can rise in some people yet decrease in others.

Many supporters of saunas argue that the sauna can assist in removing toxins from within the body and blood.. As we sweat more during sauna bath and the skin’s pores open, it helps in excretion of toxins through the sweat. Others claim that people may experience improved mood and health after a sauna as the body gets cleansed through sweating.

Saunas may also be useful in joint pains as the hot steam aids blood flow within the muscles and the restricted muscles can be released. Regular saunas bath can also assist physical and mental relaxation. Those suffering from sleep disorders may benefit from frequent saunas as it is claimed to encourage a good night’s sleep. For those who are not able to exercise, the sauna may provide a convenient alternative through increased blood circulation.

Some studies have indicated that regular saunas may improve immune resistance. For example German researchers studied 22 children who had a regular sauna. When they compared them with a control group that took no saunas they found that children who had no saunas had twice the number of sick days compared to the experiment group.

Other studies have indicated that certain heavy metals have been detected in the sweat excreted during a sauna (although there is some question whether these would have been eliminated regardless of whether the person had a sauna or not).

Sauna Precautions
However as with any new exercise regime, people considering using saunas are advised to be aware that there are some precautions that they should consider. If they have any slight doubt regarding the safety of using a sauna then they should consult their health care professional. In particular, pregnant women, patients with heart conditions, those with high or low blood pressure or any other systemic disease or condition must talk to their doctor before entering a sauna for the first time.

Other precautions include:
– Avoid alcohol and/or medications, in particular those that may interfere with the sweating process (which can result in overheating).
– Do not stay in a sauna for more than 15-20 minutes.
– Never take a sauna when you are unwell and if you ever feel ill during a sauna then exit immediately.
– Drink plenty of water after the sauna to avoid dehydration.

Pregnant women, heart patient with low or high blood pressure condition or suffering from any disease which has negative effect of sauna bath should first consult a physician regarding their physical condition and the length of period they can take sauna bath. As an example of the negative effects that a sauna may have then a study in the Journal of American Medical Association found that there may be an relationship between neural-tube defects and heat exposure from saunas, hot tubs, and fever during the first three months of pregnancy. (The largest contributor was found to be was hot tubs, which pregnant women should use only with extreme caution).

If you are interested in finding out more about the benefits of saunas then please visit

By Richard Lane

Posted in Exercise, Fitness and Stretching, General Health and tagged as , , , ,

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