Jack Vicik, Public Affairs Intern, Advocate Condell Medical Center shared that across cultures, sauna use has been a popular practice for many centuries. People have commonly utilized saunas to unwind and de-stress. While these benefits and more exist, it is important to follow safety guidelines and be aware of myths regarding this heated activity.
The sauna we know and love today is a product of the primitive, therapeutic methods used by various cultures over time. Sweat houses and steam baths are two ways heat has been used for relaxation around the world.
Characterized by their use of dry heat, saunas can operate in the forms of wood burning, electric heat or infrared beams. Most saunas heat to over 150° Fahrenheit. Steam rooms, on the other hand, offer what can be considered — moist heat.
Stepping into a sauna produces multiple health benefits, namely for the heart and skin. While in use, people may experience a 30 percent jump in pulse rate and lose up to a pint of sweat.
Individuals with psoriasis have reported relief from symptoms for the duration of their sauna visits, as well. People with asthma may even experience opened airways and decreased amounts of phlegm.
While using heat for its health benefits, a person must practice using any type of sauna safely. Consequences of irresponsible use could arise in the form of severe dehydration, dizziness and in rare cases, even death.
Harvard Medical School advises those who struggle with blood pressure or heart disease shouldn’t enter a sauna. Also, people who are pregnant or have cardiovascular issues are recommended to seek medical advice prior to stepping into a sauna.
Experienced sauna users are encouraged to limit use to 15-20 minutes at a time, while beginners should start with a limit of 10 minutes. Steven Allen, an exercise physiologist and fitness director at Advocate Condell Centre Club in Libertyville, Ill., advises against sauna use by those under age 16. “Careful, daily use shouldn’t pose a problem to healthy, hydrated individuals, but two to four times a week is typical for most.”
In addition to its medical school’s suggestions on use, Harvard experts warn that immediately entering cold temperatures after leaving a sauna can lead to circulatory stress. Users should drink cold water and avoid alcohol consumption after use. The chilled water helps to lower body temperature, encourage sweat and be properly hydrated.
While saunas offer many benefits, users should be warned against popular myths:
1. Sweating isn’t proven to truly detoxify the body, as that is done by internal organs like the kidneys, liver and intestines.
2. Saunas do not cause weight loss — they temporarily remove easily replaceable water weight.
While sauna use offers an array of health benefits, it should not replace a regular exercise routine or healthy eating for weight loss. Allen shares that sitting in a sauna briefly before a workout may warm muscles similarly to an exercise warmup, but this beneficial practice should only enhance a traditional warmup — not take its place. A post-workout sauna can help relieve physical and mental stress.