Saunas have been used in numerous cultures for thousands of years as a health-promoting activity. New research has allowed the effects this activity has on our health to be quantified and examined. Using the sauna is not only a great way to de-stress from our hectic lives, but is now understood as an amazing tool for promoting longevity and reducing the risk of many chronic diseases.
The primary health benefits of regular sauna use include:
Reduced Blood Pressure
Spending time in this high heat environment increases our core temperature resulting in increased cardiovascular output and vascular shear stress in much the same way as exercise. After an 8-week intervention, sauna therapy reduced the mean arterial blood pressure of participants by 5 mmHg.
In addition to a reduction in blood pressure, sauna therapy also improved arterial dilation and stiffness. A recent study also showed that men who engaged in frequent sauna session (4-7 per week) had a 63% reduction in fatal cardiovascular disease. This suggests that sauna therapy could be a great alternative for people with reduced exercise tolerance to significantly decrease their risk of heart disease.
Frequency of sauna therapy has been shown to have an inverse relationship with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Alzheimer’s disease has long been known to correspond with a build up of amyloid plaques in the brain. A recent study found that the activation of small heat-shock proteins could prevent this clumping. Intense physical activity is also known to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, which could be one of the reasons that sauna therapy shows similar effects.
Mental Health & Well-being
Feelings of relaxation and mental well-being have been shown to increase with regular sauna sessions. Researchers point to an elevation in circulating hormones such as endorphins following sauna use. Using your time in the sauna to practice meditation or another form of contemplative practice could offer even further benefit to our mental health and well-being. Another study concluded that sauna use offers a statistically significant improvement in depression.
Several recently released articles link sauna use to improved physical performance. In one study, participants run time to exhaustion was increased by 32% after only three weeks of sauna sessions. This is thought to be due to an increased total blood volume. Beneficial effects have also been seen in delayed onset muscle soreness.
Joining a gym with sauna facilities is a great way to get regular access to this health-enhancing tool. In addition, many condo buildings have saunas as part of their gym amenities. There are also several banyas and spas throughout the GTA offering many different types of saunas in a relaxing environment. Maybe it isn’t possible to drag family or friends to a workout class with you — but they might be open to a nice evening at the sauna!