The Health Benefits of Using a Home Sauna

The Health Benefits of Using a Home Sauna

A very relaxed and happy person sitting on a sauna bench - header image

Look, we don’t blame you if you get a bit sceptical when someone goes on about the positive health effects that an activity might have. This is doubly so when someone is trying to market or sell you something. Health, like everything else in the modern world, can be used as a marketing hook. 

As well as that, health benefits can be difficult to prove and a source of much back-and-forth. How many times have you read that something is good for you, only to hear someone say 'well, actually...' a couple of years later? 

Ok, fudging out of the way. When it comes to saunas, we can point to some definite benefits as well as some less ‘provable’ ones that have been suggested by certain studies.

We’ll start with a benefit that doesn’t really need a lot of scientific evidence backing it up. Countless people will tell you (from experience) how relaxing it is to spend time in a sauna. It’s a great way of unwinding after a busy day or relieving yourself from life’s stresses. Some people have described it as like ‘hitting the reset button’. The high-heat environment - combined with bursts of löyly - can reduce bodily tension. To enhance the relaxing effect, you can incorporate some aromatherapy or practice meditation and deep breathing.

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Mental Benefits
Another positive effect that is self-evident (when you experience it yourself, that is) is that of mental well-being. A sauna makes for an oasis that you can escape to when you need it. ‘Sauna bathing’ can calm an anxious mind and help you to focus on the present moment rather than on daily stresses and worries. For best results, short sessions of sauna bathing should be combined with spells of cooling down - this can be done by just chilling outside for a while, but you can also take things further by taking a cold shower or even plunging yourself into some cold water (if you have a nearby source). The sharp contrast between hot and cold has an invigorating and rejuvenating effect.

It might not be the most robust science, but Finland is consistently rated as one of the ‘happiest nations’, and if you ask the Finns themselves they point to the sauna as being one of their happy places. Coincidence? We think not.

Social Activity
One of the notable cultural aspects of sauna use in countries like Estonia, Finland and Sweden is that it’s used for socialising just as much - if not more so - than a private pursuit. Saunas are regarded as something best enjoyed in the company of friends or family.

The intimate nature of sauna bathing breaks down barriers between people and relaxes tensions. There’s a shared intimacy at play, and people feel more encouraged to relate openly to each other. Differences between people dissipate like the steam coming off the hot rocks.

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Some Touted Health Benefits:
Aside from more unquantifiable benefits of regular sauna usage such as relaxation and well-being, there are a number of other areas where you will often see people touting health benefits. Much of the evidence for health benefits comes from long-term observational Finnish studies. As is often the case, there is a lot of debate as to how the study stats should be interpreted or just how much should be read into them.

Sauna connoisseurs tend to downplay the idea of using a sauna for health benefits (as opposed to doing so because it’s enjoyable). On the other hand, you can find anecdotal accounts of how sauna usage has helped people with things like chronic aches or general fatigue, if that’s something you’re interested in. If you find that sauna bathing works for you in some specific way, then that’s a nice bonus to add to the list.

Sauna bathing can have a similar effect as mild to moderate exercise. The high heat in a sauna causes blood vessels to dilate, which in turn can improve circulation. As the temperature rises, the change in skin temperature increases blood flow to the extremities.

Muscle Relaxation and Recovery
Increased blood circulation can in turn reduce inflammation and swelling. Injured athletes or people with chronic pain have found great anecdotal benefit from sauna usage. Some gym-goers believe in the powers of the sauna for muscle recovery after an intense workout. This is something of an unproven theory, and it may be more of a short-term effect rather than something that continues to happen once you’ve left the sauna.

Improved Sleep
The muscle-relaxing and stress-reducing effects of sauna usage mentioned is thought to possibly promote deeper sleep. This could also have something to do with the change in body temperature brought about by a sauna session and a period of cooling down