What Are The Health Benefits Of Saunas?

As winter is officially set to start in a couple of weeks, many of us are looking for ways to enjoy some extra heat. While an indoor fireplace is a popular choice, it also seems like a good time to try sauna bathing. 

You may often hear about the supposed "weight loss" benefit of using saunas but this appears to be an exaggeration. You may lose a bit of water weight by sweating — but this does not contribute to sustained weight loss, according to Jessica Schnur, assistant professor of surgery at Stony Brook University Hospital.

However, this does not mean saunas have no benefits to offer. Several studies over the years have found an association between sauna use and a reduced risk of heart problems in men. Last week, a study from Finland was able to find this association in women as well.

Though the mechanism is unclear, scientists have come up with a few possible explanations for how they improve heart health. The heat from the sauna is believed to improve blood flow by increasing heart rate and widening the blood vessels.

Such an increased circulation in the body can also provide relief to those who are experiencing muscle soreness and even headaches. But studies have shown that pain is also reduced in patients who suffer from chronic conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia.

You may also want to take note if you are trying to improve your flexibility. Researchers from Auburn University in Alabama suggested that the heat can make our muscles more pliable. In other words, you may see a notable difference if you try performing your stretches after spending just 15 minutes in the sauna.

Even with all the physical health benefits aside, it is highly recommended that people give sauna bathing a try for the relaxation factor. It could be a rewarding experience for the mind, experts say.

"They are warm, quiet, enclosed, and make you feel safe and relaxed in the way you would if you were nesting," said Kathryn Smerling, a therapist based in New York City. "If you choose to sauna, don’t go in with any judgments or expectation. You won’t leave the sauna a new person, and the benefits may hardly be noticeable at first for some, but over time, they can have a real impact on your mental health."

Of course, there are a few precautions to keep in mind. Those who have medical conditions like low blood pressure and kidney disease should speak to their doctor before trying a sauna session. It may also pose a risk for pregnant women and people who have consumed alcohol.