With growing tendency in aging population to chose healthy lifestyle and natural ways to improve their health and wellbeing, many people in the USA are turning their glances into one of the types of hydrotherapy - to the sauna. While it is a common knowledge that sauna helps to lessen stress and offer deep relaxation, general public knows much less on the great therapeutic effect of sauna on the physical health and on its ability to assist with some diseases’ treatment.
What is a sauna?
A sauna is a hot air bath or sweat bath. You take a sauna in a special, insulated room that keeps the air still and heat in. There is a heat source in the room to transfer heat to your body: The heat in a sauna comes from rocks heated in a fire, stove, or an infrared radiator. The heat source may only heat the air, or it may also produce steam which makes it feel hotter. So, there are two main types of saunas: dry and wet (steam room). In this post, we will review dry sauna only.
In the sauna your skin gets heated well above its normal temperature. In response, your body begins sweating profusely to keep yourself cool. To get the feeling of heat all over your body and to prevent clothes from being soaked with sweat, the sauna is typically used nude, or with as little clothing as practical.
A saunas’ dry heat (which can get as high as 185° F) has profound effects on the body. Skin temperature soars to about 104° F within minutes. The average person will pour out a pint of sweat during a short stint in a sauna. The pulse rate jumps by 30% or more, allowing the heart to nearly double the amount of blood it pumps each minute. Most of the extra blood flow is directed to the skin; in fact, the circulation actually shunts blood away from the internal organs. Blood pressure is unpredictable, rising in some people but falling in others.
Sauna for Elderly
Until recently, medical community was reluctant to recommend sauna for the midlife and elderly population, since it was consider not very safe for not too healthy individuals. While, the procedure is indeed highly intrusive, safety precautions and common sense minimize the risks. Now, many physicians round the US recommend visits to the sauna on regular basis to their elderly patients who are afflicted with rheumatic conditions. According to recent studies, the heat from the sauna can help to minimize aching and improve the mobility of the joints in patients plagued by rheumatism and other joint pains.
But besides treating rheumatism and bettering joint mobility in elderly people, one of the many other benefits of sauna is soothing symptoms of asthma and persistent bronchitis. In accordance with a number of studies, the heat from the sauna spa can help decrease lung infection among patients who suffer from asthma disease and long-term bronchitis.
Though a trip to the sauna does not really cure asthma or long-term bronchitis, it can reduce the signs and symptoms of these conditions and help sufferers feel more comfortable as well as have a good night's sleep. Additionally, a sauna bath also helps stop colds and remedying clogged nose once colds set in. Research has shown that individuals who go to the sauna spa regularly are usually far less likely to be afflicted by colds and other types of infection in their upper respiratory tract.
We will review sauna benefits and safety tips in more details below.
Sweating is as important to our body proper functioning as eating and breathing. It accomplishes three important things: rids the body of wastes, regulates the critical temperature of the body at 37 degrees C (98.6 degrees F), and helps keep the skin clean and pliant.
When you lounge in a sweat bath, heat sensitive nerve endings produce acetylcholine, a chemical which alerts the 2.3 million sweat glands embedded in the skin. But not all of them respond. The aprocine sweat glands, located in the pubic and arm pit areas, are activated only by emotional stimuli. They carry a faint scent whose purpose is believed to arouse the sex drive.
Nevertheless, the eccrine sweat glands, by far the most abundant, respond to heat. During a 15-minute sauna, about one liter of sweat is excreted, depending upon the individual. (Normal daily rate ranges from .5 to 1.5 liters.) Eccrine sweat is clear and odorless; any odor is only created by the presence of bacteria. One of its chief functions is to cool the body by evaporation, although there are also eccrine glands on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet which react to emotional stimuli.
A third kind of sweat, called insensible perspiration, originates inside and works its way through blood and other cells to the surface of the skin. Even without a sweat bath, approximately a liter of insensible perspiration evaporates each day.
Sweat also has the function of being a judicious garbage collector. During a 15-minute sauna, sweating can perform the heavy metal excretion that would take the kidneys 24 working hours. Ninety-nine percent of what sweat brings to the surface of the skin is water, but the remaining one percent is mostly undesirable wastes. Excessive salt carried by sweat is generally believed to be beneficial for cases of mild hypertension.
Sauna Effects on Health
- Artificial fever. The logic behind the health benefits of having a sauna, is that sitting in a heated sauna would simulate an artificial "fever" and in so doing stimulate the immune response of the body to be activated, which in turn would speed up the production of white blood cells - some studies have shown a remarkable increase during "artificial fevers". It furthermore is supposed to help the production of interferon in the body. Interferon is an anti-viral protein that has powerful cancer fighting properties.
- Blood pressure. One cardiologist is quoted as saying “If you can walk to the sauna, you can use the sauna”. If circulation problems are severe enough to restrict mobility you need to be very cautious about using a sauna, otherwise it’s probably OK. There is quite a bit of evidence that one sauna benefit is the effect it has on your heart. Blood pressure is lowered and your heart gets a gently workout due to increased heart rate. This is only a temporary effect. Since blood pressure is lowered you need to be careful of sudden movement in the sauna. When lying down be sure to get up gradually to avoid that light headed feeling and the chance of falling.
- Toxins Removal. Since a sauna also speeds up the chemical processes in the body, it is also a favorite way to help clear the body of accumulated toxins. Not only does it speed up the body processes, but also perks up the working of the skin, which as the largest organ is important for waste removal, and in so doing stimulates the process to sweat, and helps remove waste products. It is with this same logic that body-wraps are used. While having a sweat session, your body will also require more oxygen, and an increase of up to 20 percent is reported, and with this greater demand on the lungs more wastes can be expelled by them.
- Cold and Flu Prevention. People that feel a cold or flu starting, have reported that they can ward off the manifestation of the actual symptoms by taking sauna baths.
- Immune System. The temperature during a sauna increases the skin temperature by about 10 degrees Celsius and the body temperature by about 3 degrees Celsius - the "artificial fever", which many alternative practitioners believe helps to kill off unwanted bacteria and viruses, plus gets the body to move its immune system into a higher gear.
- Muscles Relaxation. Traditional wisdom is that muscle soreness after a workout comes from excess lactic acid. More recent evidence indicates that it is more likely due to microscopically torn and swollen muscle cells. Whichever the case, a sauna will help relax the muscles and ease the soreness. The process of sweating helps rid the muscles of excess lactic acid. Dilated blood vessels increase the flow of oxygen to muscles, reduces swelling and aids in the repair of tears. But remember to first wait awhile after exercising and to have a cool shower before entering the sauna.
- Burn Calories. Sauna will help you to burn calories as well. A dry heat sauna really causes your sweat glands to work, which uses up calories and uses up energy. Research has proven that users of a dry heat sauna can burn more than 300 calories in a dry heat sauna session.
- Skin Treatment. There is no better treatment for the skin than a sauna. This is a way to clean and rejuvenate your largest organ from the inside out. The skin is meant to be a pathway for the elimination of toxins and waste material from your body. Creams, deodorants, oils, dead skin cells, etc. will clog skin pores and lock waste in. Skin conditions like acne, pimples and blackheads can be caused by clogged and infected pores. Heat from a sauna opens the pores and sweat will flushes out the toxins. The newly cleaned out pores have a long lasting effect on the ability of your skin to function. Dilated blood vessels increase the flow of oxygen and fluids to skin cells. Cleansing eliminates dead skin cells and other material exposing a new layer of fresh, clean, health cells. Your skin not only looks and feels younger, it will also function more efficiently.
- Relaxation. It’s great to have a mental escape from the day-to-day grind. This alone is enough to improve your outlook on life but there is more to the story than that. Endorphins, feel-good chemicals in the brain, are released due to the increase in cardiovascular activity. This combination would give anybody a positive attitude adjustment for the day.
- If you never practiced dry sauna before, you are not sure if your health conditions permit you to try it, you are on active medications, we do recommend consulting your primary physician first. Note that you need to specifically avoid medications that may impair sweating and produce overheating before and after your sauna.
- It is also recommended to people that have elevated blood pressure not to have a sauna before checking the advisability with their medical practitioner. Other people who shouldn’t take up sauna bathing before speaking with a qualified health professional include individuals with heart conditions, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus, or respiratory ailments.
- Start slow, get in for short session first and continuously listen to your body. Sauna is not a punishment, and you have to learn enjoying it.
- DO NOT take alcohol or any types of drugs before, in, and immediately after sauna. The combination of two, generally pleasant things, may lead to unpredictable, mostly highly unpleasant, or even dangerous consequences.
- Before sauna, heavy and large meals, that will require large amounts of blood for digestion, are not recommended. A light meal is a far better idea. After a large meal, just wait at least several hours before venturing into the sauna.
- Take off your glasses, jewelry, other metal objects and most or all of your clothes before taking a sauna. Note that any clothing will simply decrease the effectiveness of your sauna bath and impact your own comfort. Nude procedure is highly recommended, but if the circumstances do not allow that, wear as little clothes as possible. However, if your hair is sensitive to heat, wear a hat, towel, or turban, to decrease the over-drying effect. The intense heat can dry out the hair shafts, causing hair to be brittle and possibly break off.
- Don’t stay in much more than 20 minutes at a time. If you wish to return to the sauna, allow a suitable rest period of at least 10 minutes.
- Drink water before, in, and after a sauna to prevent dehydration.
- Leave the sauna immediately if you feel light headed or ill. Trust your instincts. If you begin to feel overly tired, dizzy, and nauseous or just begin to feel odd, it's time to step out of the sauna back into fresh air and take a break from it.
- After you’ve completed your sauna bath, don’t get dressed too quickly. Allow your body about 20 minutes to return to its normal temperature. You can put your clothes on at the end of this brief cool-down period.
- A warm shower before you head into your sauna will help wash oil and dirt off your body. You can also hop into your shower throughout your sauna session to help you cool down when necessary. Alternatively, a jump in a swimming pool or a roll in the snow can accomplish the same result. Be sure, though, to take a shower after you finish your sauna session, as doing so will help wash off your perspiration as well as any toxins that have risen to the surface of your skin.
Sources and Additional Information: