What is sauna
Saunas have been used for thousands of years and are still popular today. A sauna can help people to unwind and relax, and it may have other health benefits.
What is sauna
Sweating has long been used as a therapy. The Mayans used sweathouses 3,000 years ago, according to Harvard Health Publications. In Finland, saunas have been used for thousands of years, and 1 in 3 Finns still use them. In the United States (U.S.), there are thought to be over a million saunas.
The main benefits proposed for saunas are relaxation and cardiovascular health. However, a sauna may not be suitable for everyone.
Here are some key points about saunas. More detail is in the main article.
- A sauna is a room in which people aim to relax in dry heat.
- It may provide benefits for cardiovascular health that resemble those derived from exercise.
- Drinking alcohol before or during a sauna can be dangerous.
- Anyone who has a cardiovascular problem or who is pregnant should seek medical advice before using a sauna.
A sauna is typically a room heated between 70° to 100° Celsius or 158° to 212° Fahrenheit.
Traditional Finnish saunas usually use dry heat, with a relative humidity that is often between 10 and 20 percent. In other sauna types, the moisture is higher. Turkish-style saunas, for example, involve a greater level of humidity.
A sauna use can raise the skin temperature to roughly 40° Celsius or 104° Fahrenheit.
As the skin temperature rises, heavy sweating also occurs. The heart rate rises as the body attempt to keep cool. It is not uncommon to lose about a pint of sweat while spending a short time in a sauna.
Types of saunas
There are several types of sauna, based on how the room is heated.
Wood burning: Wood is used to heat the sauna room and sauna rocks. Wood-burning saunas are usually low in humidity and high in temperature.
Electrically heated: Similar to wood-burning saunas, electrically-heated saunas have high temperatures and low humidity. An electrical heater, attached to the floor, heats the sauna room.
Steam room: These are different from saunas. Instead of dry heat, a steam room involves high humidity and moist heat. However, throwing water on the sauna heater could mimic the effect of a steam room.
Regardless of how a sauna is heated, or the humidity level, the effects on the body are similar.
When a person sits in a sauna, their heart rate increases, and blood vessels widen. This increases circulation, in a similar way to low to moderate exercise depending on the duration of sauna use.
Heart rate may increase to 100-150 beats a minute while using a sauna. This may bring some health benefits.
Increased circulation may help reduce muscle soreness, improve joint movement, and ease arthritis pain.
Reducing stress levels
As the heat in a sauna improves circulation, it may also promote relaxation. This can improve feelings of well-being.
Improving cardiovascular health
The reduction in stress levels when using a sauna may be linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular events.
One study, conducted in Finland, followed 2,315 men ages 42 to 60 over the course of 20 years. Findings suggested that people who use a sauna may have a lower riskTrusted Source of dying from cardiovascular disease.
After adjusting for cardiovascular risk factors, increased sauna use was linked with a reduced risk of fatal cardiovascular-related diseases.
Participants who used the sauna two to three times a week were 22 percent less likely to experience sudden cardiac death than those who only used it once a week. Those who used a sauna four to seven times a week were 63 percent less likely to experience sudden cardiac death and 50 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those who only used a sauna once a week.
More research is needed to find out if there is a definite link between sauna use and a decrease in deaths from heart disease.
Sauna use may also be associated with lower blood pressure and enhanced heart function.
While studies may be promising, sauna use should not replace an exercise program to keep the heart healthy. There is more evidence to support the benefits of regular exercise.
A dry sauna dries the skin during use. Some people with psoriasis may find that their symptoms reduce while using a sauna, but those with atopic dermatitis may find that it worsens.
People with asthma may find relief from some symptoms as a result of using a sauna. A sauna may help open airways, loosen phlegm, and reduce stress.
Lower risk of Alzheimer’s?
In 2016, researchers from Finland published findings of a 20-year study that linked sauna use with a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The study involved 2,315 healthy men aged from 42 to 60 years.
Those who used a sauna 2 to 3 times per week were 22 percent less likely to get dementia and 20 percent less likely to get Alzheimer’s than those who did not use a sauna. Those who used a sauna four to seven times a week were 66 percent less likely to get dementia and 65 percent less likely to get Alzheimer’s than those who used a sauna once a week.
However, the results do not prove that a sauna causes a reduction in risk. It may be that people with dementia do not use a sauna. More research is needed to confirm these findings.
To avoid any negative health effects, the following precautions are also advised:
Avoid alcohol: Alcohol increases the risk of dehydration, hypotension, arrhythmia, and sudden death.
Limit time spent in a sauna: Do not spend more than 20 minutes at a time in a sauna. First-time users should spend a maximum of 5 to 10 minutes. As they get used to the heat, they can slowly increase the time to about 20 minutes.
Drink plenty of water: Whatever type of sauna a person uses, it is important to replace the fluids lost from sweating. People should drink about two to four glasses of water after using a sauna.
Avoid sauna use if ill: People who are ill should also wait until they recover before using a sauna. Women who are pregnant or those with certain medical conditions, such as low blood pressure, should ask their doctor before sauna use.
Supervise children: Children aged 6 and above are safe to use a sauna, but should be supervised when doing so. They should spend no longer than 15 minutes in there at one time.
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